Carlos is going to try out for the Olympic boxing team next month. He’s tall and skinny and fast on his feet. If you saw him on the street, you might think that he was a college student; serious and soft-spoken. You’d never guess how much damage he could do. Now I was climbing into the ring with him.
This isn’t one of those post where the underdog will prove his grit and stun the crowd. There was no crowd. Carlos’s mom and his trainers were there, and there were a couple of experienced boxers, and me. Fat, slow on my feet, and scared that I would trip on the rope as I entered the ring.
“King” Zahir Raheem thought that it would be a good idea if I did one round. Three minutes. 180 seconds. During that time I would try my best to hit him, and he would not get hit. That’s it. He wouldn’t swing on me. He’d just bob and weave and wheel away. I play games like that with my five-year old daughter.
“It will be a good workout,” he said.
I said, “Okay.”
Every morning I drop my oldest off at high school, have a cup of coffee and then head over to the gym, on other side of the mountain. That’s been my routine for the bast three weeks. I swipe in, put my towel and dry shirt on the bar in the back of the gym and then get to work.
- Three rounds of jump rope. Each round is three minutes, as indicated by the gym counter that sits on the wall on the other side of the ring.
- 4 x 14 medicine ball swings
- 4 x 14 medicine ball twist swings. Both sides.
- Tire steps on a tractor tire. Put your foot on the tire. Step up and touch your opposite knee to the palms of your hands. Step down. Repeat with the other side.
- Battle ropes. One minute set of each exercise, followed by a one minute rest.
- Alternating waves
- Power Slams
- 4 x 14 Flutter kick crunches
Although that program is my bread and butter right now, Coach Rob Lee Valez changes it whenever and however he wants. It usually goes like this.
Coach Rob: “How you feelin?”
Me: “Not bad. You know, I think…”
Coach Rob: “Okay. Add two more reps to everything.” As he grabs a tire out of the tire corner, that I’ll soon be stepping on to increase my foot agility.
After that I shadowbox while he tells me that I’m doing it wrong. I used to stand with my right foot forward. It’s how I trained in Hsing Yi. WRONG. I also stood with my shoulders and hips square to my opponent. Also from Hsing Yi. Wrong again.. My old jab? Well, Xing Yi doesn’t really have a jab, so it was WRONG. My rear cross? I’m leaning a bit too far forward. WRONG. That means that my chin is open to a counter. WRONG.
Note: Wrong is this context means “Since you came to me and said, ‘”Teach me to box'”, everything that I didn’t teach you is WRONG.” It doesn’t mean Hsing Yi, Southern Praying Mantis (from my Philly days) or any other martial art is wrong.
Then I’ll punch the heavy bag for a few rounds. And the gloves will begin to feel like they weigh twenty pounds a piece as I learn exactly why they call it a heavy bag.
But on the day of the non-fight, Coach Zahir looked at me as I was stepping on the tire, and asked, “How you feelin?” Which should be my cue to start clutching my chest like Fred Sanford.
“Okay. You want to get in the ring”
The green light on the ring timer glowed. I wasn’t paying attention to it. I was trying to hit Carlos. I say hit because, about ten seconds into it, Carlos looked at Coach and said, “He’s not trying. He’s not trying to hit me.”
I wasn’t. I was throwing towards him, not at him. There were a couple of times when I think I could have caught him with a cross in those early seconds. I didn’t throw it. I’m still not sure why.Maybe it’s because I was trying to wait for that perfect opportunity. Maybe I’m just not used to really trying to punch a dude.
Afterwards I tried, but Carlos is quick. To hit him, I had to get within arms length. He danced around the ring and I stayed in the center, lumbering towards him, trying to cut him off in the corners. Twice I tapped him on his headgear.
Then I hit a wall. My unconditioned body wanted more oxygen than my untrained lungs could provide. I needed to hold onto something and breath.
I said, “I’m good.” The grownup equivalent to Time Out. But Carlos kept moving.
“Just one more minute.” Coach Zahir said. “You’re good.”
“I’m okay. I’m, uh, getting out now.”
“No you aren’t” said Coach Zahir. I don’t remember if he was smiling or not. “You want to get out of that ring, you have to lay down like Carlos knocked you out. That’s the only way.”
I don’t remember what happened after that. I didn’t lay down. Carlos didn’t stop moving, and I didn’t stop trying to punch him. And then it was over.
Some things you should know if you’re going to start boxing.
- You know that plastic water bottle? The one that the corner man squirts into the Champ’s face? Don’t put your lips on it. It’s not yours. It’s for everyone in the gym. I didn’t know that the first day, and I drank from it. It touched my lips. I’m not sure whose more freaked out by that; me or everyone else. Don’t be like me.
- “You’ll get brain damage!” No, you probably won’t. Are you going to be a prize-fighter? Are you going to start boxing at 44 and climb into a professional ring at 45 and cram an entire career into your mid-life crisis? No? Then, at your amateur, slow-ass, head-gear wearing, friendly sparring level, your brain cells are safe.
- “Can you use it in a fight?” Me? No. Not yet. “Is it better than…(insert martial art here)” Do people still ask that? I’ll talk about boxing and combat and street shit later on. The only advice I have is, avoid the internet Martial Arts flame wars, find what you like and do the hell out of it.