In part two of his series on becoming a boxer, Tim Lineaweaver gets over his fear and finds a trainer.
Based on my own experience, and ExpertBoxing.com boxing guru Johnny Nguyen’s advice, I have known for some time that I needed to do two things if I truly wanted to improve as a boxer: 1) Find a trainer. 2) Spar.
As to number one, Johnny says, and others confirm, that you can only progress so far on your own. First of all, you can’t observe yourself in the moment to correct mistakes, other than shadow-boxing in the mirror, which is important for all boxers to do, but is also limiting.
I tried to overcome this by having my son film me hitting the bag and this did enable me to correct some issues with form. But here too lies another limitation: my knowledge is limited to my own experience. A trainer with years of experience could teach and correct me in real time. A trainer will drill me in proper form until it becomes muscle memory and can prevent bad habits from creeping in. And like any good teacher, he can also motivate you beyond what you THINK your capabilities are.
There was an obstacle to finding a trainer, however, and a large one for me. In fact, it took me the better part of a year to overcome. I have been an amateur athlete ever since I kicked an addiction to alcohol and drugs almost thirty years ago. Before that I was a high school hockey and baseball player. When I got clean I started running and haven’t stopped since. I have run the Falmouth Road Race for the past 22 consecutive years. I know my way around a road race and a hockey rink, but a boxing ring?
What would this trainer guy be like? Some gruff-voiced, cigar-chomping, red-faced screamer, lashing out at me for my pathetic approximations of jabs and hooks. And what of the other boxers? I could see them with their perfectly sculpted bodies and hear them guffawing as they watched the old guy doddering around the ring, “What a pussy!”
I told myself various things to avoid finding someone to train me: too busy, too far, couldn’t afford it and so on, but the truth was, I was afraid. Not of getting hit, but of being shamed. These are “old tapes” for me, as they say, and ones I have mostly eliminated but which can flare up when in new territory.
My father was the king of shame. When I was a young hockey player I sheepishly approached him about getting a protective cup, to which he replied loudly enough for anyone to hear, “Hell, we could just give you a rubber band and half a walnut shell!” Most of my coaches were only slightly more sensitive, many of them screamers with the misguided notion that yelling motivates. I love hockey, the combination of speed and grace coupled with roughhouse play suits me well, but some of the apish, preening people around the game, I can do without.
One day I was breezing through the local paper and a large ad for a gym caught my eye. The sub-heading was: “Train like a fighter without the attitude.” While the title didn’t allay all my fears, it was inviting enough for me to risk a phone call. I got a trainer, Joe, on the phone and he was affable and encouraging right away. We agreed upon a time for me to check out the gym and so I took a deep breath and went.
I came in the door and there was Joe, a large stocky guy with curly hair and glasses. His muscular arms and legs were huge, but to my surprise and delight, he had a very quiet but assured demeanor. His authority is in how he carries himself; it is intuitive and unforced.
He put on the mitts to catch my punches and asked me to get in my stance. As I did he looked at me with appraising eyes, less like a coach, or at least the type of coach I’m used to, and more like an art appraiser with a trained, knowledgeable eye. “OK, good, elbows in, hands up, higher, get centered, bend the knees, nice.”
Next he assigned numbers to my punches, one for the left jab, two for the right cross, three the left hook etc. We did three two-minute rounds as he called out punches. “One-two, one-one, one, two, three.” He would gently correct form, “Snap the jab, keep your cross straight, don’t fall off to the side. Good! When fatigue would set in, my hands would start to drop and he would gently tap the side of my head or my body, “Hands up, don’t forget defense.” But he would also offer encouragement, “Nice jab, good. That’s it.”
After the three rounds, he put me on the heavy bag for interval drills: A three-minute round with rapid fire one-twos for fifteen seconds on, then fifteen seconds of rest, for two minutes, followed by one constant minute to the end of the round. If you ever feel like life is going by too fast, try one of these: the final minute seems like an eternity. After two rounds, I was exhausted and my shoulders were burning.
We did other things that day—squatting down to pick up a 20 lb. medicine ball, straightening up, holding it over my head, and then slamming it back down for two, three-minute rounds; shadowboxing; and some core exercises. By the end I was exhausted and I told Joe, “I thought I was in good shape until today.”
And he softly chuckled and said, “You are in good shape, just not in good boxing shape.” He added, “You are a good athlete and you’ve learned a lot on your own. We’re going to take it to a new level. In a month you’ll be amazed at your progress.”
It’s been about a month now and my weekly sessions with Joe are physically demanding, but my learning curve has been steep. My punches hit the mitts with authority, making a satisfying “whop” sound with regularity. My conditioning is improving and Joe continues to quietly encourage me, which has the added benefit of motivating me in my home workouts. You want to please your trainer the next time you see him.
Every boxer I’ve met at the gym is quiet, humble. To a man/woman (yes, there are talented female boxers here too) they are helpful and eager to pass on knowledge. It’s as if the sport gives you a confidence or presence that allows you to be comfortable in yourself, nothing brassy or showy, with no need to put other people down.
I’ve finally found my athletic home.
You can read Part One in the series here.
In Part Three, Tim spars.