“Only Boxing Prepares You For Boxing”

Today I had my first training session after five weeks. Since I returned from my trips I have been practicing, working out, running, doing my jump ropes. But there is just nothing like actually boxing with someone. As my trainer said, “You can’t prepare for boxing. Only boxing prepares you for boxing.” From my experience, that is true. I work hard during the week before my session so I can make use of the training and so I don’t have to take breaks all the time to catch my breath. But having to respond to someone, moving around constantly, taking punches, keeping my hands up, paying attention, and most importantly relaxing, is just not something I can really prepare for. It is always so much more challenging than I can possibly imagine….

It takes a crazy commitment to box because it seems impossible in the moment. And like in life you can’t prepare yourself to live. I try to be authentic and real in my relationships and bring presence to what I am doing  – but life is always fresh in every moment and I have to jump in with “Beginner’s Mind”, like Suzki Roshi said, a great Zen Master, who brought Zen to America in 1959. I can’t prepare myself for life, but I can practice to meet every moment with openness and vulnerability. Actually listening, not assuming I know already, really considering the other person and daring to not know – as terrifying as that might be, and as bad as I might look bad!

Well, one moment of “jumping in” like that happened just recently, when I had forgotten to bring my boxing shirt. I had two choices – not train and go home, or, train in what I had. This happened to be a dress. So, I boxed in my dress. Yes. I tried to roll it up over my pants which resulted in a sausage-like ring around my waist. And of course it fell down every two minutes. I let it hang and kept on boxing. You just have to have priorities 🙂 . Luckily, nobody was around watching me, and if so, it wouldn’t have mattered. With my dress I was bringing a bit of the feminine to the rather masculine boxing world where either Eminem or the Rocky theme song were blasting in the background.

And today, coming back to “training” – my trainer had me put a thick rubber band around my hips that he was holding on to. We worked on “explosions”. That means we were working on strengthening the explosive power in legs and core. That was after 30 minutes of boxing. I had just started my period – yes, if you are reading this blog, you have to read it all – and so there were a lot of inner explosions going on… Physical and emotional.  But, that wasn’t what was of interest in that moment and so I put my mind on running as fast as I could while he was holding me back. Even if this is not preparing me for boxing it puts me in the condition where I can meet the challenge to box. With great explosion!

To freshen up your memory – The Rocky Theme Song!

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Heaven on Earth – Smashburgers and Gleason’s Boxing Gym!

tshirt 1

After the very bumpy descending of the plane through a New York rainstorm and an extremely hard landing, (with passengers screaming – not me though…), which made me think for a moment that our plane had actually crashed, I had made my way to one of my favorite places. New York City.

I had come to a city with some of the best restaurants in the world. Given the fact that I am a great lover of food it was a bit funny that one of the highlights of this trip for me was the visit to “Smash-burgers” in New Jersey – an upscale fast-food burger place, where I ordered a burger with portobello mushrooms in truffle oil. It was so good that I did not stop talking about it. And even now, a few weeks later, I am still thinking about it. So, if you have the opportunity and want to make yourself happy, go to Smash-burgers!

But this was not the end of highlights. I had planned to visit a real, old time boxing gym where I could watch people train and box. It was just like in the movies. I am not exaggerating. I walked through the streets of Brooklyn, just underneath the Brooklyn bridge, past a Sushi bar and a Starbuck’s, up the stairs, through a door and stepped into the boxing world of Gleason’s Gym. The oldest boxing gym in the United States that produced over a hundred World Champions. I could tell there was history in this place. Muhammad Ali had boxed here… I could just feel the sweat that this place had seen.

There were two boxing rings set up, lots of heavy bags, double ends bags and speed bags for training. And people were everywhere, punching the heavy bags, doing jump ropes, shadowboxing, liftting weights, doing other cardio workouts….Training was happening all around me.

And right at the moment I walked in two women were taking turns sparring with a skinny, muscle machine trainer and sparring partner. The women kept taking turns and eventually they boxed with each other. How great to see that, as I had never see other women box live in front of me!

