how boxing is just like playing the harp

These days, I eat, sleep, and breathe boxing. The problem with sleeping boxing is that it results in some violent sleep habits. So far, there have been no casualties, but I do a lot of twitching as I go to sleep running through a combination in my head or envisioning slipping a jab. I’m not the only boxer who does this apparently. I’ve heard of other boxers hitting in their sleep. I hope for my partner’s sake and mine that it doesn’t come to this. I may become good friends with the futon pretty soon.

I’m currently envisioning striking with one hand at a time because, evidently, in boxing two hands are not better than one. I have a tendency to superman it at my opponent, which is not ideal for me in so many ways. First of all, I don’t get a solid blow using the superman technique. In spite of what you might think, hitting with one hand is a lot more effective than hitting with two hands at the same time. Another problem is that it means I’m off balance and no longer in fighting stance because I’m leaping at my opponent like a jaguar. Since biting in boxing was outlawed in 1838, and the closest things I have to claws are covered with gloves, I probably should not be fighting like a jaguar. Lastly, with both hands out, my face is wide open for abuse. My sparring partner has picked up on this, leaving my nose a little sore as of late. So I’m focusing on keeping one hand at my face at all times and throwing measured, relaxed, hard blows. My trainer said this morning that it’s looking a little better—I’m not doing the superman every time. Hey, it’s a start.

One of the founders of Haymakers for Hope stopped by the gym this morning to watch our training. I was totally flattered because, after seeing me spar, she said that I have the things you can’t teach—timing and fearlessness. I imagine my fearlessness may come from growing up with an older brother. Since he’s a few years older, throwing punches usually ended badly for me; I’d typically end up lying on the floor paralyzed from tickling with both my hands trapped in one of his. But he broke me in for boxing all the same. All the whirlies are finally paying off. I’d like to say that playing the harp since the age of seven helped develop my sense of timing, but those two activities seem so drastically different it might be a stretch to connect the two.

In at least one respect though, playing the harp is just like boxing. When playing an instrument, you have to be willing to do the same thing over and over and over again until it feels like you were born doing it. You repeat it slowly and flawlessly until your muscles remember exactly what to do—until you do it without thinking. Only then do you pick it up. If you don’t have it, you slow it down again. Then when it’s time to perform or when you step into the ring, even if your mind is losing it worrying about this and that, your body does exactly what it is supposed to do. So I practice the same things over and over. Every day: one-two, one-two, one-two, one-one-two like meditation. One-hand-at a-time. One-two. And in this way, some day I’ll be a boxer.



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: