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Beating the Clinch

I’m about 155 pounds and 5’8″. Thomas is 180 pounds of solid muscle, and perhaps an inch shy of my height. A triathlete for the past ten years and a competitive wrestler as well, he moves with lightning speed and power. And as is more common with highly experienced athletes, all of his movements are carefully controlled. Which is why, after seeing him spar with my trainer, I was perfectly willing to get in the ring with him, and learn what he had to teach me.

Beyond his punching power and speed, I knew he would be incredibly savvy in slipping my jabs, ducking, and getting in low. Although we are both over 40, he seems to have knees that will do anything for him. I would have to protect my stomach, ribs, and kidneys. Sometimes that feels like a catch-22: if my gloves are in front of my face (where they are needed!), my gut is exposed regardless of how well my elbows are tucked in. This is partly why boxers sometimes look a bit hunched over; they are protecting more of their body. Me, I don’t hunch very well. A lifetime of good posture makes me box like a plank. Think Pinocchio with poorly-oiled joints. The Tin Man, pre-Dorothy. It’s pathetic.

But I do have long arms, which means an opposing boxer wants to get inside my reach in order to deliver the body blows, which is where the clinch comes in. When someone comes close in with a flurry of blows I simply can. not. think. anymore. I’m exhausted, and the only response I’ve been able to muster up is a hunched (hey, finally!) clinch. Plus begging for mercy, which isn’t pretty.

Over and over again in the ring with Thomas I’d find myself there, being relentlessly pummeled from a clinch. He controlled his punches, but my ribs were taking a beating. “What do I do??” I finally huffed, the third or fourteenth time. “I don’t know what to do when I get in this position!”

That seemed to flick a switch in Thomas (who is truly a very nice guy), who backed up and said, “Oh. You start throwing your uppercut at me. Really lean in to it, and if one doesn’t work, throw another. Shove me off and land your right as soon as I’m back in range. That oughta help.”

And darned if it didn’t.

I’ve never landed an uppercut on my trainer before, but Thomas politely enjoyed several and came back for more, making me repel the clinch and shove him away again and again. It was a little like punching and shoving a slow-moving train, but it marks the first time I’ve felt able to do something about being utterly under siege.

Here’s to ring time, where learning meets motivation.

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