Flight to Fight? (aka Why Boxing?)

Many people have asked me “why boxing?” or, as one friend put it, why as a runner, did I go from flight to fight? Others have commented that getting hit repeatedly doesn’t sound like fun (though truth be told, I got that comment about running 26 miles too). Some people simply said “yikes!” And my mom said, “well, at least you didn’t rob a bank.” I guess I know what the line is now. But why am I doing this anyway? Why do I love boxing?

Before I started boxing, I never watched boxing, I never thought about boxing, and I certainly never considered boxing myself. I never had the slightest desire to hit anyone or be hit by anyone. I considered myself lucky to have gone through life without ever being hit in the face. I didn’t want to try boxing because I knew I wouldn’t like it. Sometimes we surprise ourselves though.

As it turns out, boxing is so much more than hitting and trying not to get hit. I never understood the technical skill that boxing requires, and I was immediately attracted to the challenge. Learning the basics has been just that. My body is still learning how to move like a boxer. My hips don’t turn enough, I don’t extend my arm when I take a shot, I lunge forward rather than stepping with control, I move clumsily around the ring or sometimes I forget to move altogether and stand like a deer in the headlights. The list goes on and on. In the beginning, I had to think about every move. I’d focus on fixing one thing and something else would go because I wasn’t thinking about it. It was so much to think about. I’d like to say that now I don’t have to think anymore, but I’m still learning the basics. I’m still drilling and drilling the same things. The first thing you learn in boxing is how to throw a jab and a cross (left hand then right hand), the source of the idiom “the old one-two.” Guess what I worked on yesterday? The old one-two.

Slowly things are becoming more natural though. Occasionally, my body does exactly what it’s supposed to do without me having to tell it what to do. With mastering the basics though comes a new challenge, which is trying to do the basics with someone simultaneously trying to hit you and deflecting your punches. This is my current problem. I think I’d be a pretty decent boxer if only my opponent had fewer than two arms. Unfortunately, I think having all four limbs may be a pre-requisite for boxing, since most of the boxers I know appear to have a full set. I get in a solid blow every once in a while, but most of my time I spend thinking, “Now? Should I go now? No, too late. How about now? What am I supposed to do when she’s just wailing on me like this? Oh look, I have a clear shot to her head, maybe I should take it. Do I have to uncover my face to do that?” What makes me happiest now—even when it doesn’t mean I get in a real hit—is when I feel hints of the next level: the dance.

In my first weeks boxing, someone (a dancer) told me that boxing is like dancing. This is a true statement, and the more I box, the more I find it’s true. Boxing is this complex balance of reading what your opponent is going to do and responding to it, while still staying in control of the dance. You take what she gives you, but at the same time you want to force her to give you what you want. If she’s throwing a fist at you, some part of her body is vulnerable. It’s your job to find that spot. You move in, you move out. You follow her, she follows you. Yesterday I had one moment where I felt like everything aligned, I felt the rhythm of the dance, and my body did what I wanted it to do. One of the boxers told me that when my opponent throws a cross, I should go for a cross to the body. This not only gets my head out of the way of my opponent’s fist, but while her right hand is extended, her body is exposed allowing me to get in a hit. I was fumbling around the ring trying not to get too beat up too badly when the opportunity came, I saw it, and I took it. It was the best moment of the day. I’d like to say that she doubled over from the blow, but actually, I’m not sure she felt it. I was so focused on taking the shot, I failed to put much force behind it. But anyway, it’s a step in the right direction.

In the end though, I can’t really say why boxing. I love the physical challenge and mastering a new skill, but there certainly are other places I could find that. I like that it makes me feel pretty badass. But I think the thing that draws me to boxing is the rawness of it, the brutality. There is something gritty and terrifying and exhilarating about being in the ring with someone. It’s a sport that is primal and ancient. It sparks something deep within me, something I hide in the shadows because it’s not proper and it’s not polite, something hard-wired into my being: the fight.


For those of you who don’t know, in the middle of July, I decided to undertake the grueling challenge of participating in Haymakers for Hope’s 2nd annual Belles of the Brawl event at Royale Boston on October 2, 2014.  Haymakers for Hope is a 501(c)(3) charity organization that organizes charity boxing events to raise money and awareness for cancer research. I’ve committed to raising $4,000 for Dana Farber Cancer Institute. If you would like to support me in this endeavor and contribute to the fight against cancer,  you can visit: https://www.crowdrise.com/hannahfosterh4hbelles2014/fundraiser/haymakersforhope