Having just moved to a new boxing gym, I’m once again reminded of how hard it is to make inroads into a new gym, a new team. I don’t mean overcoming the reluctance to train, but rather the simple and profound fear of boxing itself, and all the insanely hard work it takes to stand in the ring.
Part of my newly re-awakened dread has to do with moving up several levels to train with a much more intense, powerful, competitive crew. I really did think I was in shape until I showed up at Second Round, and I’ve been struggling for several weeks to be able to train there two days in a row, without at least one or two days in between to recover.
So my first tactic in fighting the dread of boxing training is — crazily enough — to train harder.
My husband thinks it’s ironic that I run several miles, jump rope for 20 minutes and do hurdles on my “off” days. But we’re both starting to understand that some of that off-day training has to do with a mental leap that I’m making every time I show up at the new boxing gym. I need to know that I’m capable of working hard on my own, that I can endure the heat and the struggle without someone urging me forward; I need to believe that I’m doing this because I choose to do it, even on the days I don’t love it. The power is mine.
I also maintain a fair amount of mental radio silence.
Every day that I plan to go to the new gym I start to get gut churn around noon. I could give myself pep talks, but I’ve found that there really isn’t anything I can say to convince myself not to sweat it so hard. Boxing training is not about talk, it’s about work.
You would think that I might have learned this life lesson by now. It’s true in my writing, which I do both professionally and recreationally. I don’t waste much time telling myself that I should write, or that I’m good at writing. I don’t spend much time planning my writing, either: I write. I sit down, power up my laptop, and do it. I make mistakes, I edit, I polish, I publish; that’s how it gets done.
Unless I’m actually prepping for a fight, it doesn’t help me to think about boxing training in advance. Instead, I have to jam the channel. I mentally tune my brainwaves to a smooth light hiss, not unlike the sound of the ocean. And I trust myself to be able to face it when I’m actually stepping into the gym.
It can be difficult to accept all the unknowns in boxing.
If there’s a sparring opportunity, I get in the ring. It’s the hardest thing in boxing to do this, over and over again. And everyone who has ever rolled under the ropes understands firsthand how terrifying it can be to not know anything about the person you are about to fight. But there are other, more common unknowns as well.
For example, I’m still learning how training happens in my new gym. There doesn’t seem to be a regular way of doing things (regardless of any schedule that may or may not exist), but team training does come together under the direction of a coach sometimes; it’s almost like the conditions just have to be a certain way for it to happen — and you have to be there at the right time to catch the wave.
You also have to be willing to drop in on the wave when it happens.
I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep up. I don’t know if I’ll hold back the entire team, or be able to give my drill partner the kind of work they want and need. I don’t know if I’ll slip the right way or get repeatedly punched in the face. But I’ll never know unless I jump in and take my place with the team. No one invites me to join in; I have to do it myself. But every time I’ve stepped forward, I’ve won another small nod of respect from my teammates and coaches.
I’ve learned that I perform well under pressure.
Channeling fear into energy takes practice. There are always plenty of fighters who are better than you. There are four boxers currently in the Olympic pre-qualification process at my small urban gym. Four! They are extremely skilled and they work far harder than I do, every day. It can be intimidating for me to walk in and share a heavy bag with one of them, or join their training rotation, but I do it. I work very hard to channel that intimidation into training energy in the same way that I let faster runners spur me on. And while I might find that I don’t measure up to someone else’s level, I have discovered that I consistently perform better when I’m challenged.
More and more I’ve come to wonder if boxing imitates life.
And I’m laughing, because boxing is so much gentler. There are rules, and safety precautions, and coaches. You get to leave the gym any time you want. You might be bloodied and bruised, but there are no broken hearts, or terminally ill friends, or moral dilemmas in boxing. There are no looming deadlines or financial disasters.
But every day you step forward and fight, despite the dread. Not to win a prize, or build a record, or turn back the clock, but because it’s what you do. It’s how you live.
It’s who I am honored to be.
Image by jnyemb on Flickr