I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
In Frank Herbert’s Dune, Lady Jessica teaches this litany to her son Paul Atreides, who uses it to survive the psychologically excruciating “death-alternative” test of the gom jabbar. If I had to depend on that little mantra I’d be toast.
Fear is my companion, every single time I get in the ring. It actually does it’s worst work the night before I know I’m scheduled for ringtime. I think, “My stomach just isn’t right tonight,” and after a bit I remember, “Oh, I’m anxious about sparring.” Then I start to churn.
I have a stupid-long list of what I’m afraid of: What if I suck? What if I get in over my head? What if I have to take some really earth-shattering hits? What if I get in the ring with someone who’s significantly heavier than me and unable to control their punches? What if I can’t get my breathing right and run out of air? What if my trainer makes me keep going even after I’ve got no hits left in me? Will I look really sloppy? Will my trainer be embarrassed at how pitiful a boxer I am?
My list of excuses for bailing is even longer. I minutely inspect myself for injuries that might prove problematic: my knees might be hurting, or my right shoulder could be starting to give me trouble again. I consider my energy level and my mental state, what’s going on at work, home, Taiwan, Nigeria, Israel. Once I move out of the country I can really expand on my theme; world hunger is just as dependable excuse-wise as teen driving.
I can run this damn hampster wheel for hours, no lie. Do base-jumpers do this? Trapeze artists? Matadors? I would do better if you just popped into my office and told me to spend the next 10 minutes jumping rope because I was going to step immediately afterward into the ring. I’d jump rope, I’d fight, and we’d all be happier.
What’s even worse is the fact that I do fine in the ring. (Did I just say “what’s worse is I do fine”? Yeah, thought so.) I might take a beating, perform well, or go back and forth between holding my own and looking like crap. I’ll have a glorious punch here and there, somebody will rock me a time or three, but mostly it’s just damn hard work, and work I love once I’m actually doing it, and not just getting ready to do it. And in some screwed-up way I love it even more once I’m out of the ring. It’s not at all a feeling of “Thank God I’m done with that,” it’s more “That was incredible, I can’t wait to do it again!”
I keep waiting for this fear factor to shift down in intensity (perhaps after I’ve been boxing two years? Three? Ten?) but meanwhile I seem to only have two alternatives: either I live with the fear and box anyway, or I let the fear kick me to the curb and make me give up boxing.
So far it looks like fear and I are roomies for the duration.