boxing training

New Lessons in Boxing

I’m making my way back from the Christmas holiday slouch — a much-needed break — and I’m doing okay. And the first challenge of the new year was sparring with a group of young men from the UNC boxing team (yep, they have a boxing team! No women, though.), who joined us recently at the gym.

Sparring with the UNC Team

It is admittedly nerve-wracking, having a bunch of big, muscled, fit young college men show up at your ring. You never know how all-out the mix-up will be. The first time I ever experienced this I completely bailed out, the level of testosterone and terror was so high.

And that’s precisely what happened for our younger and newer team members. This time, though, I was determined to stick in there.

The UNC guys came in with almost no entourage and a good attitude, joining in our warm-ups, joking and friendly. And even though there were some politics and a small amount of drama involved, we had some good sparring together.

Sparring with the Second Round Team

So I was feeling much better when a week later, another boxing team showed up at our gym unexpectedly (detail mix-up) for sparring. This team’s rather extensive entourage arrived before they did, and it completely set us all off guard. We eventually learned that this was the team we were expecting to meet the next morning at another location for a three-gym sparring session.

But, given that our two gyms were here on the night before, we did our best, and amazingly (given my discomfort and nerves), I boxed well that night. I worked primarily with my own team mates, but also did three rounds with one of their up-and-coming young female boxers, as well as a very memorable round with their 6-time national champion Olympic hopeful (male).

I was confident and strong, and I went home at 9:30 pm, showered, changed, and went out to for a few drinks and some local rock music with my husband.

The next morning he woke up with a fever. One of our sons had just been sick, and so I braced myself for the inevitable domino effect to run through my family. And I checked myself constantly — was my headache due to boxing, drinking, sleep deprivation, worry, or was I getting sick too? Was my muscle soreness from the hard workout the night before or did I feel feverish? I had promised to be at the 3-gym sparring session, but was I well enough?

I went anyway. I was nearly an hour late, arriving dehydrated, exhausted, and anxious. Bad mix.

Sparring with Second Round and LA Boxing Raleigh

There were a ton of boxers there, mostly experienced and strong, but a few greener boxers as well. It was probably one of the highlights of my boxing career to date that when I was called into the ring, my coach told me to “hold back” and the opposing coach told their fighter to “go all out.” It’s so rare that I get to be the superior boxer! But I felt like crap, though, and even before the bell rang I knew I was in for a whuppin’.

And I took my licks. The two boxers (both women) that they put in with me were certainly greener, but that didn’t mean they weren’t hitting me with every ounce of power they had. I stumbled once, early on. My feet refused to move. My head refused to think. My gloves rode low and I took hit after hit to the head. Once I was so ungainly that I got head-butted — her head to my chin — and I have a whopping bruise and a sore jaw as a result.

Absolutely 100% of the damage I took was my own damn fault.

I was slow, tired, and unprepared. I am easily the better boxer and yet I let the newer boxers take me down. I barely made it through four rounds. I deserved every bit of my pain, and I’m doing my best to call it a lesson well-learned.

Here’s my recap:

Lesson One: Hard sparring two days in a row is advanced.

If you decide to do it, you need solid cardio, good sleep, no drinking, and plenty of hydration. Eating right is essential. Fuel your body in all the right ways in advance. As one of the coaches ringside said to his miserably flagging fighter, “Anybody can box when they’re in shape.” Avoid the misery. Be ready.

Lesson Two: Sparring with another gym takes a greater toll than sparring with your own team.

People are scared and uncertain and some have things to prove. Everyone fights harder; there’s never “light” sparring. It’s often harder than an actual fight, because you’ll have more rounds and more opponents. Be aware that the next few days you will need to pamper yourself and recover. Also you’ll want ibuprofen.

Lesson Three: Always protect yourself.

If someone is throwing heat in their rounds, you need to be able to tell them to cut that shit out before you start your own rounds with them. Don’t mice words, don’t be polite. Be direct and forceful. I only did it once with the UNC boys, and it was entirely effective. He pulled the heat and after we sounded each other out, he gave me good work.

Yes, your coach or trainer is also looking out for you, but frankly, you should be doing this for yourself. Boxing is a dangerous sport, no lie. It’s also very individual-oriented. There’s no team of players in there with you who can protect you if you falter. You can’t call a time-out and ride the bench for a few minutes — you’re in there until the bell rings. Every boxer has to evaluate the danger and operate within risky boundaries. You don’t want to screw around with this, or leave it to someone else.

