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

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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.

Taking Both

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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.

“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!

Mental Toughness – and Relaxation

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Boxing is my lifeline right now because it is the one thing that pushes me so completely beyond of what I think is possible, physically and mentally. And I am not even close to talking about a fight here, just the training aspect itself is kicking my butt.  I hate it because it throws me against the deepest fear and resistance in myself towards the super-effort that I have to make in every training again and again. And, I love it at the same time. For the same reason. Because it gives me the opportunity to step into a whole other domain of power and energy than the one I usually operate on.

The other day I had to do 100 punches as fast and hard as I could into the heavy bag. I couldn’t lift my arms after 60 because I stopped breathing altogether. Complete contraction in the face of survival. I realized that when I am being pushed beyond limits I automatically contract and start breathing like those were my last seconds to live. There is no power without relaxation. As my trainer commented: “You have to catch your breath faster”.

How powerful I am (and how I think I need to breathe) is a mental concept. And what is needed is a much faster recovery time. 8 seconds to completely calm down in order to move on to another drill that is even more challenging.

There is a moment of choice. I either panic – or relax, move through resistance and step into a new realm of energy that opened up for me in the training a few days ago. This is “mental toughness”, to not give my mind a chance, to just not go with it. Stay focused. “Suffer now”, as Muhammad Ali said.

I will not be the heavy weight champion of the world. (I hope not…)  I aim for being the champion of my mind, instead of the slave of my mind. And I am boxing my way there!

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” – Muhammad Ali

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In some ways I am a late bloomer. Most people probably started following Muhammad Ali in the 60’s or 70’s, watching his fights, reading his books, listening to him speak. Well, I am just barely approaching the boxing world (by working up to the goal of not completely collapsing after 70 punches into the heavy bag) and I am discovering Muhammad Ali!

These days you find me in the kitchen dancing back and forth between stove and counter, mumbling to myself, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!!” as I am moving potatoes in big quantities in the oven and frying sausages on the griddle. Yes, I did write a vegetarian cookbook, and yes, all I want to eat are sausages right now due to my intense boxing workouts! We just never know where life takes us…