Before you say anything, shut up. Yeah, it’s probably a cliché for an aspiring writer who drinks too much to begin boxing classes, but I do not care, because clichés are the fabrication of no-good arse-clappers who are afraid of actually doing anything for fear of looking silly. Do whatever the hell you want. It doesn’t matter if someone did it before you; you are you. Just enjoy your life.
I’ve been boxing for a few months now and haven’t written about it for fear that I would come off stupid, because in all honesty I still don’t know anything about it beyond the absolute basics. But here’s what I’ve learned so far.
- Being punched in the face doesn’t hurt as much as you think. Admittedly, we are sparring and wearing thick gloves which dulls the thud of a fist in your nose, but after you’ve been thwacked in the conk a few times in swift repetition, you’d expect it to hurt, and yet it does not hurt. But then, often when you’ve just been lamped and are pondering the fact that, actually, it didn’t really hurt at all beyond the initial jolt, you get right hooked in the jaw, and that actually does hurt a bit (this happened literally yesterday and knocked me for six).
- When you box somebody, it is extremely intimate and at the same time extremely impersonal. You are facing a stranger, fists raised, and you are both trying very hard to outsmart, outpace and outpunch one another, sweating on each other, actively trying to beat their face in, and yet you are quietly detached. You watch them, but you don’t see them. Their face doesn’t matter; only their whipping fists and dancing legs matter.
- After you’ve spent three minutes punching one another to bits, you tap gloves, laugh, and chat about your weekend plans. Then it’s the next round, and you once more set about attacking each other’s faces like a pair of rabid weasels. Although actually –
- Not like rabid weasels at all, because for the most part boxing is extremely calculated, far more than the mental image of two semi-naked humans throttling one another would suggest. It’s shitting hard to judge where a punch is going to come from at first; before you’ve had time to register the gang of on-rushing knuckles, you’re already impaled on the end of them. Over time, I’ve improved, and mostly get hit less – or at least, when I do get hit it’s because I cocked up and forgot to keep my fists raised. You eventually learn the early warning signs of a punch; you watch their fists, their shoulders, their stance, and the slight tensing of a shoulder muscle gives you a split-second warning you’re about to be cracked in the forehead.
- Despite this knowledge, there are still occasions where I see it coming and don’t have time to react. One minute, you are regarding your opponent coolly, circling, waiting for an opening, keeping the distance between you with a few light jabs to let them know they’re in your sights; next second, your entire field of vision is filled with a big red rubber fist.
- Once you get hit once, you get hit a thousand more times. We are hard-wired fighters, but evolution does not train cold and calculated bruisers; evolution taught us fight or flight, dive in hell-for-leather or run like the clappers. A sudden pain sets off this response, which you must ignore if you hope to escape being booted around the ring with all the grace and poise of piss-bloated catheter.
After taking a big hit, your fight or flight leaps into action, which you would assume would work a treat, right? You’d see red, go wild, deck your opponent and do a little jig over their recumbent body. Only: no. Literally the opposite happens. On the one hand, if the urge to flee takes over, you’ll just leap out of the ring in a great arc and land in the crowd like Free Willy apart from you’ll forevermore be a big shit coward loser and everyone hates you. So avoid that option.
Alternatively, when your ‘fight’ response kicks in, you lose all decorum and training and anything that vaguely resembles a good idea. Your fists lower as animalistic rage takes over, your punches are wild and inaccurate, you stagger around grunting like a wounded bull, and then you get bonced five more times in quick succession. Gotta suppress those instincts if you want to stay pretty.
- When a whirlwind blur of fists are taking up your entire peripheral vision, it can be easy to feel a victim, especially if you’re not a naturally aggressive or imposing person. However, if you manage a quick jab or two through the chaos of knuckles spiraling around your head, you notice the flurry slows. Peer over your fists and you notice your opponent recoiling slightly. Shit! They don’t like being hit either! Nobody does! Then you realise that you can be the aggressor if you choose; you can hurt them back, and they will wither beneath your onslaught, like a doner kebab left out in the sun.
You can do it, you realise, a giddy stream of chemicals flooding your heart; you can win! You can make this flesh and blood marionette dance! You can bludgeon them into the corner of the ring, you can lead the attack, lay siege to their defenses, duck their jabs and swing around with a strong right hook and-
-and you didn’t notice their left uppercut and you get hit so hard in the jaw it makes a batman-style ‘pow’ bubble appear in the air beside your head, and then the sparring is over and you tap gloves and stumble away to the showers and wash the shame of defeat away and get the train home with sweaty hair and a well-worked over face bright red and gleaming.
Then you go again next week, because it’s feckin great!