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New Rule: If they tee off on you, you can take their head off

I’m still trying to absorb the unwritten rules of boxing.

Earlier in the week I was sparring in an unfamiliar gym, and I got in the ring with one woman I didn’t know and had not seen box before. We were not a good match (she outweighed me by a good margin and was less experienced), so I tried to set it up so that we would just test each other out a bit.

But whether it was out of fear or anger she tapped me right off the bell with a loaded (and illegal) shot to the back of the ribs that pissed me off pretty well.

I tightened my defense and spent the rest of our rounds furious but contained; she was outmatched and I didn’t want to cause any damage to her or to my relationship to this gym, which I think will offer me some good future sparring opportunities.

Even after we were long out of the ring my anger kept simmering because I had tried to be nice to someone whose one loaded shot cost me some of my training ability for the next two days as the bruise healed.

Later I related the story to my trainer and to Tim, one of the boxers at my gym. And both of them told me told me with some amount of justified swearing: if someone tees off on you, it’s a written and signed permission slip to retaliate in kind. This is how boxing is done.

But this is not how nice Southern girls are raised.

And yet I think it’s something most guys understand from birth. Boys and men (who are innately comfortable with physical communication — this I know from raising three sons) recognize that the feminine mantra “use your words” doesn’t always communicate effectively.

If someone tees off on you in the ring, reason is not necessarily the best response. But a well-placed and weighted punch is clear, immediate, and believable.

Last night I saw this in the ring when Tim got in to spar with a very inexperienced new guy, who outweighs Tim by about 30 pounds.

The new guy got the standard lecture from our trainer about not loading his punches, and about being in the ring to work, not to prove something or injure anyone. He climbed in, the bell sounded, and they began to box. It was only about three combos in that everyone could see that this guy was bringing heat, and Bonnie gave him a verbal warning.

Nothing changed.

About ten seconds later, Tim sent out a straight punch to the face that delivered a much clearer message. New guy staggered back and shook his head to clear the stars. Bonnie shrugged and said quietly, “I told you not to bring the heat.”

And do you know what? The new guy pulled the rest of his punches, and they both got in a good round.

Co-mune-ee-kay-shun. Direct, clear, effective.

In next was one of our young, powerful boxers. This kid hates training, and saves all his energy and anger for the ring. He’s burned through most of our boxers and last night nobody would get in with him. Bonnie looked around pointedly and told him straight: “No one wants to get in with you. But you can box with Nate if you want.”

Nate is a pro boxer, and his looks are incredibly deceptive. He’s about 6’4″, agonizingly thin, and very quiet. He doesn’t look like he could take your head off, but in the ring he lives within a razor’s edge of his power, and sometimes delivers way more than our amateur boxers can handle.

Nate ambled over and the young kid started to backpedal. He’s seen Nate box.

“Nah, nah, I don’t wanna get in with him, man. He’s hard.”

Bonnie didn’t even crack a smile. “Listen, I’ll put Nate on defense only for you. But if you load up, he’s gonna let you have it.”

After some deliberation, he got in with Nate and we all eagerly awaited the bell. Everyone knew the stakes here; if the kid forgot, Nate would not hesitate to remind him with blinding speed, accuracy, and power. And given the kid’s past record in the ring, everyone also knew that Bonnie would probably leave him in the woodshed until she was sure he was clear.

Never had I seen this boy box with such desperate loving care and attention to every move. He could have been boxing in a ring filled with priceless Faberge eggs and sleeping Rottweilers, the way he danced and sweated and precisely controlled each punch. We all hid grins, and Nate stayed on the leash.

When they climbed out I saw the kid smile for the first time ever; he knew he’d successfully navigated a field full of landmines.

And I mentally vowed to etch it into my brain: never set aside your most powerful tools in the ring.

Consider me a little more dangerous.

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7 Responses to New Rule: If they tee off on you, you can take their head off

  1. Andre May 16, 2009 at 3:45 pm #

    Hahahaha this is awesome – I think even though I nearly died at my workout, I love the taste of fighting. It’s always been with me in some fashion and when I got to hit the bag, suddenly I was filled with a second wind. Hope to see you soon!

  2. Sine Botchen May 16, 2009 at 8:14 pm #

    well said & nicely done.. it’s all relative. (and great mantra) all’s fair at love and war. ja?

  3. Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 16, 2009 at 10:48 pm #

    Andre: I think it’s great that you’ve taken up boxing; I’m looking forward to my chance to see you catch that second wind in person!

    Sine B: Love I’ve done; war is still somewhat new to me. But I’m really enjoying getting my warrior on. Maybe it’s a little like the attitude you have when you attack a new bike trail — you can’t let it beat you, and sometimes it takes all the power you have just to survive it.

    Invigorating, isn’t it?

  4. Hillari July 9, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    I never want to do this to someone who’s new to sparring. But I’ve been blindsided a few times by people who’ve played down their prior fight experience, or like you say, hit out of anger, or fear, or wanted to prove how “bad” they were. It is indeed a wake up call when someone fires back on them.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 9, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      It’s true that we try to make allowances for newbies, isn’t it? But like you say, the people playing down their prior boxing experience are actually the scarier breed. The hardest part of all is when you don’t actually have the power to make them back the hell off. I guess that’s when it’s time to roll out of the ring, but that’s incredibly difficult to do…

      Have you ever done that? Rolled out? (What was it like?)

      • Hillari July 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

        You mean literally just lay down and roll out of the ring after telling the other boxer or the coach, “I can’t do this?” No, I just stay in and survive until the end. The next time I’m in with that person, however, I watch ’em like a hawk.

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 9, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

          I guess I have it in my mind that I would say to the coach, “Look, this asshole keeps loading up on me even though I’ve put up with it for the past three rounds and I’ve told him twice to lighten up. He outweighs me by 40 pounds and I’m not interested in getting injured. Somebody else can have that shit.” Then I would stalk out righteously. Hah.

          It’s the fantasy, anyway.

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