Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind

Last year I got a lovely email from a woman who, after greeting me politely and complimenting The Glowing Edge, mysteriously indicated that we might have some things in common. Intrigued, I clicked through and discovered Binnie Klein, a psychotherapist in New Haven, Connecticut, a Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University, host of a popular weekly music and interview show on WPKN radio, and… you guessed it, a boxing woman.

And since she was looking for even more things to accomplish, she’s just written a book about it.

Her book has just been published and my copy has arrived in the mail; expect a review from me (plus a chance to win a free copy of the book!) as soon as I’ve read it. Meanwhile, she and her publisher gave me permission to share this excerpt with you.

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My coach John, a former middleweight state champ (aka “The Punisher”) was acutely aware that the men in the lives of his women boxers were not always supportive.  Maybe that’s why he often asked what my gentle and peace-loving husband Scott thought about my boxing. Scott wasn’t the only one who was perplexed.  It’s not like I was Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby; I wasn’t battling for recognition, and no one was standing in my way.  People looked startled when they heard I was boxing. “You?”  they’d say.  Why are you so shocked? I wanted to ask, Is it because I’m older? Because I’m not trim and fit?   Because I’m a woman? Somehow the aggression or intensity required to hit was understandable coming from a man.  But with a woman, it was an anomaly.  Why on earth would a woman want to punch?  Or be hit?

Or was it something else altogether that people were thinking?

Maybe they don’t think my profession fits with the sport.  You’re a therapist, they scold, as if reminding me that in choosing my career I was to be denied the physical plane altogether, a brain suspended in a tank like in a 1950s science fiction movie.

You’re not supposed to be aggressive, rightAren’t you supposed to have it all analyzed and sublimated?

Yeah, right.  There’s nothing like donning boxing gloves and headgear to make you face your own competitiveness, rage, and desire for dominance.  My inclinations were shocking.

People ask me – do your patients know?  Some do because I’ve referred them for boxing lessons to help them feel their own physical power and competence.  Therapists fall into two groups:  those who pretend that their patients know nothing personal about them, and struggle to keep it that way.  They won’t give opinions, and they won’t tell you where they’re going on vacation.  You’ve already guessed which group I’m in.  The mystery therapists may be perfectly helpful therapists; they just don’t roll that way.  But there are the inevitable clues emanating from their faces and their walls, whether their humor is direct, sardonic, or missing altogether; whether their offices are adorned with Klee prints and tasteful soapstone sculptures or a just a dusty row of crookedly-hung diplomas; whether they are outfitted in blazers and chinos or Flax clothing and chunky jewelry, and whether the car sitting in the therapist’s space is a Prius with a “Think Globally, Act Locally” sticker or a brand-new Saab with a ski rack.

Boxing is a bit like being part of a sexual minority – we take pleasure in something many people don’t understand, and feel compelled to judge us for – but sometimes when I talk about boxing, a surprising amount of people, both women and men, begin to imagine themselves with boxing gloves on.  I recognize the look.  Their innocent eyes widen.  They start talking about how they did five minutes of kick-boxing in an aerobics class once.  They’re intrigued…and then they’re curious…and then, in almost a whisper:

“So where did you say you do this?”

This excerpt was adapted from “Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind” published by Suny Press, January 2010.

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8 Responses to Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind

  1. Hillari February 4, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    I knocked another woman out in the gym this past summer, and I must admit, I was gloating about it. Not in front of everyone in the gym, of course, but to myself. I don’t notice the feel of my punches on someone else. When I knocked out the woman with a right hook, I didn’t even think I was hitting her that hard. I love to hear the pop of my bag gloves on the heavy bags and the double-end bag, however.

    I wasn’t raised to be a “nice girl” when it came to fighting. My mother was the first one to teach me how to throw a punch. She had learned from her father, but not directly. He taught my uncles how to box, but Granddad (how had aspirations to be a pro fighter) was too old-fashioned to consider teaching his daughters how to fight. Most of the girls I grew up with knew how to fight; we had to, or endure merciless harassment and bullying, particularly from the boys.
    .-= Hillari´s last blog ..Sparring And A Crash =-.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 4, 2010 at 10:43 am #

      Knocked out! Wow, that’s some pretty serious sparring. I think it’s amazing that there was another woman for you to spar with Hillari; there seem to be so few women that I generally expect to spar with men about 98% of the time.

