Once in a while someone asks me if I get “beat up” in boxing.
It’s a weird thing, this fierce sport. And I completely understand why people associate it with phrases like “getting beat up,” “taking a beating,” and so on. But after studying and practicing boxing for several years now, I have a different perspective on it than I used to.
Boxing is and extremely complex and challenging sport. Risky, yes. Potentially painful and dangerous, certainly. But it’s also a sport with lots of rules and boundaries, and it’s even more mental than it is physical. To me it feels less about “beating people up,” and more about mental and physical fitness and a very particular set of skills.
I feel fairly certain that a skilled boxer with her wits about her could put a street brawler on the pavement in seconds flat, not because we are more violent than other people, but simply because we’ve trained so hard to understand the dynamics of fighting. Boxers work hard to be physically strong and mentally powerful. We’ve practiced the simplest punches thousands — hundreds of thousands — of times. We train our reflexes against flinching and looking away, we can see punches coming, and we have an arsenal of defensive tactics at hand. We are carefully mentored and guided into the ring, protected with the right equipment and challenge levels. And we know the rules of our sport.
It’s fairly uncommon for us to experience “getting beat up,” or even “beating someone up.”
Consider this: the number of hours a boxer spends in training that is not actual sparring or fighting in the ring far exceeds her time in the ring. One hundred percent of a new boxer’s time is spent outside of the ring; only after showing aptitude and willingness is a new boxer allowed to spar, and even then, it’s fairly light, careful training. My regular training week typically includes about six or seven hours a week of training, and around eight rounds of sparring. Those are 3 minute rounds, so I’m only spending 5% of my time in the ring. (Of course, that’s the time I tend to focus on and talk about the most.)
However, we do get bested in the ring.
My trainer loves to say that you don’t get to choose whether you win or lose in boxing; you only get to choose whether or not you will perform. Every boxer loses some of the time, whether in an official match or in their own gym. But we almost never consider a regular (or even a bad) day of sparring a “loss” or a “beating,” unless something went particularly wrong and an injury was involved.
Yes, we get out-matched, out-maneuvered, hit hard, and even stopped in the ring. Mostly that happens in an actual competition when we are in the ring with someone better than we are, or if we are sparring with someone new and inexperienced, particularly a person who is scared. Those terrified new guys tend to throw punches like their life depends on it, but they often can’t last more than a round or two. Working with — and sometimes getting bruised up by — those people is a regular hazard of the sport, and the better boxer typically takes the blame for her injuries since we should have been able to defend better.
I don’t help things when I talk about getting “beat up” myself. During my first year in boxing I said it when I felt someone took advantage of me in the ring. I’ve since learned how to protect myself against this situation by returning fire, demanding a different level of work, or simply rolling out of the ring.
These days, saying I got “beat up” is a rueful way to mention my hard-earned bruises and sore muscles, and it’s normally followed by my determined recitation of new training plans and efforts.
Interestingly, I almost never talk about “beating up” someone else when I am boxing better than they are, or even if I win a match. (Although I do like to talk about kicking ass. I like to be an ass-kicking woman! But that feels just a little bit different.)
Otherwise I tend to use it when I see a particularly intense, damage-producing professional boxing match. Ten or twelve rounds with a heavyweight will temporarily (and sometimes permanently) change the shape of your face, whether you win or lose.
So there is that. But those people are at the top of the field; most of us aren’t doing that. And even the pros don’t do it all the time. A seasoned pro may have 30 or 50 career fights, but you can bet your ass that most of their time is spent doing ordinary, hard, repetitive training.
If you are new to boxing and just starting to train, you should definitely expect this sport to hurt. Most contact sports do. Football, basketball, hockey, soccer, rugby — all of them require training that is difficult and painful at times. Even non-contact sports like skateboarding or BMX bike riding can pack some serious pain.
Learning to take a punch is a slightly different skill, but it is, in fact, a skill. Much of it is mental. And there are “tricks” to it, like staying relaxed, keeping in your stance, moving constantly so that blows glance off. And of course there’s the protective gear we wear and the rules about hit zones. But it still hurts plenty, and anyone going in should know that.
But boxing isn’t first and foremost about beating people up, or getting beaten up. It’s about long hours of hard work and practice, it’s about building speed and power and quickness, and eventually it’s about sparring and fighting for a small percentage of your training time.
And more than anything, it’s about the challenge and the reward. There is very little that feels better than standing in the ring, dripping with sweat, shaking from exertion, and having your fist raised by a referee as the winner of a fight.
Damn, but that’s good.
Image by CBS_Fan on Flickr.