All these people in this gym. You would think that they would know the basics. Whether it’s the boxercisers, or the fresh meat amateurs, when it’s my time to teach them, I ask them to show me everything.
“Let me see your jab!
Let me see your cross!
Keep your guard up!
You! You just got hit with a hook ’cause your guard is garbage!
If you punch like that you’ll break your wrists!
Snap those jabs!
And that’s before we put the wraps on. If I don’t know a face I pull them aside. Ask them to show me how they wrap their hands. We sit face-to-face. The ladies here for fitness classes always get it wrong. I take their hands into mine. Slowly unwrap there hands and explain, “Wrapping your knuckles might stop your knuckle from being scratched by the glove, but it doesn’t protect you. We wrap our hands to protect them.”
After unwrapping their mess I explain, “First, we wrap the wrist to protect the wrist.” After pulling the wraps snugly around his wrists twice I continue, “Then we protect each, individual knuckle.” I slowly cross-wrap between each finger. “Finally, we tighten up the thumb, go across the knuckles and wrist.” It should feel tight. The boxer – and we’re using the term lightly here for most of them — should feel like the small bones in their hands are held into place.
I then ask them to wrap their second hand. Most people get it, or just make small mistakes that I immediately fix, but some women like when I hold their hands – what can I say. With everyone’s hands properly wrapped, I ask them to shadow box. Not how they imagine they should shadow box, but how if they got into a fight themselves they would box.
Some of these people. “Seriously, that’s how you’re going to protect yourself?” Others have pretty impressive form. I take my time. Walk around each fighter and make corrections. Every few minutes I cry out, “Always be circling! What are you always doin’?”
“Circling!” They better scream back, if they don’t want to do pushups. There’s a reason why poets use boxing as a metaphor for life. It all starts with the footwork.
I can tell who’s here to become a boxer and who should be here to become a boxer by studying how they circle their imaginary ring. How they cut off their imaginary opponent’s path. The efficiency of their movement.
A boxer can only move in two ways: Small compact steps, and large leaping steps. Boxers who use small steps are usually conservative people. They use a tight guard because they understand that they will get touched. It’s a safe style for boxers adverse to risk.
The boxers who primarily leap are constantly at risk for being knocked out. They gamble that with speed, they won’t be clocked jumping into the fray – adding their forward momentum to their opponent’s approaching fist. On the way out of danger, it’s a similar problem. Leaping out, they have no way of making small adjustments to avoid being struck. I find myself pushing them to the ground, or slapping them to show them how poor their balance is. Sometimes I’ll tell them to never leap in with their head on a straight line.
Ideally, boxers should have footwork that borrows from both ideas. Small steps to have a sense of control, and larger steps to add elements of surprise to their game. So few of these bums understand the importance of balance. It’s all one way, or all the other way. After watching and critiquing for ten minutes I put on whatever music pisses them off the most and we start the aerobics class.
Amateurs and these guys is the closest I get to the ring nowadays. Maybe one day one of the kids I work with will become something. But this pays the bills. Show me a gym that doesn’t let bums train and I’ll show you a gym not making money. There are only so many Wildcard gyms. The rest of us have to diversify. For some that’s coaching MMA fighters on the side, for me it’s this. Two hours everyday of beautiful women and unhealthy, uncoordinated men bouncing around my gym.
We always do this part to music. These people have a drum beating in the middle of their chests and they still have no rhythm. To box you need to know your personal rhythm. By understanding that, you can break your opponent’s rhythm. There are clients who come here for months and still can’t do jumping jacks to music. “Just copy everyone else!” I find myself screaming. Everything to the beat; jacks, running on spot, jumping imaginary rope, throwing combos and circling to the beat.
When we’re done, the fitter boxers and clients usually do some type of circuit training. After that, the crowd thins out even more and the fun starts. My boys, some wannabe tough guys who came to the class, and usually a few women who’ve been clients so long that they’ve gained confidence with their technique stay behind. I pull out freshly cleaned head guard. Explain to them that all the head guard does is limit cuts and some bruising. The brain damage is still real. I usually pair my smaller amateur fighters with the tough guys to give them some variety and let the ladies pick their partners. I give them all a round in the ring.
What do I care? They’ve all signed waivers. For some losing a few braincells is the most excitement they’ll get all week. They’re stuck sitting in a cubicle, or being a yes man for some bitter boss who’s a yes man for some other bitter boss. That doesn’t matter here. It’s a combination of adrenaline and instinct. If they’ve engrained my lessons into their soul they survive. Some thrive and I ask them to enter a tournament. Others freeze, I cut their three minute round short to protect them and pull them aside.
Away from everyone else, we go through what they did wrong. What they need to work on before I let them back in the ring. I usually give them things to practice at home and send them on their way. Might sound cold-hearted of me, but the ring shows no pity. If I want them to come back I can’t either – their health is more important than my kindness. No matter how glossy you make it, whether you sell it as fitness or not – this is still boxing. Poor technique could get you killed. They come here because I am honest. Because their health and safety matters to me. Not enough for me to discourage them from trying to fight, but enough to make sure that if they’re taking risks it’s a reasonable one.
This doesn’t suck. It’s far from the glory I felt when I was a successful amateur, or when I turned pro. There’s no high like when I was winning smaller belts, or fighting top ten ranked opponents. But there’s also no lows like getting knocked out, forgetting my name, being rushed to a hospital because I can’t stop throwing up after a brutal fight, getting a cracked rib or breaking a hand. I remember things a lot better now. It’ll never all come back. But I’m good. It’s a comfortable middle. Sometimes I get lucky, find a decent amateur who does well in tournaments. We take a picture of them with their medals, frame it and put it on the wall, but that’s their moment not mine.
When I first started this gym, we were in the basement of a bar. It was strictly fighters, I made enough money to move here and then financial responsibility hit. I have employees, bills, and taxes. I can’t do this for personal glory. Things changed, but the business survived.
After sparring is done, I brief all my amateurs. If I’m lucky, one of the ladies will ask me to show her how to wrap her hands. If they’ve been sparring, they already know. It’s just a subtle way of telling me that they want me to hold their hands – I can dig that.
Dane Swan is the publisher, and editor of the E-book poetry anthology, “L _ _ _:” A poetic study of relationships. He is also a past Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto, and has been short listed for the Monica Ladell Award (Scarborough Arts). His first book, “Bending the Continuum,” (Guernica Editions, 2011) was a mid-summer recommended read from Open Book Toronto. Dane’s second book, “A Mingus Lullaby,” (Guernica Editions) is slated for a Fall 2015 launch.