I ran into my trainer yesterday at the gym as I was finishing up my roadwork for the day (when it’s 90 and humid, I’ll never not do my roadwork on a treadmill).
“I’ve got someone to throw punches at you tomorrow,” he told me. Because I’m still training at a “regular” gym and not a boxing gym, we do sometimes face a dearth of available sparring partners. My trainer works hard to find them for me (which is the main reason why I haven’t yet bitten the bullet and joined a boxing gym), and has even tried to cultivate them for me once or twice, but it’s not easy finding like-minded boxing enthusiasts. So when we have trouble finding people, he spars with me himself and then gets some of his less-experienced (or simply his more averse to getting hit) clients to come into our sessions and throw punches at me while I work defense. I think sometimes it’s a harder workout for them than it is for me. We haven’t done much of this lately, but it’s always a good opportunity to really focus on defense and find new small things to correct.
So anyway. My trainer described an incident from a week or so prior, when one of his other clients complimented my padwork and made a joke to the effect of “when do I get a crack at her?” I remembered the guy. I’ve seen him around the gym quite a bit. He’s there almost every day and he’s got a rotating cast of several trainers working with him, mine included, and this wasn’t the first time he’s told me he’s impressed with my boxing skills. And apparently today was to be that day when he finally gets a crack at me.
When I got in this morning, my trainer was prepared with some caveats. First, it’d only be defense, no hitting back. (Fine, I’d expected that.) Second, the guy comes from a martial arts background and is having trouble adapting to a boxing stance, but because of the martial arts he hits hard and has fast hands. Third, my trainer says, “um, he talks…a lot.”
Boy does he ever. Immediately apparent about the guy: he’s The Most Interesting Man In The World. And he would like you to know that. In fact, he would like to make sure you know it right off the bat. I’ve seen this impulse in myself once or twice, so I know where it comes from – he’s got a lot of impressive accomplishments that he can’t wear on his sleeve, so he dispenses information about himself like a leaky spigot in order to be sure everyone is sufficiently impressed by him. Like I said, I’ve been there. I mean, when you meet me, how are you supposed to know I box, or I was on Jeopardy once, or I have a really awesome job? You don’t. So you might not like me right away, and I really want you to like me. I’ve quelled that impulse in recent months but I still recognize it like a flaming beacon in others when I see it. I knew the guy’s entire life story before he had his hands wrapped. Granted, it WAS interesting, but I was there to take punches, not to have tea and crumpets, so I was anxious to get the show on the road. When it comes down to it, your backstory means nothing. If backstory meant anything at all, Yuri Foreman would be considered the greatest boxer in the world. BUT IT DOESN’T. I don’t have to like you to let you hit me. SO SHUT UP AND HIT ME, MOST INTERESTING MAN IN THE WORLD.
Up until today, I had not sparred with anybody whose strongest asset was their strategy. The Most Interesting Man in the World (hereupon referred to as “TMIMITW”), having come from a strong martial arts background, could not only strategize like a champ, he was employing many more feints and diversionary tactics than I’d ever had to contend with, probably because he didn’t have to defend so he could be a little flashy. (Had I been able to hit back, it wouldn’t have been much of a contest.) It definitely kept me on my toes, but I figured out quickly that if I kept my guard up and moved constantly, he wouldn’t land much. And he didn’t, even when he accidentally threw in some punches he was not supposed to be using in that round. I was able to wear him out and slow him down just by running circles around him. “I feel like Sonny Liston up against Muhammad Ali,” he told me at one point. The constant movement gave me a chance to work on my footwork, too, so that was appreciated.
But speaking of Ali, I realized quickly that having to dodge punches from someone who’s constantly talking at you is another entirely new challenge. I may have to demand that TMIMITW wear a mouthguard if he ever throws at me again – not because I’m going to hit him in the mouth (although I might make a second session contingent on being able to hit him back), but because it would slow down the constant stream of chatter. Not that I couldn’t use some work on focus, and I did get pretty good at tuning him out after awhile.
Having bid goodbye to TMIMITW, my trainer and I talked about the different things I learned, because it’s true that you learn something new about your style from every person you move around with, even when the person you’re moving around with is The Most Interesting Man in the World and is trying to drown out your technique-polishing with interesting facts about himself. And we went over the footwork, the strategy, the focus, the fact that I kept dropping my hands a little bit when I was running circles around the guy (a worrisome tendency I’m going to need to keep an eye on going forward).
“I noticed you didn’t get angry. That was really good,” he said.
“I think I’m past getting angry,” I replied. Which is true of me as a boxer in general, and me as a human being. Above all else, this sport has taught me emotional control – something I was lacking in spades, and something that I use in the ring and out in the world. Whether it’s being able to contain myself when some dude gets confrontational over a subway seat, or when TMIMITW is running his mouth and throwing some seriously irritating punches, I’m as collected as the Franklin Mint.
Which isn’t to say I can’t be pushed to a breaking point. I’m sure that’s still possible. I’d prefer if you didn’t test it out, though.