Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 176 - Taking a Boxing Class

I have never boxed. In fact, I can’t think of a single time in my life that I threw a fist at another person. As someone that is non-violent through and through, sports like boxing have never had much appeal to me for a viewer’s perspective, let alone the idea of actually throwing on some gloves, stepping into the ring, and getting hands on with the sport. That stated, over the years I have heard about the dexterity, stamina, and mental focus honed by involvement in the sport. Everyone I knew that knew anything about boxing consistently said it was one of the most effective sports to work the body and the mind, which seemed to be supported by the few experiences I had watching the dance between contenders in the ring. Although there was no question some career boxers sacrificed mental ability in the name of the sport, the coordination and precision they exhibited in the matches I saw on television were rare among other professional sports. As a result, the balance between body and mind was enough to pique my curiosity regarding boxing, and in my pursuit of experience unfamiliar forms of exercise during my “I have never...” year, I decided I should probably give a boxing lesson a try.

Let's do this...
Still wary about the prospects of fighting another human being, I hesitantly decided to sign up for an open boxing class this evening and headed to the nearby Ford’s Gym after wrapping up my workday this evening. When I arrived at the gym I promptly paid for the class and headed to the boxing ring near the front of the building. Some 30 minutes before the boxing class was scheduled to begin, I found more experienced boxers pummeling a variety of bags and sparring in the ring. The thuds of powerful gloved fists striking canvas and bodies bounce off the walls around me as I looked over the room. I couldn’t help but feel intimidated as a flurry of fists flew in the space around me, and the physical nature of the sparring match occurring before me was enough to make me cringe. While I knew all of the practice around me was intended to practice and improve skills, I couldn’t move past the fierce strikes of the sparring partners, which eventually drew blood before the three rounds of the match were over. It was clear Ford’s Gym was the real deal when it came to boxing instruction. I just didn’t know if I was prepared for the experience.

After watching the boxing students for some time, I stood by as the group began to thin out and make room for the incoming beginners’ class in which I was scheduled to participate. In a matter of minutes, the clearly experienced fighters were cone and replaced with a growing mass of new students gathering around me at the base of the ring. Eventually, the group reached a total of about two dozen people, which caused and older man to take position ringside and look over the group. Promptly introducing himself as Coach Bob Lynch, he provided the basic outline of the class; explaining our focus would be on fundamental footwork, body positioning, and the “one punch”, which I would later learn was a left jab. With that, Bob wrapped up his introduction by explaining we would not be fighting another person during the lesson and that former professional boxer, Andrea Nelson, would serve as our instructor for the evening.

Coach Lynch giving out some pointers
Emerging from the crowd, a small but muscular woman quickly introduced herself as Andrea in response to Bob’s remarks. Without delay, Andrea advised us we would immediately begin the process of wrapping our hands and donning our gloves to ensure we maximized our time focusing on technique. Following a few minutes of instruction with the help of Andrea and Bob, our group was wrapped, gloved, and ready to start the core of the lesson. In turn, Andrea had the group spread out across the boxing ring and the floor to give us space for the coming exercises. Once in position, Andrea walked us through a series of basic calisthenics to warm up and prepare for the primer on boxing technique.

Once finished with our warm up, Andrea immediately proceeded into basics on footwork, hand positioning, and body movement to maximize the effectiveness of punches. A series of drills gave each of us the opportunity to repeat her instructions multiple times, which I found beneficial to helping my body adapt to the new and unfamiliar movements. Fortunately, Andrea’s forward approach to instruction made it easy to achieve that end, which opened the door for us to begin practicing the complex series of full body movements that culminated in our left jab. As to not delay the progress of the class, Bob, Andrea, and another experienced fighter immediately began testing our application of the skills with rounds of command drills and punches into a boxing mitt placed on the hand of each instructor. Still trying to establish the series of movements in my mind, I was moments away from throwing my first punch into the hand of an experienced trainer.

Hitting the mitts
At Coach Bob’s instruction, I focused on keeping my body moving and practicing the various boxing techniques as I waited for my first one on one experience with one of the trainers. As I moved through the basic, fluid movements, I felt my body begin to break into a sweat. Similar to my first experience with Yoga, the realization caught me off guard given the low level of intensity moving through each action. To my surprise, the repetition of each movement eventually proved somewhat taxing as I moved my muscles in unfamiliar ways. Suddenly, the physicality of boxing became real, and I had yet to work with a coach barking commands at me as they critiqued my technique.

