It is so incredibly hard to claw your way up the learning curve — and I’d rather say the straight-up learning cliff — in boxing. You can put years into it, and still feel like a beginner.
But once you’ve gotten solid enough in boxing to get in the ring and spar (for me that took a few months), you’ve made it to the first big ledge. You can stand there for a minute and try to catch your breath.
Every time you spar is an exercise in overcoming fear, but it actually gets easier (did I just say that??) if you are doing it regularly with people you know and trust.
The next ledge up is your first official fight. What a life-changing experience. I was terrified for the ten days leading up to my first match, and the fear multiplied by about seven bazillion once I actually rolled under the ropes and took my place in the blue corner, waiting for that first bell to ring.
But once you get to this stage on your climb, it gets ever so much better, I promise. It is never, never easy — this is boxing, after all — but it does get less terrifying, and it’s that first fight that really makes a significant difference in your mental attitude about the fight sport you hate and love.
There’s a certain amount of boxing cred you get when you’ve been in the ring, particularly if you’ve had official fights. And that cred goes such a long way in helping overcome the natural suspicion and stress involved in shifting to a new gym, getting a new trainer, going to spar at another gym, or having another boxing team coming to spar with your team.
Twice this week I’ve enjoyed the peace that comes with not being the new kid in the gym.
On Wednesday I traveled up to NBS Gym to spar with Amy, who is a 25 year old technical writer who will kick your ass for you if you let her. Amy has had a couple of fights like I have and helps condition the team at NBS. I have sparred with her once before, and I really like getting ring work with her because she’s pretty near my weight (she’s actually 10 pounds lighter, so I actually have an advantage, which is nice for a change) and she has a fantastic, let’s-go-get-em attitude.
But the absolute best part of our work, which included me finally getting my first good sparring in a while, was that I wasn’t a bundle of nerves walking in this time.
I wasn’t a new boxer and I wasn’t unaccustomed to the ring. Damn, but that’s nice.
Last night I went to train at my own gym and noticed the same general effect.
I drifted in around 6 pm, and saw that there were three new guys training with a team boxer. A couple of my teammates were getting through their stretches and I fell in with them. After a few minutes, the coach put us all to shadowboxing 6 rounds together in front of the two old busted mirrors that are leaning against the cinderblock wall opposite our ring. The new kids were sloppy and tired by the end of the 6, which didn’t bode well for them. Shadowboxing is the warm-up.
And at the end of the 6 rounds, the coach called everyone over. “You, you, and you,” he said, jabbing his hand in the direction of each of the new guys. “Far end of the gym. Heavy bags. Work some jabs. Team, get on your circuit. You know the drill.”
The new kids eyed us enviously — and maybe with a little resentment — as we went our separate ways.
And I felt that silent thrill that I wasn’t banished to the shadows, and the parallel misery that comes with knowing that I would be working with no round breaks for the next 15 three-minute rounds under the eagle eye of the coach, being constantly evaluated, hounded, and corrected.
And it was miserably, damnably hard work. At the end of 15 rounds (heavy bag, angle bag, headache bag, rope ducks, and toe-touches on a medicine ball) with no round breaks (did I mention the “no breaks” part?), we were put into the ring for mitt work rounds. After which we were graciously allowed to rest by jumping rope for four rounds.
Thanks be to all the boxing deities that I can do this without puking.
It’s usually only the new kids who puke.