If your soul is black, I won’t be cheering for you.
I realized this as I was sitting with one of my newer boxers at Golden Gloves and then a pro match the following week, both times telling him who we were cheering for, explaining their movements and why those were good or bad. No, our guys didn’t always win. We talked about that to. As I went home that second night, I thought to myself about how I cheered for the talented young armatures, and for the guys that I have known for a long time, and one we had never seen before…but I also had those that I knew very well that I cheered against. Because I’m a soul searching kind of person, and a coach who never wants to let personalities cloud my judgement, I started to mull over what was clouding my judgement and what was part of sound reasoning. I stand by my previous statement: I don’t care what kind of raw talent you first appear to show, if your soul is black, I will not be in your corner.
See, here’s the thing. It’ll eventually bite you in the ass that your insides are so unhealthy. Boxing Never Lies to you. Every single weakness you have ever had—no matter how well you’ve tried to hide or disguise it—will eventually become your downfall in that ring. The good guys eventually always win. Maybe they don’t always get the decision if it’s left in judges hands—boxing is far too political and more complicated than just who is the better boxer—but the people, the crowd, and what you and the other guy know to be true, the good guys always win. I think that’s why boxing has existed all of these years. The bad guys literally can’t win in this sport. Not really.
We’re talking about the things that your coach expects you to take care of on your own time, right? Well, here’s a big one that no one really ever talks about: your mental health. Not only your mental health, but your personality, your down falls, all the things about yourself that isn’t physical basically. Are you incredibly self-centered? Well, you eventually won’t be successful in that ring. You have to already have your body trained to respond for anything so that you can be focused on the other person, reading them quickly, learning them within that first three minutes. Do you have devaluing self talk? Well, you can’t. You’re going to get punched. You’re going to miss punches you throw. Your inner voice has to be humble to learn, but with a deep belief in your soul: you have to believe that you can fight anyone and win. You have to trust that if your coach okayed you to this match then it’s as good as won. But you have to be humble enough to know that you have to work harder than anyone else every single day and that you can learn from anyone, even that kid that just learned how to jab yesterday. Do you get frustrated easily? That will never work. Do you have deep seeded anger you’ve never dealt with? What about your tendency to jump the gun when you get excited? How about control issues? Can you roll with the punches? Literally?
So basically any character flaw that you have is going to eventually show when you get into that ring with the person who knows how to spot and use that weakness. You have probably read the quote from Mike Tyson that this isn’t a tough man’s sport, this is a thinking man’s sport. I love that quote. That quote is how my tiny 5’3 self has all of the confidence in the world sparring hard with men almost twice my size. I may not be as strong as them, but I have confidence in the coaching that I’ve had and in the hard work I’ve put in both in and out of the ring to out chess match them. Because that is what this is. It’s a chess match using your own body. No choice you make should be emotional: celebratory or frustration, or defeated. So how do you work on this?
The first step is always going to be taking some time to truly know yourself. Learning to stop and listen to those around you and truly evaluate and recognize your flaws—and then actually start to seek help in changing them—is exactly what I’m talking about. Always be seeking growth.
There are a million ways to do that depending on what the growth you’re needing looks like. For example, start with some research just googling the issue. I’ve got news for you: you aren’t that special and you’re not the only person out there that has ever dealt with this flaw. Someone has come before you and I bet you one thousand dollars that they’ve written about it online these days. Read books. Take classes to continue to stretch your education. Ask someone you trust that knows you well about your flaws. Take a long bath with a glass of wine. For me, I like to go out to the gym alone and let boxing tell me about myself. Boxing never lies, right? She’ll tell you the hard truths, but she’ll also help show you the way to healing. I’m in no way endorsing drinking while sweating—that is horribly dangerous, but I am letting down my guard to give you one of my methods in the hopes that it helps someone who needs help letting go and giving into the truths of boxing.
I take another sip before I put my left glove back on and head back to the bag. I don’t have a timer going, and that certainly isn’t water in my cup. I am not even sure how long I’ve been out here; I know that I’d better either finish up or stay at it until boot camp comes in at 5am. It’s one of those nights. The nights where I need to drink hard and hit the bag harder. If I hit hard enough, maybe the thoughts will all stop. Maybe I can beat solutions into my life. It sounds silly, but its happened so many times before.
We live in a pyridoxal world where we have to forever be a steel fortress of strength while being more vulnerable every minute of being in the gym than normal people have ever come close to experiencing. How do we ever solve this? Boxing is forever pushing for growth and showing weakness while asking you to solve all of your weaknesses inside and out before someone else discovers them and capitalizes. Boxing is the answer as well as the question.
My glove is wet with nasty drinking sweat as I put it back on. I would never hit a human in this state. I have no sense of how hard I’m hitting the bag because I’ve completely surrendered myself to boxing. My head starts to clear—but not in the way some people might think I mean. I mean clear to take me to my “dark place”. Dark because it’s like a peaceful summer night. I don’t know anything around me, my vision tunnels to only include the bag, which is no longer a bag. I am not thinking through my movements; my body knows what to do and I let it. Time may have escaped me, but my muscles begin to tell me that I have been out here longer than I’ve realized as my legs and hips start to fail me. Somehow finally feeling again brings relief. It may be pain, but the pain is relief and healing.
To be completely vulnerable and yet have no holes or weaknesses…it seems unhuman. Yet this is what we strive to achieve as boxers. The pressure can only be released by the thing that created it—yet another paradox of boxing. I must remain completely faultless throughout practice and in the ring, go home and be the provider, the all-knowing answer giver and decision maker for the family, and go to work only to do the same. When am I to be human? This world does not allow for that. So instead, I come in the night and be human with only boxing. Boxing tells me where I’m weak and have to grow still, but she quietly and patiently tells me the answers to that humanity and weakness. See, no one can use my weaknesses against me when I’m already aware of them and currently working on them. Day by day, night by night, I continue the forever struggle to be what those around me believe me to be. What do I believe me to be?
To be completely strong, to deeply believe in, and be unshakable in my knowledge of my strength, and yet humble, acknowledging my faults and weaknesses to learn from all of those around me, “higher” or “lower”. Ah. See, there is the balance. I listen as boxing whispers to me. It may be small changes each day, but every day I grow stronger and become a better listener and student as it shows me more and more truth.
Yes. I have a privilege most don’t. I own my own gym so I can come out here blasting this music with my drink and gloves in the middle of the night when I need it most. But I did not always have these privileges. I did this in my home after my kids were asleep. My music was quieter, and I was in my socks and in my living room only shadow boxing, but I promise you that my punches were no less deadly as I finally let go and sank into the peace of not knowing the answers. Those who tell me that any boxer is scared before they enter the ring tell me a lot about themselves as humans and as boxers. The only reason that you are scared to step into that ring is because you are hiding from boxing’s truths. There is nothing in this world like stepping in the ring when you are as intimate with boxing as I am.
You step in that ring with a sigh of relief. This is your joy, your home, your partner through life. There may be another person present in this moment in the ring, but that almost does not even concern you! You feel the joy as you let go and enter into the blissful intimacy and trust that you have in boxing. Your body already knows, and peace rushes over you as your body takes over and you let go to trust boxing and in your body. She has already told you the truths in the dark of the night, in your weakest moments when you were willing to go to her and trust her. Now is simply another one of those moments of trust and peace as, this time, she brings you and your family glory.