As I sifted through those thoughts, Coach Bob approached me with his mitted hand extended and bluntly addressed the placement of my feet. After a few adjustments, he gave swift, blunt direction to put each of the movements we had learned previously into action. At first concentrating only on the movement of my body through the “one punch”, Coach Bob provided reminders of the fluid movement required to maximize the effectiveness of the punch and on the maintenance of defensive positioning with the portions of the my body left open as my arm flung forward. Although demanding, Coach Bob’s instruction was highly beneficial in understanding how to put the pieces of our lesson together.

Within moments of adjusting at Coach Bob’s direction, I could feel the huge impacts the subtle changes in my body positioning had on the outcome of my punch. I was more balanced, more powerful, and more aware with each bit of advice he gave, which he recognized after a few minutes of his instruction. Following a series of rapid commands to punch the mitt on hid hand, Coach Bob took a single step backward and dropped his arm. Still at the ready, I held my gloves to my face and stared him in the eye as I caught my breath and checked the balance of my feet. Abruptly dropping his voice into a quieter, temperate tone, Coach Bob shot me a grin and said simply, “Good. You’ve got the mind for it, kid. With a little practice you’ll be damn good.”

An immediate boost of confidence struck me as the words sunk in. By the time a brief “thanks” escaped my lips, Coach Bob was already moving on to the next member of the class and delving into his early critique of their stance. Bolstered by my one on one experience, I immediately worked back into practicing each of the boxing techniques using the new advice provided by Coach Bob as I waited for my next one on one experience. Over the next 45 minutes, I practiced with some shadowing boxing and worked some bags as instructed by Andrea between three more one on one experiences with an instructor. By the time the class was drawing to a close, I could feel my body aching from a thorough workout, and I was fully engaged in honing my technique. It was a good feeling, and it was compelling enough to make me briefly consider taking up boxing when my “I have never...” year drew to a close.

Speed bag!

That stated, the recent memories of the boxers laying into one another during their sparring match quickly subdued that thought in my mind. While the technicality, focus, and hard work in boxing appealed to me in a big way, the idea of using that practice to attack another person was just too unsettling for me to consider making the sport a part of my routine. There’s a lot to be said about the physical and mental benefits of boxing, and the class I took tonight was a great experience; however, at the end of today’s event I realized I’m just too much of a pacifist to justify boxing another person for the sake of exercise. When it is all said and done, that end just isn’t me, even if the rest of the sport of boxing provides an approach to exercise that speaks to me.

After today, I can settle on the idea that my “I have never...” journey has helped open my eyes to new possibilities and helped me discover new ways to be better for myself. As someone that began this year thinking there was no form of exercise that would ever appeal to me, tonight’s experience with boxing is just the latest example of “I have never...” events that disprove that theory outright. I learned today that the inherent violence in boxing is more than I able to overcome, but, more importantly, I learned that finding a form of exercise that applies my mental strength as much as my physical strength opens the doors to finding a form of exercise that will keep me interested and engaged. That simply wouldn’t have been possible had I not gone out on a limb and tried something new. There’s something to be said for that realization. If anything, it’s enough to drive me forward as I pursue the second half of my “I have never...” journey.


  1. I’m glad that you finally decided to go and try going to some boxing lessons. It can be a bit intimidating at first, but you’ll soon find that it’s such a fun and exciting experience. Not only will it help you improve your body coordination, but it will also boost your core strength as well.

    Barbara Cales @ Legend Boxing

  2. It’s good to know that you gave boxing a try. In this day and age, participating in a sport is a great way to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It may seem like a violent sport to some people, since you have to punch someone to come out victorious, but it's not. It’s a sport that teaches you discipline that you can use on your everyday life. It also help you defend yourself, should you be in a position were your safety is being threatened.

    Conrad Mills @ Toronto Top Team

  3. OT: Missing Manny Pacquiao's awesome training? Watch Manny Pacquiao speed shadowboxing all day on the official MP Youtube Channel now!

  4. How beautifully all the feelings have been conveyed through writing.