Your Brain, Your Responsibility

So as we finish up this series on head trauma in boxing, we’re smoothly transitioning right into our next series directed at the boxers primarily. Last blog, we begged the coaches to not even call themselves Coach if they are finding themselves becoming lazy or jaded about their responsibilities, no matter how frustrating or tiring it can be sometimes. If you missed it, you can find it here.

The thing is, your coach can’t want it for you. Your coach can be the most vigilant coach there’s ever been. He or she can watch you like a hawk, work harder than you to make sure you have all of the tools necessary, have every system and education class in place to make sure you don’t end up brain dead at the end of the day and that won’t be enough. First of all, it cannot be said enough that head trauma and even death is simply a choice you’re making when you step in the ring weather that’s for hard sparring or in a fight. You are making that choice. It will never be your coach’s fault if that is how your story ends no matter what he did or didn’t do. Secondly, your coach can be the best coach, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing what you’re supposed to.

No one “plays” boxing. As popular as cardio boxing and mixing some “hand pads” (that is in quotes because I’ve seen some of the ways people who aren’t boxers and just personal trainers think they’re running pads…) into little workout sessions in regular gyms has become, it’s also has seemed to have made a lot of regular people think they’re badd bitches that could jump in that ring. You don’t dabble in actual boxing. I feel like they need to make up new words for these things because “sacrifice” and “dedication” are not even strong enough words for what boxing needs from you to get in there, and if you aren’t willing to give those then you have zero business even putting on gloves to spar, let alone stepping in the ring.

So let me ask you this before you read any further: what are you currently doing to protect your brain?

Most people are not going to have an answer for that question. You go to practice, you maybe go on your runs, that’s about it. Well, I hate to break it to you but that’s not going to cut it. Your coach can’t hold your hand all day and all night. You need to be living a boxing lifestyle, not just putting a few hours in the gym each night. You ARE a boxer or you are not.

That means saying to your significant other “okay, I’m going to bed. Good night.” And then putting your phone on silent and going to sleep. That means getting up to do not just your runs, but how are you conditioning throughout the week? Running isn’t going to be enough. That’s important, and you should do it, but that’s not all you should be doing. What kind of fuel are you putting in your body? Your body can’t do the insane things it needs to be doing day and night on pizza. And the hardest part is that while you need to be eating what I call actual food (not processed crap), you should also be burning about a million (that is obviously an exaggeration) calories every day if you’re actually doing all of your conditioning outside of the gym. That equals a whole lot of eating healthy food that needs to be prepped, cooked, and timed to line up with when you need fuel and when you need recovery of muscles. What about watching film? Are you doing all of those things? Because those are just the basics, and mostly only cover the physical—not the mental or emotional. Your coach should be able to start your practice, focus only on your boxing, and safely assume that you’re doing those things on your own time.

So in this next series, we’re going to break down some of how to make sure that you’re actually doing each of those things that I’ve listed above. As I said before, those are the basics to making sure that you’re even in physical condition to hold your own to protect your brain and life in the ring. However, before we start in on that, lets finish up this series about brain trauma specifically, and how we can help lower those numbers. First, some basic, important statements:

  • Communicate with your coach

  • No matter what he, or anyone else, did or didn’t do, you chose to step in that ring.

  • Learn how to evaluate the state of your body physically and emotionally (concussions have huge emotional consequences as well, remember?)

I have 3 main points that I’d like to make sure you go home with today. One, sparing is not a fight. Two, pick up a brain-oriented hobby. And three, what are you doing now to be prepared in case you draw the short straw and end up with serious brain trauma?

So first, lets break this down for the people who don’t seem to be able to get this through their heads. Sparring is not a fight. That is my teammate, and we are practicing the same things that we have done in drilling at a much higher speed and intensity. I never step in there to spar because I am mad and need to work off some steam. I understand that my teammate is trusting me to show them their mistakes/openings without taking advantage of those things, and I view this as an important responsibility to do so. We go at the level that the lesser of the two of us can be pushed but not broken, no matter how much more advanced the other one is. I am always aware of my teammate’s next fight date. I also am aware of what he or she specifically wants to be working on, or the tone of the sparring. Are we working speed? Power? Specific weakness or combinations we’ve been working on throughout the week? I need to be in communication even if that’s not with my words. I also should be able to expect the same from my teammate.