I had brought my two women friends and we were all standing around the ring, watching. We were squeaky clean and nice looking women and we did stand out a bit, I must say. It was amazing that there was no attitude whatsoever from the male boxers around us. Everybody was extremely friendly, curious and encouraging. The trainer repeatedly invited me into the ring, which I vehemently declined, telling him I wasn’t ready yet. “We definitely created a buzz”, as my friend commented.

Mouthguard Needed

mguard

I ordered a mouthguard last week. For anybody who is seriously boxing this is probably not a big deal as it is simply a piece of protection gear that is needed to keep yourself from punches against the jaw. I learned that it is the punches against the jaw that can easily knock you out because the nerves from the jaw go straight to the brain. This made me a tiny bit nervous ordering it, but committed to boxing, I went ahead…

I picked up the mouthguard from the mail on my way to my boxing lesson the other day. Then I sat in the car and tried to put it into my mouth. It looked like a monstrous device designed for aliens. Then, when I had finally successfully placed the black plastic thing where it is supposed to go I looked into the back mirror. My cheeks were strangely puffed up with a black airfilter between my teeth. I couldn’t help myself from thinking, “what did I get myself into with this?” When I  started drooling without control while people walked by left and right next to the car, my only thought was, “how am I supposed to carry this and box at the same time?”

I promise I will not use it in the kitchen during cooking, as it probably will prevent me from tasting the food. I will also not bring it with me for tango dancing as it might not contribute to great intimacy with my dancing partner, since I resemble a Star-trek character from an undiscovered planet when I wear it. But, I promise I keep you updated on how I will put it to use in the boxing ring.

Taking Both

MA 3 risk

I don’t think I ever mentioned this: I am not learning to box as a new interesting way to spend my time. My goal is to win a boxing fight. I don’t have a vision for how and where and when, but that is what I am training for. That is surely one of the biggest risks I have ever taken.

How is the training going? The running is getting a bit easier. I run now three times a week. I started at 0.75 when I first put my shoes on. That was the first time I ran since I was 15 years old. I stay with what I can do for a week and when I notice that I am getting used to a certain distance, I increase it by 0.25 miles. It has been four weeks now after I began doing this and I currently am at 2 miles. In “Girlfight”, one of the boxing movies I recently watched about a young woman training to become a boxer, her boxing trainer told her to run three miles three times a week. That is the goal right now and I am moving towards that.

I definitely notice a big difference in my endurance when I am boxing with my trainer. When I had to stop because I was running completely out of breath in training before I can keep going now for much longer.

Practice is definitely paying off. But I have to pay attention to take it a bit slower than I want to. I have been boxing five or six times a week to practice what I learn in my lessons and to get ready for the next one coming. I am getting much stronger and faster than even four weeks ago. But especially my shoulders and elbows have to keep up with the intense workouts. So, I am learning that I am not invincible. When I first got some aches and pains in my shoulder my mind wanted to get depressed and fearing that I have to stop boxing. But, nothing is ever “either or”. I can’t do this as a machine. I work out six times a week, running, jump ropes, weightlifting, core exercises, rowing machine, footwork exercises, but I have slowed down the actual boxing to 3 or 4 times week.

There is the progress, the strength and satisfaction that come from feeling more and more physically fit and strong. That of course translates into how I feel in general about myself. But that is just one side of the coin. It is about taking both – the positive things and the hard, challenging, painful things that come with it. It is about including and accepting any pain that comes along with it instead of getting all freaked out by it, worried and depressed. Now it has become more like the juggling of what is the right thing for each day, adjusting to what is needed and at the same time keeping the bar of training high.

Here we are at relaxation again. Since I remembered that there is never a linear way in anything – and surely no linear way in becoming a boxer –  I see that I am  in charge of my training, listening to what my body needs. And, I can relax again.

