The first in a series of posts chronicling various reactions I’ve gotten when I talk about boxing with my family, friends, and acquaintances. You know, aside from “that’s nice, but your single-minded obsession is starting to bore me and I’d like to talk about something else now.”
It’s a fairly common response: a half-smile, hands splayed out in front of the body in a sort of half-defense, half-Fosse manner, and “ooh, I’d better watch myself around you.”
Okay, to be fair, about two-thirds of the time I think folks mean that sarcastically, whether it’s because they know me well enough to know I’m not a physically violent person or because they believe that even if I was, my boxing abilities and skill levels are exaggerated if not entirely nonexistent. Which I wouldn’t blame them for thinking. Although I’ve always towered over most of my friends, I’ve never been what anybody would term a physical threat. Last picked in gym class, sedentary through high school and college, more likely to be found curled up with a book than…well…anything at all, really. On the street, I look like someone’s Sunday School teacher, or maybe the cool aunt who’s seen every Pixar movie and would be totally willing to go on all the scary rides at the carnival with her siblings’ kids. (Not inaccurate observations on either count.)
But to those who genuinely do find the fact of my boxing scary, or who find me scary simply because I am a boxer, I have to say this: I’m still the same cool aunt/Sunday School teacher type I always was. I’d still rather be reading a good book than pretty much anything else. Boxing has changed me, for the better I think, but it hasn’t made me a different person. The fact that I get into a ring and throw punches at a willing partner doesn’t change the person I am fundamentally. Because here are the key things: “I get into a ring” and “at a willing partner.”
Are we in a boxing ring right now? Are you adequately outfitted, and have you consented to letting me hit you? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you have my permission to be a little afraid. If not, then no worries. I’m about as likely to punch you as David Wright is likely to swing a bat at your head.
I did worry for awhile that I WOULD someday snap and punch someone. The New York City subway system, at its most crowded, is enough to make even the gentlest person want to hit things. But it was pretty obvious early on that this was a completely unfounded concern. In the months since I’ve started boxing, whenever I’ve encountered frustrating or downright infuriating circumstances during my commute, my first instinct is never to throw a punch. In fact, I react the same way I always have. I’ve been riding the subway a lot longer than I’ve been boxing, so I have a set of reactions already ingrained – nothing more violent than throwing a well-placed shoulder at someone who fails to respond to “excuse me,” I promise – and no desire to make active changes to that.
So much of boxing is control and relaxation. I spend every minute of my training working to maintain an ironclad sense of what kind of punch it is, where it’s going, and how hard and fast it’s going to hit. It just doesn’t seem fair to the sheer amount of serious effort I give it to toss out a punch to some random person who isn’t also serious about it. I don’t doubt that in the very unlikely situation that I were ever physically confronted, I would be willing to use my boxing knowledge to get out of the situation as a very last resort, but I was never the kind of person who lashed out physically before and I’m still not.
I’m sure this is not the case for everybody who’s ever taken up boxing. There are boxers who have embraced boxing precisely because they were likely to hit people out in the world and they needed a positive outlet for that energy. (And probably a couple who did hit people out in the world and found out they liked it.) It takes all kinds. But assuming that every boxer you meet is going to fuck you up – and, more to the point, assuming that someone you previously knew to be someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly is now going to fuck you up – is nothing short of ridiculous.