Catherine Howard doesn’t sit still very often. Her love for traveling keeps her from settling down in one place, and she’s about to head off on a 13-country art collective journey, but for a few weeks now the two of us have been training together in boxing.
These few weeks have been her very first experience in the sport, but in high school her best friend, Joshua Tufte, trained intensively in kickboxing. He went on to become a professional boxer, and is currently blazing through the competition on an undefeated streak of 10 wins and no losses. Inspired by her friend and the timing of an invitation to train together with me and another woman new to boxing, Catherine decided she just might try to surprise Josh one day by showing off her own powerful body shots, or a quick couple of stinging jabs…
I’ve enjoyed watching Catherine soak up boxing. She showed up the first day pretty fit, but has learned a whole different kind of fitness in taking on this crazy sport. She also was almost immediately interested in sparring, and just recently had her first experience in the ring. She’s fiercely energetic, and woe to anything that gets in her way.
I wanted to capture some of her story while it was brand new and still fresh for her, and she graciously agreed to be interviewed…
What sort of responses did you encounter when you first started boxing?
My parents and my partner have all been very supportive. They all just smiled knowingly — “Ah, of course you are doing that.” The only voices of dissent have been from friends who see me as too sweet. (They haven’t seen my jab yet.)
Share a little about how you are training right now.
In the past, I’ve trained for a marathon, taught both yoga and pilates, and completed multiple rounds of p90x. However, I find the most satisfaction from workouts that stress my entire body for a functional task. That is why I particularly enjoy the killer Beachbody Asylum routine. It’s designed specifically for athletes to become better athletes by focusing on agility, speed, and plyometrics.
My current schedule is
Mon: Asylum and shadowboxing on my front porch
Tues: Asylum and shadowboxing
Wed: Sparring with Lisa
Fri: Asylum and shadowboxing
Sat: AM Boxing technique training with Lisa, PM Pullups and core
Sun: Bikram yoga
You just had your first sparring experience! Tell us about it.
First, I made the mistake of watching a series of pro women boxing fights the night before, and in the final bout, a girl who was obviously outmatched had her nose broken in the first round. A good way to give myself the jitters. To cope, I arrived at the gym 30 minutes early to run sprints on the treadmill. I was still talkative and jittery, but I was slightly more at ease in my skin with the endorphins raging.
Once we warmed up and I stepped into the ring, the nerves disappeared. I was there to learn, and I knew that I was going to be terrible, and that was perfectly okay. And I was terrible. And it was okay.
My cardio gave out much more quickly than I had anticipated. Anaerobic exercise is no joke. But because I am already decently fit, I was able to jump back in after a few rounds and go again. I was slow and awkward, but the experience of working offensively and defensively simultaneously was exactly what I needed to understand if I was going to continue shadowboxing and working with pads. I needed to know how punches would be thrown, what an experience with a live opponent feels like. If I had continued training just in technique, I have every expectation that I would have given up, either out of anxiety or sheer boredom.
I left the ring feeling more determined than ever. I am going to figure this out. I am going to be good at this. Not because I am especially talented. I am just, like with everything else in my life, doggedly stubborn.
Were there any “ah-ha”s or “oh, no”s that you can share?
After working in the ring, all of a sudden the footwork and punches started to work together. The full-body nature of boxing clicked, and that is what I will be focusing on as I continue working on my own.
My “oh, no” came when realizing how much energy I was losing by automatically tensing my whole body when the punches started flying. Have to focus on maintaining a calm stream of breath so that I don’t burn out after two rounds. Yoga is a good compliment to boxing for this very reason!
Got any advice for someone thinking about taking up boxing?
Don’t be afraid. Your body can handle anything. All you have to do is remind your body (through exercise, meditation, and nutrition) every day of how it should be reacting – with speed, with confidence, with power.
Find someone who is patient and willing to teach you the techniques. And then, always respect their time and expertise. Always arrive early. Always put in 500% more work outside of the gym than you do inside the gym. Never allow them to regret their decision to help you for even a second.
What are your goals, now that you’ve sparred for the first time? Why do you want to box?
One of my goals for my boxing training is to be able to surprise Mr. Tufte with a powerful body shot. And then laugh at him.
More seriously though, I want to box. Boxing is what I have been seeking; I bound out of bed, excited for my workouts. I want to train with focus, to continue sparring, to build my speed and power so that I can go toe-to-toe with boxers much more experienced than myself.
I want to box because I feel more confident in my own skin after just three weeks of boxing than I have felt in my entire life.
What is something you already love about boxing?
I love the seamless integration of strategic planning and instinct. I love feeling strong. I love feeling connected to all parts of my body. I love the experience of connecting to another human being as equal opponents.
What’s your biggest fear related to boxing?
What do you feel like you’re missing in boxing right now?
The confidence that comes with trained muscle memory. That’s why I box on my own every day. Muscles just need to know how to move reflexively rather than consciously. All that requires is time and dedication.
What phrases are starting to come up on your “Boxing Manifesto”?
- Stop. Clenching. Your. Shoulders. BREATHE!
- Always approach your opponent with grace and respect.
- Do it again. And again. And again. Until your arms literally fall off. If they are still miraculously attached to your shoulders, then do it again.
I know you’re new to this, but have you begun to see ways that boxing relates to life, in your experience?
As creative individuals (artists, musicians, writers, teachers, thinkers, doers), opportunities come barreling our way all the time. We watch those opportunities approaching as we shift our weight in our shoes in anticipation. Feeling the ground underneath us, shaking our arms to loosen our shoulders, gnawing on our mouthguards. Once the bell rings, if we allow our creative selves to spring into action, and allow our creative instincts to autopilot, then we will find ourselves capable of more than we ever imagined.
I hope you’ll leave a comment below and ask Catherine your questions, or just offer her your cheers and encouragement! — Lisa