      Sounds like you were raised with fighting as a part of your knowledge and experience base. Do you think that made you a better boxer? I always feel like a Johnny-come-lately, having only discovered boxing after I turned 40.

  2. Hillari February 5, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    In answer to your question, I think the fact that fighting was presented to me as a survival technique while I was growing up certainly made me open to boxing. The main reason my mother taught my younger siblings and I to fight was she was tired of me coming home crying everyday. I was the littlest one in my third grade class, and a constant target of bullies. “I’m tired of your little so-and-so coming in here sniffling every day! Stop being so chicken and hit back!” Ma snapped. Then Ma told my younger siblings and I, “I don’t want to hear about you bullying anybody. But they hit you, hit back! Hurt them bad enough so they think twice about putting their hands on you again.” Of course, in today’s politically correct world, Ma’s comments would have been criticized by teachers and social workers alike. 🙂

    I wouldn’t say that it necessarily makes me a better boxer. But I don’t have the squeamishness about boxing that I notice most of the other women who come into gym — and who have never been in a fight in their lives — have.
    .-= Hillari´s last blog ..Punch To The Music =-.

  3. Els August 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Wow. I was reading old entries from your blog and because of Hillari’s comment I suddenly understand why I’m not afraid to hit someone – or be hit for that matter. As a kid aged 6 or 7 I was constantly bullied by some boys in my class. I didn’t know what to do but sit in a corner and cry, until my grandmother told me to “hit him, and hit him hard; when the teacher isn’t watching!”. So I did, I gained respect and the bully and I became good friends afterwards. I’ve never been in a fight, but I never had to because I knew I’d hit ’em, and hit ’em hard!

    Btw Lisa, I love your blog. It’s so good to read about women’s boxing! Your style is entertaining, I regularly find myself cracked up ^^

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 31, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

      I’m deeply grateful for the high praise, Els. I enjoy writing about boxing (and everything else that crosses my mind — it’s good to be da queen of your own blog!), and I’m so glad there are a few others out there who also enjoy it.

      You’ve made my day. Maybe my whole week! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. <3

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 31, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      And one more thing.

      I think what you and Hillari experienced with your mother/grandmother telling you to hit the bully was probably a good thing, and I’ve had a similar situation with my youngest boy once and that same advice worked as well. I *hated* saying it (and actually it was my husband who said it) but it seemed to give my son some kind of permission he needed to defend himself.

      • Els August 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

        Aww, that’s sweet! You’re totally welcome. I like to make people’s days! And I like to read about boxing, so it’s a good thing you’re out here 🙂 I am really excited to get back in shape and reading about your training sessions and lists of this-and-that definitely inspires me. Hahaha, I’m like a girl fallen in love with a new lover. I even get butterflies in my stomach every time I go to the gym! You’re feeding my obsession, haha!

        I never paid much attention (though my family was very proud at the time, haha!) to it, but now that I think of it, I think it’s been very valuable. I used to be very shy, but since then I came out of my shell, and now I’m in my boxing gym and some 6’2″ guy says: “Wow, your technique sucks, but your mentality is great. I bet you’ll kick my ass in a month.” Yeah, someone actually said this to me tonight. And another one confirmed. Whoa, I’m kinda proud of it! 😀
        Of course you shouldn’t say these kinds of things to kids that’ll use it as an excuse to beat someone up, but I never would have thought of hitting back. So yeah, it probably goes against your mothers-instinct to encourage your child to hit someone, but it definitely works out well 🙂 I’m living proof, haha!

        Wow, I guess I’m in a bladiebla-mood today!

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe September 1, 2011 at 10:50 am #

          For me, boxing has been all about transformation. It’s more than a sport, it’s a way of thinking and behaving, isn’t it? That’s what makes it truly powerful for me, and it sounds like it works that way for you as well.

          Stay strong! Keep working! And thanks for being part of the conversation!

          I need to post today about one of the things I love most about boxing, and I’m realizing, because of your comment, that it has very little to do with boxing and a lot to do with how we feel… More soon!

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