Don’t call it a comeback

Sorry for the prolonged silence here. It’s been an eventful month.

The big news, and the news I’ve had some trouble putting into words: I had my fight. And it was awesome.

The movies always seem to show the boxing ring as this separate universe where everything runs at half speed, usually with the sound of a heartbeat in the background or something like that. This isn’t how it was for me. If anything, time ran faster. It was over pretty quickly. Watching a recording after the fact, I noticed that my movements were much faster, and there was a lot more movement in general, than I’ve become accustomed to in sparring.

The biggest difference between sparring and fighting, though, was definitely the crowd. My trainer told me to be ready for it and I thought I was ready for it – whenever I’ve got my headgear on at the gym-gym, regardless of whether I’m fully sparring or just doing defensive drills, people stopping what they’re doing to watch is a fairly regular occurrence. I’ve had as many as a dozen onlookers watching before. But I usually can’t hear them react. I can’t hear them go “ooh” every time someone (my opponent) scores a clean-looking hit (on me). And this was all I could hear during the fight. I wanted to turn around and correct them – “that was nothing! I didn’t even feel it!” but I was kind of in the middle of something so I couldn’t.

This isn’t to say it was a totally one-sided massacre – it wasn’t. It was a really evenly matched bout and I think it was fun to watch. I’m already looking ahead to the next time, which hopefully won’t be before too long. In the meantime, I’ve put back the eight pounds I had to drop for the fight and I’m back into my regular training routine – sparring with my usual partners, weights, roadwork, bagwork, padwork, and getting enraged about things I read on the Internet. More to come.

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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

So I’m sure you’re all dying to know how the fight went.

Well …it didn’t.

Friday night, I was coming out of the office holiday party (hosted at a fancy Italian restaurant, where I took one bite of everything that came around and sipped on seltzer while the table wine flowed like…well, wine) with some coworkers. They asked if I wanted to adjourn with them to a bar downtown. “I probably shouldn’t,” I said, “but I’m going that way so I’ll ride down with you.”

These words were barely out of my mouth – as Billy Crystal says in When Harry Met Sally, the words were still hanging in the air in their little cartoon bubble – when my phone rang. It was the venue. The fight was off. Argh. It’s been postponed, though, not cancelled outright. The good news was, I had alternate plans right there in front of me. So I blew off some steam, ended my fight diet with a delicious burger from Paul’s Palace on St. Mark’s and 2nd, and spent my weekend not punching anybody or anything. I hit up a couple more favorite restaurants, got a massage, took in my church’s Christmas pageant, did some baking, and finished up my holiday shopping. I have to say, as much as I love my sport, it was nice to not be all boxing all the time for a couple of days.

My trainer says I can just consider all of my hard work practice for when the fight does happen (hopefully in a month). I’ve done the prep work now, so I know what it entails and next time it’s bound to be less arduous. Plus, now I will go into this fight with an extra month of knowledge and strength and ability that I wouldn’t have had on Saturday. That’s not a bad thing. All the same, I wanted the first fight to be over this weekend. I was more than ready for it. It was time. I’m going to close out 2010 with the same record I had when I started it: 0-0. This is disappointing, but at least I have January to look forward to.

In the meantime, I was right back in the gym this morning, doing pads and strategy drills with my trainer. Apparently all those extra carbs over the weekend have fueled my brain, because I felt my strategic impulses snapping and popping like fireworks. I’d planned to take this week easy, but obviously with a fight yet to prepare for, this isn’t going to happen. Still, I do intend to enjoy this upcoming holiday to the fullest. I hope you all will do the same!

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Major Props Time

One week into Serious Fight Prep mode, I’m 3 pounds away from making weight, sleeping like a rock every night, and basically living in the gym. At this juncture I feel like I need to give some shout-outs to a few people who are making this all happen for me:

1. Boyfriend – In the midst of all this training, Boyfriend has been nothing but supportive. He dutifully got up at 5 right along with me every day last week, made a grocery store run so we’d have all my fight-diet food on hand, and even brought me flowers one night in lieu of an edible treat.

