Controlling the ring

New Lessons in Sparring: Controlling the Ring

I like to box from the center of the ring.

I was never that boxer who floats endlessly around the ring, dashing here and there and making the entire fight more of a dance than a boxing round. It’s a thousand times easier to stand in the center and pivot to face those opponents who like to run laps in the ring.

I guess I must have been used to standing in the center with few to challenge me for the privilege, because on Sunday I had a new sparring partner, and I never once wrested control from him. It was a bit of a surprise, and a deeply pleasurable learning experience.

George is a philosopher. As we were warming up and casually discussing use of power in the sparring arena, he sagely pronounced, “The amount of power a boxer should be sparring with should be such that if you make a hit square in the nose, it might bleed but it won’t break.” I loved that.

George is twenty-one years old, 145 pounds and close to my height. I saw some video of him sparring with a newbie and immediately understood several things about him. One, he has a teacher’s heart. Two, he isn’t a giant ego, waiting to show off his stuff on someone who is not as good a boxer as he is. And three, he clearly loves fight sports and wants everyone else to love them too — he has an infectious grin that rarely leaves his face.

As soon as I saw the tapes, I immediately began working to arrange time in the ring with him, and he was most gracious and accommodating.

On Sunday we bumped gloves and settled into our rounds. He let me take the lead, dictate the level of power we would be trading. He smiled and nodded, encouraging me as I worked my combinations. I could see his strong martial arts training in his stance, his way of using his entire body — rather than just his upper body and feet — to box. There was a sense of poise, of balance in him. He wasn’t afraid to lean waaaay back to avoid a punch, something boxers rarely do. He used my own momentum to swing me into positions I hadn’t planned on. And his gloves were blindingly fast.

Four or five rounds in I suddenly realized it: I’d not once controlled the ring. His offense was constant, no rests or pauses, and I was forever on the defensive and near the ropes. But there was something else, too. I stopped us.

“Why am I never able to gain the center?” I asked, pulling my mouthpiece out to talk.

He grinned, pulled his own mouthpiece out and pointed it at me. “You’re always in the center, aren’t you? I’ve seen you spar; I don’t think anyone’s challenged you. I like to keep control of the ring, too. And I haven’t been letting you take it.” We walked through some moves and he showed me how he was constantly staying one step ahead of my pace, cutting me off whenever I tried to get past him. And for some reason I was often inclined to circle left on him rather than right, even though we were both orthodox fighters.

It was in naming that last fact that I realized what the extra “something” was. “You’re squared up!” I cried. “You’re facing me dead on. Boxers never do that!” We always try to keep one shoulder forward, presenting as small a target as possible. His wide, straight-on stance had been triggering my desire to circle left, as I would on a southpaw. On a conscious level, I knew he was orthodox, but on a subconscious level, I had never been certain which way to go.

He laughed. “Not quite,” he corrected. “I’m squared up until we engage, then I shift to throw or defend.” He demonstrated. Full on, then shift to an angle. Then full on again. Quick, economical movements. So that was one of the factors that had kept me off-balance.

Add to that the fact that he never rested. Dude had a full tank of gas and was willing to burn it. I have been in the habit of throwing, resting, throwing. Or even allowing my opponents to throw themselves out so that I could then move in with my own offense. George never quit throwing punches! He was a master of flurries, and there was nothing to do but defend, eat some punches, and throw despite an oncoming combo. It was fascinating to realize it, and hard to break through.

One step ahead. Full-on approach coupled with an angled defense and delivery. Constant offense.

Utter control of the ring.

This is what having a new sparring partner does for you. I was absolutely thrilled to encounter it all.

And I can’t wait to get in the ring with him again.

Image by melanieburger

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4 Responses to New Lessons in Sparring: Controlling the Ring

  1. Amy Scheer September 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Why are there no comments here? Because you’ve given us way too much to think on. I want to grab my tablet and list all the lessons you provided. thanks!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe September 28, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

      Heh. This was before anyone read my boxing posts. 🙂

      Sigh. I miss George! I haven’t had regular, smiling, happy, learning-fun sparring like that in ages.

      Also, my current gym teaches us to circle left as a rule. It was interesting seeing this and considering the fact of that change… Which way does your gym teach, Ames?

  2. Amy Scheer September 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Yeah, how’d you get all popular (all of a sudden)(over a few years’ time)?

    I would think you’d have figured out by now that my gym doesn’t teach me stuff. I learn from you. Circle left, huh? You got it.

    But…how can you only circle one way? Wouldn’t your opponent just figure this out and know where you’ll land? Like always slipping the same way after throwing a jab?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe September 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      Well, *all* the gyms I’ve trained at have made sure to tell us to mix it up, but in general, Second Round — current gym — says circle left (in general) so that your power right is loaded and at the best distance to throw. It’s an offensive strategy.

      My old gym said circle away from the opponent’s power hand. A defensive strategy.

      I have no idea how I got so ragingly, maddeningly POPULAR, lol. But I’m thrilled to have finally found some other boxing peoples jest as crrrrazy as me! 🙂

      So glad you’re along for the ride. Round. You know!

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