When you go to another gym to spar it is a different ball game. That’s not your teammate, so you really do not need to concern yourself with her needs. You need to be focused on her only in order to best read her weaknesses. Her coach should be worried about if you’re going too hard for her. I do always ask when that person’s next fight is if no one has told me. I want to keep my relationships with other gyms and be invited back, and that means being conscious of if they have a fighter who doesn’t have time to heal from an accidental cut or concussion. If they still have a while until their next fight, or don’t even have one on the books? Then read the sparring partner first. Take that first round to see how hard/fast they’re wanting to go. Again, sparring is a learning tool. Even when I’m going with the very, very beginners I’ve always got a million things I can be working on without breaking the other person. Save that for the ring.

Number Two: A brain oriented hobby. If you don’t use it you’ll loose it. That’s true weather you’re getting punched in the face for fun or not. Boxing is like chess using your own body. You may think that you’re not here to be a mathematician, but what do you really know about angles? What about strategy? What about skills such as calming strategies, body language, the power of eye contact? These are all things that are directly related to boxing that you should probably be reading books on to become the most effective boxer that you can be. But you don’t have to stay in the boxing realm. What interests you? Sometimes I would be so incredibly tired after practice, but one of my friends and I would sit on my front porch and do puzzles together and drink (don’t drink as fighter…). I also have been in school the whole time I have been boxing until the last few months. When you have worn yourself out mentally and physically, then it’s time for bed. You have to develop the habits now of not only trying to maintain, but to grow your cognitive skills. The synapses in your brain need to stay health, frequently used, and even attempting to make new connections. If they aren’t used, they will go away. You have an even higher risk of that happening when you throw in damages done (even those much smaller than concussions). Think of it like this: to build muscle, you break them down, refuel them, and they heal stronger. With our brains, we sometimes break them down when we’re boxing, but they have an amazing power to regrow themselves, sometimes even stronger when you’re making it part of your daily routine. The most interesting part about boxing is that while boxing causes brain damage, studies of amateur boxers have still shown that the longer they box the higher attention span, focus, concentration, and cognitive functioning they have because our sport is so mentally intensive. Please note that I said studies within amateur boxing. To my knowledge there have not been such studies with professional boxing, but we are talking about a group that uses headgear and is less likely to have to same power at play as professionals.

Lastly, we have to quickly address a not fun topic: what happens if you’re the boxer that ends up with brain damage? It has happened to a lot of my friends, and I’m sure that I have more brain damage than I’m even aware of yet. The thing is, life after boxing brain damage is not the end of the world. My favorite coach was not allowed to continue boxing after a brain injury, and since then he’s learned a new language and dives in hard core everyday to further learn how to be the best coach possible. So first let me say, do not give up on all of you that exists outside of fighting. That may sound confusing until it’s your turn to be told you can’t fight anymore. Take the time to mourn and surround yourself with all of those people who see all of you—not just the boxer you. Ask them what they see in you that you’ve pushed off to the side until now for the sake of boxing. After you have mourned, start to invest in those people and things in your life.

If you are like me, and even a year later are not wiling to fully accept that you’re really done (because it is a process), then continue to safely dabble. I don’t spar anyone that I know can hurt my weak spot that will end things for me. If your situation is one where that’s simply not possible, still stay in the gym. You didn’t make it this far in boxing unless boxing was a huge part of yourself, and you have a lot to offer teaching those around you, and they will be very grateful for your help and experience. However, you still need to make sure that you have a “plan”. Have you even thought about what your life will be like after boxing? You probably want to start working on setting some of that up now. That might be making professional connections, starting to write up a business plan, or even just start with idea maps. What do you have to offer the world? You are a unique person with a very unique spirit or you would never have been able to get in that ring, so what parts of that does the world need more of?

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