2. Trainer – I know that it’s his job and all, but he’s really gone above and beyond as far as making sure I’m more than ready for this fight. He’s been calling up practically every gym in town looking for sparring as well as working out an incredibly detailed schedule for me letting me know exactly what needs to be done. He’s not letting me give less than 110% at any point, but he’s also patient and encouraging and endlessly positive. None of this would be happening if he wasn’t awesome. I couldn’t ask for more.

3. Friends – For the past week, I haven’t really been able to talk about much else other than my fight, because that’s the only thing going on with me. Everyone is humoring me excellently (even though I’m reasonably sure none of them would give a rat’s ass about boxing if I didn’t do it) and they’re all planning to cheer me on, either in person or remotely.

4. The Most Interesting Man in the World – For all the grousing I did about him when I first worked with him, I have come to appreciate the benefits of having a loyal sparring partner who’ll work with me on a regular basis. He’s also a hell of a nice guy. (And, yes, he is interesting as a human being to the point where he could star in his own Dos Equis commercial.) As my fight approaches, he’s almost as excited as I am, which in turn helps to keep my enthusiasm turned up to 11.

5. You all who are reading this – Sometimes I wonder if there’s really any point to continuing to blog here. I put so much pressure on myself to have every post be this giant magical insightful thing, even though almost nobody reads it, so I sort of self-censor a lot because I fear sounding inane. Then I finally just lay it all out and let you know what’s up and a whole bunch of you come back to say yes, you’re reading and you know where I’m coming from and you’re cheering me on – well, I needed it. Especially now. So thanks.

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Inspiration Sometimes Comes from Unlikely Places

Training is never an easy thing. Some days it’s a little easier than others, but it’s always hard work. And when you’re approaching a fight, the hard work compounds exponentially.

Oh, right, I should back up for a second: OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I HAVE A FIGHT.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be stepping into the ring for real for the first time. And as such, the coming weeks will involve considerably amping up my workout routine. It’s already started, in fact. My trainer’s been kicking my ass all over the gym these past few days. He calls it “conditioning.” I call it “ow.” But I’ve committed to doing all of it, because every second I don’t do something is a second my prospective opponent probably is doing something. So I’m in the gym for an hour or two every morning and another hour when I get home from work, and I’m busting my lovely lady lumps to get into my best possible fighting shape.

On top of this, Prospective Opponent apparently fights at a bit less than my typical walking-around weight, and a fair bit less than what the scale said the day after I returned from spending Thanksgiving week in eastern Europe, stuffing my face with spaetzle and gluhwein. In order to make the fight happen, I have to be within five pounds of her. This means the ever-dreaded cutting weight. So on top of all of the extra gym work, I’m eating a very limited, very restricted diet until fight day. It’s working so far – 16 days out, I’ve only got six pounds to go. But let me tell you, it SUCKS ROCKS. Regular weight-loss dieting is pretty damn unpleasant…but I promise you, what I’m doing now is a whole new level of suckitude. Thankfully, it’s not a permanent arrangement. I keep myself sane by thinking about all the ways I’m going to gain this weight back the second my fight is over. And in the meantime, I have the fight to look forward to.

Still, it’s never easy to paste a smile on my face and pack in all this training around a full-time job, a boyfriend, an apartment to care for, and a busy schedule of reading the internets. And sometimes it’s hard to drag myself into the extra training. Take last night, for instance. A typical Wednesday night, pre-fight-prep, would involve coming home, cooking up some stir-fry for the boyfriend and myself, and kicking back to watch Survivor, the one TV program whose bitch I have been for an entire decade. Only last night, boyfriend got to indulge in the stir-fry while I ate a salad, and I also had to add in my hour of cardio. Thankfully, the TVs in my building’s gym have been activated, so combining the workout and Survivor was easy. That didn’t stop me from being cranky about having to work out while I watched it.

