Thursday, December 20, 2007

Boxing as a sport, an adaptive sport; and MORE than just a masculine sport

I am a female boxer. I don’t box ‘like a girl’; I am a girl that boxes. I also box from my wheelchair. Now many view the sport of Boxing as Joyce Carol Oates called it, “Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity.” That Boxing is a sport of men, reduced to pure skin, muscle and malice. If boxing is nothing but pitting testosterone thinking brains backed with muscles and training until one of two combatant are crushed, then yes, I am not a boxer but also boxing is not a sport. A sport is an activity which requires skill and has a level of competition. But sports also have an affinity to art. From Parkour to gymnastics the sport is itself art in motion.

If there is one word to describe my former sport, epee and fencing and how females approach it: the word is Dancing.

And if I had to give one word to describe my current sport of female style wheelchair boxing: that word is Storytelling.

Boxing requires skill far beyond just hitting a heavy or a speed bag. Sure there are jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts but there are also shoulder blocks, elbow blocks, double hits, feints, hitting low and high, rapid fire combinations, bob and weave and evasion. There is always something else to learn how to do and how to do it better, from throwing punches and keeping up defense to accuracy, speed and thinking ahead.

When I am in a bout, my body, my defense and the punches I throw are a story I am trying to tell: a story that is a complete lie. And the better the boxer, the better they are at reading ahead in the story, seeing the holes (lies) in it and adding bits to their story. For example, I am in a wheelchair, I have a long reach. My coach Ian is teaching me how to box “short” where I hit several inches shorter than I can for 20-30 seconds until my opponent believes me and moves their position based on my “story.” Then. WHAM, I extend to get a body blow and the opponent realizes the story has changed. Every punch I throw and every feint I make is to tell my opponent something, and much of it is what I ‘want’ them to believe (a lie). I know that my opponent is going to block my punch, but first I don’t want her thinking too much about why I am so easy to block and I want to see how she is going to block my punches.

I notice in throwing punches at Coach Ian that he sometimes blocks my body shot with the wrong elbow (If I throw a right, he should block with a left), which leaves an opening. I throw a few more punches to the head (my story: Oh, golly, I wish I could hit you in the head Mr. Ian, but I just can’t seem to get through!), then one to the body with my right, he blocks with his right elbow, taking his hand away from guarding his face. My left hook is already on its way and lands! Now, the problem is, the more tired I get, the less convincing my story, and the more a person can bob and weave, the more they can ignore the story I am telling.

Ian has very short stories like, “Watch out I’m going to hook you. Oh I changed my mind and I am going to hit your stomach.” I believe what his body and gloves tell me, I react and he hooks to my head. Or he just waits until I am so busy and tired that I have forgotten the foundation (defence!) and just wakes me up with POW to the face. Important lesson, don’t get so caught up in the story that you forget the basis of the story: I don’t get hit, you do!

I have no interest in smashing up someone or hurting him or her. Boxing is very much like the card game Magic or other card based gaming where you come in with a skill set and you try to use your skills to block the skills and attacks of your opponent. But also through planning, combinations and thinking ahead, you slip through attacks and at the end of the time, you have more points than your opponent. This is where boxing is very similar to epee fencing, I need the person to act, to react; and I need to find out what skills they have and how they plan to use them. The joy for me is in reading the mind of the person who is bouting with me and taking that information, then using it to create a plan and executing the plan, all in seconds. Of course, running into a mind that goes, “Oh no, she will hit my stomach!” and they drops their hands while I hook a punch to their head is interesting the first time. If they are still doing it eight times later; I’m kind of bored! Coach Ian has a VERY devious mind. Before taking up teaching he came out of retirement to box in a championship which required boxers fight 4 bouts in two days (he won!). He has this irritating habit of being SO good that he makes me look like I am beating up this “poor weak defenseless guy” (that’s his lie). So he will drop his hands and do a little dance on his feet as he reads me and I throw my punch, but where is Ian? He is making me look like an idiot as I have punched air. Then he does it to me all over again.

On Monday he had a new trick, which I only figured out 90 seconds later: come in close and go “turtle” – head down and hands and arms in defense. I am batting the sides of him but I can’t get him to come out, plus he is so close I can’t use my range on him and have a hard time thowing punches. THEN he has the audacity to say, “Okay, watch out for the hook.” And two seconds later he hooks the side of my head. He goes back to turtle and then again.... “Okay, watch out for the hook.” Another hook to my head. OOOH I am SO going to get him. My story is out the window and Ian has me right where he wants me; focused on him and what he does.

During the bouts he will stop and teach me things I am working on, like feint with the shoulder, hit to the head and rat-a-tat-tat of the machine gun to keep the opponent confused while you set up the next combo. He tells me, “Stop looking for the Big Punch”; which is true, I need to be thinking in the now with my hands keeping the opponent busy and thinking ahead to where I am leading them. I will drop my hands, and Ian reminds me this is a bad habit by hitting me in the face. I am laughing. I haven’t been this mentally challenged in a long time. I do the double hit, one in the stomach and follow through on the uppercut. I laugh because I finally got you Ian (Do not do this in a real bout - and wear a mouth guard)!

I need to stay focused, to breathe out as I punch my target and retreat back for defense. But I keep my arm out there an extra second, hoping to find a target. I drop my hands. Ian teaches me to keep sharp but he also teaches me to be humble as he will once in a while do another bob and weave to let me know that I may be getting better, but he is a far better liar when it comes to his boxing story.

