My newest sparring partner is 6’4″ and two hundred and please-don’t-hit-me pounds. Monstrous. And wonderful in the ring. We had a very respectable five rounds in the ring this weekend and he taught me a lot.
Obviously a guy this big has to work with care when sparring a skinny chick like me. So we did what you do when you know it’s not evenly matched: you warm up a round or two, then begin to work on some very specific skills. In his case, defense, and in mine, getting past his defense. So I started out working my way past his ridiculously long reach to land a punch to his head or body, and being deeply satisfied when I could land something solid without taking too many of his jabs in exchange.
But after a while I began to notice how much chasing I was doing in the ring. We were circling at a pretty high speed, and I could feel myself wearing out. The constant advice from my trainer and my corner was to keep moving, keep moving. It was imperative to slip and dodge as many of his punches as I possibly could. And I was pretty damn motivated to do so, but was starting to really get winded by the third round.
On the bell I heaved my mouthguard out and panted, “I feel like I’m having to chase him all over the ring. I can’t figure out what to do; I have to keep moving.”
“You do have to keep moving,” my coach replied, “but you need to quit chasing him. Move your head, slip his punches, but stay in the center of the ring and let him come to you for a change.”
You would think this would not be so difficult, but I feel like I’ve been diving after my opponent since the first day I stepped into the ring. I’m not sure why I do this, but for the first time ever I forced myself to put all other systems on auto-pilot (keep the jab out there, move the head), stop circling, and try to wait for my opponent to come to me.
It’s agonizing, the waiting. And it wasn’t working right, I could tell. At the end of the third round I groaned my frustration to my trainer. And she gave me a magic word that made it fall into place. “Pivot,” she said. You can’t stand there and get pounded, you have to move. But you don’t want to burn up your energy circling all over the ring. So stay in the center, throw your combination, then pivot away so that his returning fire hits the spot you just left. And then he has to come to you to throw again.” Suddenly everything came in to sharp and immediate focus. I saw — literally, as if someone had projected it on a screen — how this tactic could work. I bit down on my mouthguard, banged my gloves together, and when the bell rang I surged to the center of the ring.
It worked. Throw, pivot. Throw, duck, pivot. I was awkward and sloppy, but onto something. Coby grunted encouragingly when I got it right, and we worked the round three more long minutes, swinging, sweating, and making our brains teach our bodies new patterns. The fourth round passed in a haze of hard labor.
At the bell I poured water over my head and asked for help again. I could feel it coming together, but was having trouble keeping command of the center of the ring. “Why am I still losing control?” I asked, working to recover my breathing.
“Because,” she said, “you are moving at the same speed as your opponent. You’re running less because you’re pivoting, but he’s able to circle the ring on the outside enough to keep wearing you down. You have to cut him off, and to cut him off you’ll have to move faster than him for a minute. Dart in front and force the confrontation. Punch and pivot. Recover while you wait for him to come to you. If he starts circling again, cut him off again. Dart ahead, throw, pivot, rest. You’ll get it. Keep working.”
How did I never realize I was constantly matching, but never exceeding, the speed of my opponent? But it was totally true. And I found that the short darts, the burst of energy, served me well. There was no finesse left in me, no secrets, no subtlety. But new knowledge buoyed my spirits and I pushed myself on, finishing our fifth and last round feeling like a rock star.
Stop chasing and pivot. Wait for him to come to you. Cut off the ring by moving faster than your opponent. Three new lessons, and dozens of sparring sessions stretching ahead of me in which to practice and learn them. It feels awesome to be growing and learning in the ring.
And it’s even better knowing I have incredible sparring partners and trainers there helping me become a better boxer. Exuberant and grateful fist bumps to all of you: Coach Bonnie, Lisa (in the corner), and Coby. You guys rocked my week.