Lesson Four: You can learn a shit-ton of new things if you are willing to do it.

The young up-and-comer from the unexpected sparring night was incredibly fierce. She constantly came forward on me, bringing me game. She had a high punch output and made me use a little more power than I should have in order to hold her off of me. I want to work with her again in order to practice blocking more of her shots.

The Olympic hopeful dude was a sheer joy — his coach put him in on defense only with me (which I often hate, as it makes me feel like a baby) but he was so good that I could hardly lay a shot on him. His foot speed was great, but he really shone when he stood still and let me throw combos; his ability to evade my shots with fades, slips, leans, and ducks was amazing. Once I tried to pin him in a clinch and he simply wrapped my arms and turned me neatly 180 degrees with a quick spin. Utterly illegal, completely hilarious. I loved it.

And damn, I can hardly wait to get back with those girls from the three-team day of sparring! One of them was incredibly effective at pinning me to the ropes with her wide hooks. She was shorter than me but she was great at using her extra weight to wear me down. The other was  quick with her right, and I don’t think I blocked a damn one of her power punches. I want her again, too. Both of those girls would make me use my feet and responses to evade their combos.

Lesson Five: Facing fear needs practice.

It’s incredibly useful to go spar with new people because it lets you experience the adrenaline dump, the fear, and the nerves, which are all a part of an actual fight, and a part of life.  Part of me thinks that if I can just go through it enough in boxing, it will quit having so much debilitating power over me. Who knows.

I do know that I have some mental work to do, to build myself back up after sucking so bad on that third sparring event. Mental and physical. But for now I’ll take a couple of days off, ice what’s sore, and take another dose of aspirin. I have new lessons to assimilate before I go hunting for more.

North Burnaby Boxing Gym on Flickr.

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8 Responses to New Lessons in Boxing

  1. Tom January 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more Lisa. As one of the ‘green’ boxers yesterday, I felt like I was drinking from a firehose trying to soak in all the collective knowledge and experience from the teams that showed up. I got great tips and feedback from no less than 5 people, including yourself. There was definitely more of a competitive atmosphere than I expected from a sparring session, it felt almost like a military “smoker” where troops get a chance to bang out a few rounds to air their grievances! But I felt a positive vibe myself, and expect the next time will be even better and more productive now that everyone got a chance to “get acquainted”. I say lets do it again soon, unless we occasionally step out of a comfort zone, we will never realize that we have begun to slowly settle into one!

  2. niamh January 17, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    That sounds like so much fun Lisa! and you learnt so much as well, it’s great when people have that positive attitude and try not to just ‘get one over’ on their sparring partners. Pity you got ill cause sounds like you were kickin’ ass the first times!!

  3. niamh January 17, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    ps – great photos! are these from one of your sparring sessions, i can’t see the gym address on their site?

  4. Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 17, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    That did have the feel of a smoker, Tom. And by the way, I thought you looked good and fought well. I know you are a grappler at heart, but you have a nice stand-up game. Hell, I can remember sparring with you a ways back — you got power, dude.

    I could tell a big difference between the Friday night sparring with Second Round and the Saturday morning session. On Saturday, I could hear the SR coach cornering me through my (sucky) rounds. I felt like he was on my side, working with me. That was nice. So yeah, we are getting better acquainted with each other and the next time we spar (I heard talk about next week) it will be even better.

    Niamh, I guess you’ve been through this dynamic plenty, too. I always appreciate hearing from you because I know you “get it”!

    And no, the photos are not mine, but you can imagine how pleased I was to find boxing photos with women in them on Flickr. Theirs looks like a really nice, big ol’ gym, doesn’t it?

    (I need to get more photos of my team doing their thing. Next 3-way, maybe!)

  5. Dan London January 17, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    I never knew so much went into preparing to box.

    Great read and good luck!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks, Dan, for reading and retweeting my post. It’s so rare to find people around who are intrigued enough in boxing to read/listen and hang with me on TGE a bit. I really appreciate it!

      And you’re a hockey dude, right? You should write us up some stuff on that fight sport!

  6. Sean May 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Great article! I definitely agree with the second lesson more than any of the other… it’s a pain when you have to prove yourself in front of a whole different group of fighters who are looking to keep their place in the gym by pummeling you in the face lol

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

      Thanks for dropping in, Sean, and congrats on your new site.

      It seems like “proving yourself” is a part of every fight sport, no matter which one you’re in. And it never lets up, does it?

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