If you watch Survivor and you didn’t see last night’s, you may want to avert your eyes here, because I’m going to tell you what happened. Twenty-eight days into the show, two contestants decided in last night’s episode that they were going to quit the game. Some of their fellow contestants saw the exit as advantageous to their own game, others were irritated by the quitters’ selfish and capricious reasoning. But one contestant, South Dakotan swim coach Holly Hoffman, did her best to convince at least one of them to stay.

Holly herself was ready to quit on day five of the game, until her teammate, former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, gave her a pep talk that convinced her to stick around. And now it was her turn to impart this wisdom to the weakened, downtrodden would-be quitter known to the tribe as “Kelly Purple.” As I watched Holly give her pep talk, I, like Kelly Purple, was tired. I was sore. I was freakin’ hungry. And I had a good 20 minutes left on my workout. But there was no way I was going to quit while someone was giving an inspirational speech about not quitting. Furthermore, there was no way I could possibly quit while watching an episode centered around people quitting. So I didn’t. I stuck it out and kept working until the end of the episode. No way am I going to be a quitter.

I could write about a billion more paragraphs about last night’s Survivor but this is not that kind of blog. Expect more updates as my fight date approaches – there’s a lot going on!

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The Sweet Science and the Tweet Science

I’ve never been a Twitter fan. I use it for work, but the idea that anybody’s going to be at all interested in my one-line pithy observations about what I’m eating for lunch or watching on television is one I can’t seem to get behind. This may seem strange considering how easily I took to blogging, but then again, when I read fiction, my tastes run to novels and I avoid short stories almost entirely. So since the advent of the tweet revolution, my reaction has alternated between complaining about it, mocking it, and trying to ignore it. But this weekend, I finally had to change my tune.

Saturday night, my boyfriend and I went over to the home of The Most Interesting Man in the World, who was hosting a viewing of the Pacquiao/Margarito fight for some of his friends and some of the folks from our gym. Boyfriend and I figured going there instead of hosting our own party saved us the cost of ordering it ourselves and it saved our friends the trouble of humoring me by coming over and pretending to be interested in it. Plus, the boyfriend had never met TMIMITW. For that matter, he’d never met my trainer.

We arrived a little early and my trainer put in a DVD of The Super Fight to watch before the fights started (incidentally, The Super Fight is a subject for a whole other blog post – more later). Around 8:30, we tuned into the HD pay-per-view channel to make sure everything was set. It was, and some boring-ish pre-fight commentary was happening. So we watched some more of The Super Fight and chilled until just after 9 when the first fight was supposed to start.

We tuned back into the PPV channel to find nothing but previews. TMIMITW clicked through a bunch of menus and was told by the screen that he had yet to buy the fight. Trying to re-buy the fight resulted in an error message. He called Time Warner and couldn’t reach anybody. A few times he’d be put on hold only to have the call disconnect. He called some super-special Time Warner VIP numbers and still couldn’t reach anybody.

Assuming this was not specific to TMIMITW’s TV, I decided to see if anybody out in the land of the Internets had found a workable solution, and for that, I had to turn to the miracle of real-time crowdsourcing known as Twitter. Using my iphone, within minutes I learned that Time Warner’s PPV servers were down across the board in New York City, tech support had a 900+-caller queue, and a lot of angry Pac-Man fans wanted Time Warner to go fuck itself. We tried a few more things, including some illegal internet streams, but no luck. Finally, we put another DVD in and settled in to wait. Meanwhile, I refreshed my search on “Time Warner” every couple of minutes to see if anybody had tweeted that it was back up.

At 10 p.m., we were ready to pack it in when someone finally tweeted that the regular, non-HD PPV servers were running. We tuned into the non-HD PPV channel, re-ordered the fight, and had no further problems for the rest of the night. We missed half the undercard, but we saw the important thing, which was Pacquiao handing Margarito’s ass to him so handily that he’s going to need extensive facial surgery to recover. It was a brutal, but amazing, fight – well worth staying up late and going through all that rigmarole to get it playing.

And if I hadn’t been able to consult a million strangers on the Internet who all felt the need to broadcast their every move to God and everybody, it would have been an incredibly disappointing evening that would have ended with us going home without having watched anything except a couple of DVDs I could have borrowed from my trainer at any time.

