Straights, Slips, and Fairy Tales

I sit in my office to finally get some work done. “Man, I have been so far behind on everything since I started having all of these doctors appointments. I don’t know how I used to do all of my dailies, all of the gym workouts with every person, spar everyone, all the blogs, the taxes, the website, school, all the…” Then I remember something. A lesson that I learned the hard way about a year ago, and the year before that, and the one before that…one that I seem to just continually forget: If I focus on the people that are brought into my life that really need me, just sitting with them, just listening to them, coming to understand and really hear, we always manage to get through the technical things. The rest is just a way to keep the doors open to keep being a safe place for healing.

What a weird statement about a boxing gym. I know. People come in here for a few different reasons—that they tell themselves or me anyways. Things like "to loose weight", "to defend myself", "to compete". But stick around long enough and you realize that every single person walking through the doors is here for a very different reason, and yet the same one. They are fighting a battle inside themselves that they know, deep down, they have to win or they might not make it. I don’t know that they always understand that as the process begins, but boxing has been around since practically the beginning of time, as has story telling, for a reason, and that’s because we, as everyday people, get to watch people win their battles and it gives us hope about our own. In fact, most of us haven't felt that kind of hope since back when we believed in fairy tale endings.

Sometimes it almost doesn’t even matter which person in the ring won as I watch. I talk about the beauty in every movement in boxing a lot when I’m in the gym, and while I know that not everyone understands just how beautiful it really is, I stand by that statement; and I also guarantee you that you’ll walk away inspired in a way that pure violence certainly couldn’t do for you. No, what’s going on inside that ring is a manifestation of incredibly hard work and dedication to win over the circumstances or demons in your own life that you were just given—over your own hand of cards in life. You are watching two people who, at some point in their lives, decided that the way for them to be successful and conquer this life was going to be daily punched in the face. What does your life have to be like to reach that point? Probably not so very different than the battles in your own lives, it’s just that these people are actively changing their hand of cards they were dealt.

To, against all odds, rise up and conquer. That’s why we, as regular people, love it so much after all. So why is it so hard to believe that boxing is about healing? It’s about as close as we’re going to get, as adults, to a fairy tale ending. These aren’t the fairy tales that you find on your kids tv shows, no, these are closer to the fairy tales of long ago. The folk lore that’s studied, or, if you were one of my sisters, that you loved as a kid for that little bit of “edge” that you didn’t yet understand such as found in Brothers Grim stories. These “darker” or “edgier” fairy tales may not always seem child appropriate, but they had their place in human history to help warn of the pitfalls of life, of staying out of woods or away from certain cabins or strangers, of explaining the unexplainable punches in life so that children could grow up to see them coming and be able to slip or parry them. …because while we desperately desire our kids to grow up in a fantasy land where only good things happen, deep down we know that we’re not so different then these men and women we’re watching in the ring. It took brutal honesty--much like the "edginess" that we took out of our fairy tales--to realize at some point in their lives that their best shot at making it through the life punches was to start figuring out how to overcome, slip, and counter punch the physical ones. Maybe that's why so many of us these days can't seem to figure out the harder parts of life and give up. We took the honesty out of our stories and painted them to be modern day fairy tales.

So I sit in my office after having just spent the last few hours texting and calling with several different gym members. One is off at a training camp who asked advice about a certain problem the fighter he’s in camp with was having…yet the conversation turned to a “family curse” that he feels he’s haunted by, him wondering when it would find him there because he was happy for five minutes. But each of the gym members, or their parents, I was talking to were reaching out because of “family curses”, they just all took different forms. They were all here to find why it hadn’t been conquered before in their family and how they were going to be the ones to break it. That’s why I started boxing, even if I didn’t know it yet. I picked it as the one thing I wanted to try to do after my divorce, but it was in me—I just didn’t understand why it had called to me like it had. But boxing had things for me to do, "happy endings" to figure out how to discover for our family (in the folk lore sense, not the fairy tales of this day and age).

People ask me all the time why I still do all the things with the physical aspects of boxing that I do. They ask, “If you can’t even compete anymore, where do you find it to push like this?” Well, number one I’m allowed to eat whatever I want so I’m not pushing through these sets half starved to make weight 😉 but number two, yeah, I loved the fights, the ring…yes, it’s been a heart breaking process to accept that I’m really done, even though that’s been over for quite some time now. Yet, it was never about that to begin with. Not the “win” in there anyways. If it had been I probably would have quit after that first stupid fight where I was against a teammate with loads of experience, that my coach had even driven to the fight, while I had a blind man attempting to tape my hair down in my headgear mid-fight while points were being deducted. Or I would have quit during any of the other very insane incidents that I have as part of “my boxing story”. It was about the win in the rest of my life. The small daily wins that added up to a very, very different type of story for my kids than I could have told without boxing to help me work through.

I had one coach that was and is the best coach I’ve ever met in my life. I hope that one day I can become half the human being, let alone coach, that he is. Before a fight we were working late one night and I started asking a bunch of questions about who it was I was supposed to be fighting. He said, “Lucy, don’t worry about her. Let me do my job to study video and know what we have to fix before that fight. Do what I am telling you to do, be honest with yourself about your progress, practice like you always do, and we will get you straight.” And he was right. Yes, as a coach, I need to be studying video and deciding what we’ve got to fix before we go in there for someone, etc. but for the fighter, your biggest opponent is yourself. Conquer your own demons, feelings, lack of self-control (in whatever area you struggle), poverty/resource challenges, and you will conquer your life—in and out of that ring no matter who or what is in there with you. You can be your own "happy ending", no matter what your family (hi)story has told you up to this point.

“To see a man beaten not by a better opponent, but by himself, is a tragedy.”

--Cus D’Amato

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