It started off like many of my obsessions, with some innocent dabbling that grew slowly but steadily until it occupied most of my waking hours and even some of my dreams.
My son brought home a large red, fake-leather heavy bag he’d purchased for eighty bucks from a friend. I could hear him down in the basement, nailing the swivel to a crossbeam, then grunting the bag up onto the swivel so the bag would swing freely.
A bit after that, I could hear him beating it with enthusiasm: an ear-pleasing concussive whop, whop, whop. He would emerge from the cellar drenched in sweat, his arm muscles jacked to a veiny-ropy max, a shit-eating grin on his face, and bloody knuckles. “You gotta try this!”
And so I did. To say it’s fun is to limit and diminish the entirety of it, but that is certainly part of hitting the heavy bag, and of boxing. When I do it, I am releasing my tension, stress, sadness, disappointment, beating back against the obstacles in my life, all while getting a challenging work out.
Admittedly, when I’m boxing, I’m also fantasizing: the boss that over-worked me, patronized me, belittled me, and then summarily fired me—whop, whop, whop, WHOP! Three rapid snapping jabs followed by an overhand right to the face! The former friend who verbally abused me, then sucker punched me on the ice at pick up-old guy hockey: a basic one, two, three for him—stiff left jab, right cross, then a head snapping left hook as he crumbles to the ice!
Mind you, I am NOT a violent guy. I haven’t been in a fight since my drinking days a few decades ago, and the last one hardly qualifies as a fight. Feeling drunk and self-destructive, I went outside with a bigger man. He quietly said, “Put ‘em up,” and the next thing I knew I was on the ground with my cheek open, hanging on to his ankles praying for someone to break it up.
I don’t condone violence, but I have been victimized to the point of powerlessness and helplessness. Is it manly or even ethically right to turn the other cheek? Not for me, not anymore. I have been physically and sexually abused and have vowed to learn to defend myself in any situation. I would extend that concept to my family as well. If I need to defend them, shouldn’t I be able to do so?
My first forays into the cellar were pleasing but I was just flailing away, off-balance, uncoordinated and quickly winded or “gassed-out” as the boxing experts say. I needed to learn the mechanics of punching to be effective, but I also needed to greatly improve my strength and conditioning. I worried that I was too old to pick up the sport. What could I expect from my fifty-seven year old body and where could I learn, given that there were no gyms in my area?
Where does twenty-first century man turn when he doesn’t know something? Why the Web, of course! My first cyber effort at finding boxing help turned out to be better than I could have hoped. I Googled, “How to throw a jab,” and the first link was to the website, ExpertBoxing.com, run by a guy by the name of Johnny Nguyen.
Here was a well-written article teaching boxing’s most important punch: the jab. Not only that, but there was a video tutorial that simply, but effectively demonstrated the mechanics. Johnny’s site is a treasure-trove of information about how to eat, train and, yes, think your way into being an effective boxer.
He has a sense of humor, a quiet authority and, like many a great teacher, an innate ability to translate complicated concepts into understandable processes. He has what I would call a highly functionally athletic body, not a for-show bunched up muscle mass. Here was something I could aspire to.
Since stumbling onto the site a year ago, I have roughly doubled my strength, if chin ups, sit-ups and pushups are any indication. When I first started to do chin-ups, I could only do a red-faced three, and only then with poor wriggling form, as I groaned to get my chin up and over the bar.
Now I do chin up intervals: one minute of chin ups, one minute of rest, then another set, etc. I have worked my way up to three sets and my record is one hundred and five chin-ups. I run, jump rope, do up/downs squats, whatever I can.
My progress toward becoming a boxer is slow but steady. As I shadow box, I begin to see the rough outline of a boxer. As I jump rope, I can go a bit longer and see I am developing a natural boxer’s bounce and rhythm. My punches are starting to come together in combinations with increased speed and power.
Beyond the physical gains are tangible emotional ones. I am less anxious, depressed, and much more self-confident. I push back against the unyielding anxiousness of past trauma. As I learn boxing, I am humbled by how little I know, but encouraged by how much I’ve learned. I feel a quiet pride. My age doesn’t matter, I am still learning, still growing.
In Part Two, Tim searches for a gym and a trainer.