Ian seems pretty masculine and yet he has no need to slug it out, to make it a bash-fest. “Tap-tap-tap” he tells me, “The practice bouts where you get hit on the head over and over; tap-tap-tap; that is your brain cells dying.” Since Coach Ian has a successful consulting business I think he was pretty good and avoiding the tap-tap-tap.

So no, this isn’t the boxing to 10,000 cheering people wanting a knock out, this is a game, a story, three minutes of chess we play with our advantages and disadvantages. While I’m in a wheelchair I have a long reach; and people go for my head so often I am great on defence, only Ian can hit me there by now. But I can hit most people in class in the body (even Ian). They are confused because my body doesn’t move like other boxers, not to mention my gloves tend to tremble a bit when they are up in the defense position (just neuro stuff). My opponent can get out of my reach, they can bob and weave, they can come in low, or use their legs to step into a punch to give it power. But I can time my punch so they step into it, making them give me their power. It is a sport; a competition, and perhaps someday, with a little more grace and skill I will be able to add a dash of art.

I am a female boxer. I am in a wheelchair. This is how I box.


saraarts said...

Okay! For the first time in all my years, I finally understand what this sport is about. Thank you so much for explaining it so beautifully.

Wheelchair Dancer said...

I love your photos....

And I love the idea of epee as dancing. Do you know if wheelchair fencing is possible?


Marla said...

Wow! I can't imagine being punched in the face. I am so not into sports or exercise at the moment. Very bad, I know. I just never "click" with anything I have tried. I do enjoy walking. Wahoo! So exciting, I know.

Katrin said...

That is fascinating. I know nothing about boxing (or any contact 'sport' really, well except maybe shutzhund but that's the dog making contact not the person). Very intersting stuff to learn about!


cheryl g. said...

Wow! What a fascinating breakdown on the sport of boxing and how it applies to you. I had never thought of boxing as being a thinking sport before. Cool, I love it when I learn something that alters my perceptions!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Sara: I read some of Joyce Carol Oates stuff and realized that a) she had never boxed and b) that the olympic boxing stye and the way women box are very different than the typical "male heavyweight boxer" image and I wanted to explain that. Thanks for the compliment and letting me know it worked.

Wheelchair Dancer: There is wheelchair foil and epee fencing, however it is done at a fixed distance which takes a lot of the body dance away and just leaves you with wrist trickery: left or right, up or down - it is not the ebb and flow, the feeling of each others movements, feelings and thought that AB fencing was so I took another sport instead.

Marla: For the first several weeks all I said was "I do NOT want to break my nose" - so no, I didn't think I would ever get hit in the face or get used to it but first this is a "non-contact" bout which means just a few pounds of pressure - like a light slap in the face (if it was more we would be wearing full protective head gear). The hardest part for me was to stop apologizing every single time I hit someone. Which I still do several times a bout ("Sorry! I hope that wasn't too hard?")

Katrin: Thanks, I hoped it was an interesting read even for those who weren't "into" boxing.

Cheryl: There are the guys who are into Bash-Bash-Bash but since where I box is prodominately women and Ian is a very "Thinking" kind of teacher, a lot of the class is about skill building and then learning how to apply that skill to nullify another person's skill - so when two of the people who have been around a few years spar, there might be 4-5 touches maximum because everything is countered out - that is why getting a "real" hit like the hook on Ian is so exciting because it means I saw something and "out-thought" him. Thanks - any interest in joining yet?

cheryl g. said...

"any interest in joining yet?"

Ummm, joining what?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Cheryl: Well, join the new wave of female non-contact (minimal contact) boxers! Or you could just come to a class and try it out if you come over for a visit? Do they have the course where you are?

shiva said...

For some reason this post reminded me of the polar bear duel in "Northern Lights" aka "The Golden Compass" (well, as it was in the book - i haven't seen the film).

BTW, i'd really love to read your "3 things that you consider essential for good writing" per the terms of the blog award i gave you, if you choose to pass it on...

ms.cripchick said...

is it bad that the first comment i have on this great post is "hot damn those are some serious muscles"?

: )

Lisa Harney said...

Hot pictures!

You've totally changed how I think about boxing, too. I mean, not that I thought it was dumb - I knew about the feints and the counterfeints and the blocks and the pretend openings, but you made that stuff more real for me with your writing.

Hey, the anti-robot measure is gone! No more submitting posts twice!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Shiva: Thanks for your comparison...I think; I read all three books but I can't quite remember that bit, I will have to dig them out tonight. I am also wondering what I will consider three things I consider essential.

Ms. Cripchick: Thanks! Sadly, both Linda and myself can see how much muscle I have lost since my Epee days and even from July/August but under the "use it or lose it policy" I still think I have a bit to go. But myself, looking at those pics I put up would be "Why does she get hit in the face so much" - I like putting up pics with me and Coach Ian because he makes it look easy and I look like slapstick.

Lisa: Thanks, I realized that saying that I do boxing wasn't enough, I needed to explain what boxing means to me as a sport.

And yes, since due to some security issues I had to add moderation I removed the verification since it didn't seem fair for all us dyslexics.

cheryl g. said...

There aren't any boxing classes I could find in my area. I don't know that boxing would be something I'd take up but I still find your description fascinating.

alphabitch said...

extremely interesting and, again, makes me want very much to try it. I esp. love the 'storytelling' aspect of it. That is a perfect metaphor.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Cheryl: Cool, I'll keep the descriptions coming.

Alphabitch: Thanks, I was thinking, maybe they have kickboxing in your area? Maybe?

Lisa Corriveau said...

I have to agree with saraarts. Thanks for the brilliant boxing explanation. I understand the world via analogies & storytelling really made sense to me. :)