I’m still not sure this is enough to get me tweeting for myself in addition to the tweeting I do for work, but I definitely acknowledge that Twitter has made my life better.

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Fascinating Rhythm

Before I was a boxer, I was a band geek.

From early childhood, I’ve always had something musical going on, whether it was private lessons, classwork, or ensembles. I still play a few instruments, though nothing at all well. These days if I’m playing something, it’s probably the guitar, but for about a dozen years of my life, wherever I was, I was the resident drummer. Years and years of piano lessons led to the percussion section in the sixth grade concert band, and for the rest of my educational career, it was rare that I wasn’t involved in some kind of percussion-related project – orchestral tympani in high school and college, jazz vibraphone in high school, drumming for the jazz ensemble (and a short-lived punk band) in college, auxiliary percussion for the pit orchestra in a college production of Cabaret…the list goes on and on. I played a lot of other instruments over the years, but the one common thread for my school-age self, from age 11 onward, was percussion. I was usually the only one around, or one of two or three, who did it, and most of the time (barring my four years at an all-women college, and sometimes even THEN) I was the only girl.

There’s more than one obvious parallel between drumming and boxing, of course. But the most important thing I’ve found that they have in common is that I find myself constantly explaining to people that there’s way more to it than just indiscriminate hitting. “Keep your mitts off of my mallets – if you just come up and whack the gong in the middle without warming it up, you’ll probably break it,” or “actually, there’s a fair amount of strategy and technique involved, as well as self-discipline, so really, I’m not going to randomly beat you up” – it’s the same sentiment. And yeah, I’ll cop to having devoted time to the pure joy of hitting things (with gloves AND sticks) as a way to blow off steam from time to time, but more often, I’ve been absorbed in deconstructing the rhythms and strategies of both my instrument and my sport. I guess there’s just something about me that wants to find the elegant side of the most outwardly primal-looking activities.

I’ve been calling on my drummer background recently to improve my boxing technique. Specifically, it seems to have helped out with speed and reaction time when I’m doing padwork with my trainer. We’d run the same combinations over and over without any measurable change in speed that I could detect. But once I thought of the combo in terms of what my gloves should sound like on the pads, something clicked. I could perfectly replicate the “pa-POW” of the 1-2 whether I had my feet planted or I was in motion, and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. Whenever I deconstruct a combination into the drummer-language of flams and paradiddles and polyrhythms, and whenever I hear in my head the subtle gradations in pitch and volume and duration of each impact, it all seems to fall into place.

There is, of course, a danger to wrapping too much rhythm into your combinations. I’ve noticed it myself in sparring – if my opponent throws the same combo at the same speed more than once, I know where to step and when to counter. (It’s also one reason I’m not supposed to be listening to music when I do my roadwork. So I’ve switched to audiobooks, NPR, or Survivor reruns if I’m on the treadmill.) But that’s where my jazz training comes in. I spent years and years of my life as a drummer learning to land exactly on the beat. When I started studying jazz, things got a lot more complicated. (This is mostly a piano thing, but it came up in drumming as well on occasion.) Suddenly there would be reasons to anticipate a beat, or to drag a note out slightly longer than the music called for, and for weeks, I just couldn’t do it. It seemed wrong, after years of being conditioned to play exactly on the beat, to suddenly and deliberately go off of it. But as I got more comfortable with it, my appreciation and understanding of the rhythms deepened, and after a while I could effortlessly go from military-like precision to a more fluid sense of 1-2-3-4. Which has definitely informed my boxing. I grasped immediately that a key component of boxing strategy is establishing patterns and then breaking them. And that, to me, was cake – at least compared to most of the things I’ve had to learn as a boxer.

I’ll leave you with six and a half solid minutes of nothing but drumming, courtesy of this YouTube video and two of the greatest drummers of all time:

How anybody could watch that and still say that drumming is just a lot of hitting is as mind-boggling to me as how anybody could watch, say, Ali/Foreman and say that’s just a lot of hitting.

