New Sparring Partner

A new sparring partner can open up great swaths of unexplored territory in boxing.

I am an active recruiter of female boxers in my gym; I try not to be a total vulture, but I do watch to see who is training hard and I try my best to create an opportunity to talk to them about training with our boxing team. Most women refuse outright. A few are willing to chat about it, and a couple have have shown up once or twice. There just aren’t many women who want to get in the ring.

So I poached someone from the MMA group.

I had mostly seen her training on weights; her biceps are like two pistols strapped to her arms. And I was impressed at her willingness to grapple with the exclusively male crew that trains in Brazilian Ju Jitsu and other martial arts. She is younger than I am (aren’t they all), but looked close to my weight category, and seemed dedicated to her training.

After a couple of weeks of conversations, she showed up for boxing team and Friday night we finally had the chance to get in the ring together.

Right off the bell I noticed that she was more accustomed to working without intent to actually hit, and my initial combination seemed to surprise her. Even though I was working with control, it wasn’t the level of power she was expecting. One of her contacts got popped out by my first straight right, and everything skidded to a halt. I flashed back to the last time I was in this situation and accidentally bloodied the nose of a new recruit, and I swore and mentally banged my head against a wall for not starting out slower; that first time in the ring can be such a delicate dance, and only a certain type of woman (or man, for that matter) will cross that border, see the territory, and be interested in staying to explore it. But my fears were unproven; she took a minute to recover and was game to continue, even with the skewed depth perception I know she was dealing with. I breathed a sigh of relief and we went to work.

My first suprise was how many of my punches she successfully blocked. She tended to hold her guard extremely high with the palms of both gloves facing out towards me. I spent a fair amount of time trying to punch through her gloves, and later my trainer chastized me for taking the bait and headhunting rather than going for the body shots.

I was also profoundly aware that with each shot she threw, she was loading a kick and having to hold herself back from throwing it. She switched her stance back and forth and our movement in the ring felt awkward. She finally defaulted to backing up as I advanced — never a solid practice in boxing — and Bonnie stopped her and pointed it out. I also suck at moving in the ring; my only real tactic is to constantly advance, and once she stopped backing up and starting getting the angles I had to work harder, which both pleased and irritated me and made our match better.

While my punch count was higher, I was dismayed at how few jabs landed: she stayed just outside of my reach when she could, and kept a loaded overhand right ready to return the instant my left was deployed. I took a few out-of-the-zone hits to the head at first from that right, but with some ringside coaching — which I heard but didn’t employ defense in response to — her rights started coming straight down the pipe and I started taking them on the temple and chin. They consistently snapped my head to the side, clean and hard. It took me the first four rounds to learn the lesson, a point that was not lost on my partner. But I’m pleased to add that while I am slow, I’m not a complete idiot; I did start ducking under those rights and clipping her ear with my left hook in the fifth. Better late than never.

She was also a slow learner in her own way: it was not until the fourth round that she quit apologizing for landing those rights. What is it with us women? We should all get in the boxing ring at about age 5 and start beating this ridiculous habit out of one another before it gets so deeply rooted. Seriously.

Speaking of ingrained, my partner was even more of a talker in the ring than I am. I tend to talk a little bit, but most men don’t speak at all in the ring unless they are throwing dirt around and egging you on. There’s only one guy in our gym who would rather talk than box; I can barely work up a sweat if we have to work together; I would rather practice a move than discuss it. This woman was perfectly willing to box and talk, and I didn’t mind so long as we kept circling and throwing. Our coaches weren’t paying that much attention to us (there were beginners on the bags that they were working with at the same time my partner and I were in the ring) and in the absence of a stream of instruction we coached ourselves through those first awkward rounds. I think both trainers told us to stop talking at least once, but a good sparring partner is so hard to find I mostly ignored their censure.

So it was slightly bumpy but overall a very good experience; and although she seems pretty dedicated to MMA, I have high hopes that she will return to the ring with me now and then. I think we have some real potential together.

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2 Responses to New Sparring Partner

  1. June November 3, 2009 at 12:37 am #

    I was talking to Jeri-Lynn on the treadmill tonight and she mentioned this article. This is the first I’ve seen of it. The funny thing is, I didn’t know it was about ME! The cruel irony is that I don’t see myself the way you described me. I will say in my defense that I thought you had a specific fight coming up and I wanted to “morph” myself to mimick whoever you were preparing for. I want you to know that the adjustments you have made are impressive. I see a huge difference in you. Your not the same boxer you were last summer.

    I have a topic for you. It’s something that’s been burning on my mind. I love that we have a separate slot that is woman’s only. A place where people who for whatever reason want to train with the regular fight teams or learn very male dominated things like (wrestling and grappling and striking) can come. However, I can’t help but think about the notion of “separate but equal.” I’ve been resisting the title of the class having ANYTHING to do with self-defense. I believe that cheapens and antiquates everything. Apparently, a lot of woman find this to be a conundrum. I discuss a lot interesting issues at http://www.nhbgear/forums where they have a post for woman BJJ competitors. The moderator of the forum invites people she knows to be woman! It’s kinda like a place for us to let out frustrations and get some positive feedback.

    Since I have permission per Bonnie to use any strike I want during shadow and freestyle bag round you might see me more often. 🙂 Per Mike I’m no alloed to do leg locks (I’m a leg woman) in class. So, I’m coming up in the world. 🙂 It’s nice to be trusted. :)-

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe November 3, 2009 at 9:49 am #

      June, sparring with you was an awesome experience, and I also have enjoyed our “soft” sparring work as well, but most of all I have loved learning BJJ from you. Talk about hard work! I wish we had more sessions each week at a time I could be there; I’m fascinated and I love how strong I feel getting all those strikes and holds down. My heart still belongs to boxing, but I can’t wait to come up the curve on MMA too.

      Let me know if you would like to write some articles that I could post here. I am also thinking about opening a website covering women’s fight sports. Wanna jump in with me? We should talk!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, but even more for being willing to get in the ring and on the mats with me. You ROCK.

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