It is called “Road Kill” for a reason

During my last boxing session I boxed three rounds of two minutes each on the double end bag. It sounds like nothing, but two minutes can be a very long time… At the end I was so exhausted  my punches looked like I was drunk. I was simply trying to not quit before the time was over. At the end of the session my trainer commented: “Your hands and arms look better, but you have to work on your cardio…”

The next day I started running by an impulse that didn’t coming from my head, telling me I had to do this as a way to improve my endurance. It came straight from the body.  I said to my friends, “it is called ‘road kill’ for a reason!”, told them to pray for me and hit the dirt road.

It took only a few minutes until I noticed that my mind was producing thoughts like, “Oh my God, am I going to make it this long?” Fear immediately followed, hand in hand with tension. If I didn’t pay attention my stomach contracted. Not listening to my mind, I kept running and relaxing with every step, just like in boxing. When I have been able to bring my attention back to the very next step and relax into it hidden pockets of energy opened up.

I was running quiet nicely, even beginning to enjoy it and suddenly turned around the corner from where I could the see house. I was on the home stretch now and – isn’t it interesting? – immediately I could hardly breathe. So close to the end I allowed thoughts and emotions to come in again and take control. Staying vigilant to the end. There is no moment in time when I can lean back, just because I think I am on the home run and I have it made. Lack of attention and vigilance create road kill, not cars!

exhausted athletes

“Protect yourself, don’t defend yourself”

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In one of my first boxing sessions my trainer was punching me and I panicked. I turned away from him, lost eye contact, forgot to keep my hands up and at the same time was trying to keep the oncoming punches away from me. He kept coming towards me, yelling, “Protect yourself, but don’t defend yourself!”

What a useful distinction, not only for boxing, but for how I relate to everything in life! I would describe myself as being defensive in general. Since I started boxing I realized that it is partly because I never really learned how to protect myself. And there is a difference between the two. “Defending oneself” is the act of having already given in to the belief that I am a victim. It is passive, closed off, a reaction. There is no power or possibility in that position.

“Protecting oneself” is active, it needs strength, attention and courage. And there is something quite vulnerable in it, because it implies being open and flexible. If I am not identified with the thought that I need to react there can even be space to be creative in the moment!

The picture of Muhammad Ali communicates the intelligence and power of staying open and flexible in the face of an oncoming challenge. Be it criticism, conflict, or a jab coming towards my head!

Cooking, Dancing, Boxing – The Outfits

Let’s talk about outfits for a moment. Since I started boxing I hear the same question over and over. “What about your outfit in boxing? What are you wearing?”

This important question needs to be addressed and since I box, cook and dance, you will read about all three.

Cooking

The first thing I do when I come into the kitchen to prepare food is to put on an apron. It needs to be fresh and clean. Then I feel prepared to handle the food with respect and attention – and to basically handle anything else that comes my way! (Even though it reminds me a little bit of my grandmother from Germany who used to wear her apron all day around the house, calling it her “kitchen skirt”…)

There is an eclectic selection of aprons in the kitchen cabinet: a pink Russian apron that resembles a cloth handkerchief on strings, a star wars apron, an apron with a running moose and an apron with mice making a birthday cake. I prefer the classic model, simple, one color, and big enough to do its job of protecting me from oncoming splashes of all kinds.

apron2

Dancing

It is so much about the shoes! Before I started dancing tango I never wore a pair of shoes with heels higher than 1/2 inch. After I tried on my first pair of good tango shoes I was lost forever to the average height of a 3.75 inch high heel. If I my life wasn’t demanding other things, I would be seen in these super high heels most of the time. But, heels on dirt roads or in the kitchen can be a bit dangerous…

Here is my favorite pair of tango shoes. They are made from purple fur. Yes, you read correctly. And the fact that the shoes are loosing their fur is not because of seasonal change, (like cats and dogs losing their winter fur). It is because of extreme use during tango dances, called “Milongas”.

Tango shoes 1

tango shoes 3Boxing

These are my new gloves and hand wraps. I am staying away from wearing super short tank tops at this point as they only work if your abbs are hard as steel…

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I am also not wearing shiny boxer shorts or extra boxing shoes. It is all very basic and all I care about is making it through my training tomorrow morning. No perfect shoe will help me with that!