Tuesday 8 November 2011

Adrenalin Agenda...(continued)

In the first of this series of blogs I spoke of my desire to take those first few tentative steps into the world of boxing, with the ultimate aim of stepping in to the squared circle and managing to hold my own against those far more experienced in the 'sweet science' than myself.

As a 9 to 5 office worker whose experience of throwing punches didn't extend much past the free Wii Sports boxing simulation game, it had appeared an intimidating prospect. The intention of that first blog however, and I hope it had the desired effect, was to show that somebody with no fighting background and with a tendency to live the easy life could step out of their comfort zone, and find it wasn't quite as petrifying as it may once have appeared.

Nevertheless, it's still an intimidating place, the gym. During our various drills in technique I take time out to look around at the others, assessing the competition, if you like. What I see is something that doesn't sell sparring too well to me. My main concern? They all look like they know what they are doing. 'Mean Business' read the slogan on one gym mates T-shirt, and the way he was hitting the heavy bag showed it wasn't in jest.

Despite only having stepped in to the gym for the first time all of six weeks ago, I realise I'm becoming far more confident in things even as simple as shadow boxing. I'm now concentrating on slipping those imaginary incoming punches, of manoeuvring my opponent around and ensuring it is all done with the correct technique. Turn back the clock a couple of weeks and the only thing I'm concentrating on is not looking like a clueless buffoon in front of the regulars.

The question I had been mulling over almost endlessly in my own mind was whether I could live with these guys in sparring, where the drills became real and instinct takes over. That old adage of fight or flight would certainly apply, with my worry being that it'd be the latter. After all, the last time I'd been hit on the nose was a good fifteen years ago, I didn't like it much then, and as to how I'd react now even I didn't know. One thing was for sure, I would most definitely be getting hit - my dexterity in the slipping of punches had only slightly improved from that of off-milk to a badly made porridge after a few extra weeks attempting to sharpen my skills.

After the obligatory Google search of 'how long do people box for before they start sparring' I was left none the wiser, with advice ranging from one month to six months. "You'll be fine" says one of my gym mates, "once you realise you aren't made of glass, and get used to being hit, you'll start to enjoy it." This may be boxing, but getting hit was something that wasn't exactly at the forefront of my mind when I signed up. I vowed to redouble my defensive efforts in training.

Upon finally purchasing a mouth guard, one of those self-mould jobs that barely fits, gives you a mouth appearing similar in shape to that of King Kong and falls out every time you try to speak, it was time to give sparring a go. If I thought I was nervous before my first group training session, I was wrong. I spent my entire day at work with what I can only imagine is the type of dread that a Death Row inmate suffers as he peruses the menu choices of his final meal.

Hands up, chin down, I told myself as I was first called in to the ring - quite typically against the biggest, meanest looking guy in the vicinity. Thankfully, our trainer Anthony had us work on a two jabs each policy to begin with, so I was able to get a taste for moving about the ring and being able to try and defend against the incoming jabs without worrying about a monster right hand follow up wiping me out.

I must admit, my greatest fear beforehand was being overwhelmed by punches I couldn't see coming. Whether by design or fortune, it actually suited me well to be in with the biggest, but consequently slowest member of the team. I wouldn't necessarily class myself as fleet of foot, but I was able to get in and back out again using quick raiding tactics with the jab before I could be found with a counter. Jabbing to the body was where I enjoyed most success, with the majority of my jabs to the head being blocked or parried. Not at all surprising, given that I most likely announce an impending jab with all the subtlety of a stampeding Rhinoceros.

There were five of us in attendance, boxing two minute rounds each, but changing opponent after one minute of each. Words fail me when beginning to describe how much hard work a two minute round is, and it really brings home just how well conditioned professional boxers must be, who are fighting three minute rounds remember, and twelve of them!

"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights" - Muhammad Ali

Despite not quite being ready to begin comparisons between myself and the great Muhammad Ali, one thing I can say is that I now understand what he was talking about - difference being that he was preparing for a gruelling 15-rounder with Joe Frazier, and I was hoping to survive two minutes against Dave from the local building site.

We had completed plenty of tough strength and conditioning drills in the gym across the past six weeks, but nothing could have prepared me for the rigours of sparring. That combination of sharp foot movement, the throwing of punches and, of course, being punched in the face, chest, arms, everywhere it seemed, does take it out of you, and rather rapidly. Concentration is another aspect that cannot be overlooked, causing a sweat to break out after mere seconds through my sheer will to pre-empt punches that had my name on them. Things had started well though, despite the almost immediate screaming coming from my legs that they'd had enough.

Alas, it wasn't to last. On a list of things you most definitely would not want to do when faced with an ogre-like opponent with arms like hams, hitting him low would appear pretty close to the top. As I lunged in for another of my by now specialist jabs to the body, he stepped back, leaving my jab to fall low and cause his eyes to water somewhat. After a ten second break where he checked they were still there and gathered himself, he came tearing out of the corner like a bull to the matador, except this particular matador wasn't quite as skilled in the art of evasive action.

Before I knew it I was under fire against the ropes from a barrage of left hands, managing to block most of them to my credit, though I did take a particularly painful one right on the end of the nose. Another jab to the eye later and it appeared that Taurus had finally started to run out of steam. Chance to capitalise? Not for me, dead on my feet and genuinely thankful as the buzzer told me it was the end of the round. I'd held my own, but certainly had a scare upon awaking the sleeping giant.

The rest of the session saw us focus upon techniques we had been working on so rigorously in training in recent weeks - defensive manoeuvres and counter-punching. One half of the round was spent being the aggressor, whereas the other half had a stipulation; you could only throw a punch back if it was a legitimate counter. Needless to say, I was far too concerned with getting out the way of my opponents punches to be much of a success at getting my own counter off, though I'm reliably informed that everyone feels this way during their first couple of sessions.

I'd been told it was addictive, sparring. Beforehand such a notion was pretty hard to believe, though I've since found myself throwing combinations in every mirror I manage to walk by - when nobody is watching, of course. There is no doubt that sparring was the scariest thing I have ever participated in, but did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Will I be going again next week? You bet. I'm not fooling myself, I've got a heck of a long way to go before I can start getting the better of people in there, but it was comforting to know that I could step between those ropes and hold my own, particularly given that I'm still a complete novice in the sport.

One thing this session highlighted is the immense role that confidence plays in a sport such as boxing. I went in feeling like a lamb to the slaughter. After somehow managing not to disgrace myself, I left feeling like the next super-middleweight champion of the world.

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