(Rush is definitely one of my go-to bands for training music, but I recognize that anybody who is not a nerd or a drummer probably doesn’t count Rush among their favorites. Hey, I’m both a nerd AND a drummer and for years I thought I hated them. I will confess I have not tried Buddy Rich as workout music, though I do have a healthy selection of jazz in my music library, so maybe it’s worth a shot.)

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Girl on Film

On Saturday, my trainer filmed a round of my padwork with his phone and had me review it later to check my form and look for mistakes.

To any athletes or aspiring athletes – of any stripe – if you aren’t already doing this from time to time, get on that. It’s a revelation.

(No, you don’t get to see it. I did send it to my stepdad, who is a former boxing judge, and I did let my boyfriend watch it, but I don’t think it’s for the consumption of any random curious person.)

My first thought, I’ll admit, wasn’t related to my boxing skill (or lack thereof). It was: who the hell is that person with all the limbs? Is that me? WHERE DID ALL THOSE LIMBS COME FROM? Okay, I know I’m tall, and I know I have long legs, (I’m reminded every time I try to shop for pants) but I don’t think I ever fully realized exactly what percentage of my body is limb until I watched myself landing jabs to the body from a distance of about three feet. It really is like watching a blonde, pasty, female, super-unpolished Paul Williams.

(Incidentally, how excited are you about the upcoming Paul Williams/Sergio Martinez rematch? It would be hard for anybody to be more excited than I am, that’s for sure. I love Williams because he’s a lanky southpaw, but I love Martinez because he’s super-fast with amazing style. I can’t even pick a side to root for!)

And then, after I got over the initial shock of equating that goofy-looking Fantastic Four reject with the person I see in the mirror every day, watching video of myself was incredibly instructive. A few mistakes were things I’d been told I was doing incorrectly, even sort of got that I was doing them incorrectly, but until I saw them in action I didn’t have a clear picture of how to correct them. I learned more watching that two minutes of fuzzy footage than I have in some entire hours of bag drills.

I also learned what I’m doing right. Which is actually a whole lot more than I suspected possible when I took this up. I mean, don’t call the Olympic team or anything, but it’s apparent that I’ve worked hard and learned a lot over the course of this past year. It’s nice to have any reminder that it’s all paying off.

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Training Update

It was long past time for me to join a real live, grown up boxing gym, so this past weekend, my trainer and I took a field trip and that’s exactly what I did. Between the boxing gym, the big national-chain gym where my trainer works, and the gym in my apartment complex, I now belong to three gyms, which I’ll grant is a little excessive.

I immediately liked the new gym. It’s located in a big, shabby building on an anonymous block, and it’s all one big, hot, stuffy room full of well-used equipment. Once you get in the door, absolutely everything takes a back seat to boxing. Everyone’s there for the same reason, and everybody’s working hard. I simultaneously felt more conspicuous and less conspicuous sparring there. I was more conspicuous because I knew everybody in there could tell exactly what I was doing right and wrong, and less conspicuous because unlike at the big national-chain gym (where there are often onlookers whenever sparring happens), the sight of people in headgear throwing punches at each other in a boxing gym is pretty much the opposite of interesting.

We’re still working on finding some new sparring partners, but I have to say, my trainer’s really going above and beyond. In the interim, I have some of the usual suspects to throw punches at me while I work on slips. This morning I took my focus mitts and my boyfriend to the gym and held pads while I called out combos for him, which I think will ultimately help my reflexes. I’d like to put on headgear and dodge his jabs, but I can’t decide whether the benefits of the extra defensive work would outweigh any potential negative effects it would have on our relationship.

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Supplemental Reading

Yesterday’s NY Times website featured an excellent piece on the intersection of boxing and philosophy.

Floyd Mayweather kind of sucks.

Women’s boxing comes to the Staples Center on Saturday.

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A hit, and a near miss

Last week, I again practiced some defense against The Most Interesting Man in the World. While his technique is pretty well all over the map and I’m not allowed to hit him back, the flurry of hard hits was useful in that I was able to work on shelling up and being a moving target. Also, he’s the only person I’ve moved around with who comes close to delivering truly, literally stunning hits, which is probably good for me, not just for working on avoiding those hits, but for not getting off my game when they happen. (Or it could be that it’s just feeding my Jake LaMotta impulses, but let’s not assume that’s what that is.) See, TMIMITW is not practiced at pulling his punches, and he’s a big guy with a martial arts background, so everything he throws …well, it hurts.

After our fourth round, I was starting to figure out what I needed to do, and I wanted one more round. TMIMITW was okay with that, so we got back into position. Naturally, that was the round in which he managed to sneak a wild uppercut right through my defense. I knew it was hard because I teared up and felt my nose start to run a little. Then a second later, my trainer stopped us. Yeah, my nose was not actually running – not the way I thought it was, anyway. I still didn’t quite get it until I looked down at my shoulders and gloves and realized I looked like I’d just been standing in the backsplash from those elevators in The Shining.

In at least one boxing memoir I’ve read, there are multiple sparring scenes where someone gets clocked in the face and there’s a big crunching sound and massive gushing, which suggests that this is something I may have to look forward to as my sparring gets more intense (on the other hand, I watch a lot of pro fights and while there’s almost always blood at some point, something that extreme pretty much never happens in the ring, so maybe these scenes were exaggerated for dramatic effect). But my own first blood was not that. My nose is not broken. Blood was in splotches and dabs all over me, but there wasn’t actually that much of it coming out of me. The bleeding stopped in a minute or two and I felt fine the whole time, and I spent a couple of minutes in the locker room scrubbing it off of my gear, and that was it. My trainer seemed a little horrified, and the guy who hit me was even MORE horrified, but I was relatively sanguine about the whole thing (if you’ll pardon the pun). A few times over the past week it’s started up again a little, and my trainer got it going again this morning with just a light tap, but I’m none the worse for the wear.

I think I already knew this, but what this all points to is a sense of fearlessness that I think is one of the most important things I’ve been grasping at since I’ve been boxing. When I was a kid, I was a very anxious and afraid kid, regardless of whether or not there was any actual danger. I’ve always wanted to not be afraid, and to know that I could handle it if someone DID hurt me. I got punched in the face and bled all over myself, and I basically just rinsed it all off and went to work. Life continued exactly the same as it would have had I not been punched in the face.

All of this served me well this past week when I was forced to confront my number one worst fear of living in New York City. Last Monday, we were served with a notice that our apartment had bedbugs. We hadn’t seen any bites or other signs, but (after I spent most of the first evening drinking and crying) we spent our weekday evenings, and our Labor Day weekend, dutifully laundering and bagging all of our clothing, packing our possessions into plastic bins, and generally T.C.B. in preparation for the exterminator. I had an action plan drafted within 24 hours of receiving the news.

I feel like maybe a year or two ago, I might have responded to this catastrophic news not with a sense of purpose and direction, but with several more days of crying and drinking. But this time I knew that I had to take the thing that was staring me in the face and defeat it, and going through it would certainly suck, but someday it would be over and I would have defeated it. I’m not saying I didn’t have moments of feeling overwhelmed, or that we didn’t need to take frequent breaks over the course of the weekend, but overall, we did not shy away from this confrontation. We took the hit, we kept on moving, and we did what needed to be done.

After several days of cleaning and packing fury, as well as several hundred dollars’ worth of bedbug prevention supplies, the exterminator and dog returned to re-inspect. Turns out the few dead bugs we’d seen were carpet beetles, and neither man nor dog could find a single sign that there were any other unwanted guests in the place. But it isn’t to say that our efforts were wasted. Our next-door neighbors, we learned, weren’t so lucky, so we’re still taking every precaution for a few weeks just to be absolutely certain the bugs don’t move over to our place. For now, though, I am cautiously optimistic that we have defeated my most feared enemy and will continue to hold them off.

I’m not afraid of being punched in the face. I’m not afraid of any goddamn bedbugs. Life will go on.

(Oh yeah, and today’s my birthday, and I’m not afraid of getting older, either.)

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