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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Supplemental Reading: Hugh McIlvanney and my 2004 self

Earlier this week I was reading some old diary entries from back when I first started learning how to box. I threw my first punch in a class at a New York Sports Club back in 2003, and I loved it so much I went a few times a week for a couple of years. I wish I’d never stopped, but I’m more than making up for it now, obvs. The class was mostly circuit training that combined bag drills with jump rope, crunches, a little padwork, and whatever else the instructor could think of. It varied according to how diabolical he felt. Sometimes, if there were a lot of regulars in the class, the instructor would let us act out sparring with each other – no contact, but we’d weave and counter and work on our stance. That was always my favorite, even though I’d be pretty well gassed out after three or four rounds. (This makes me laugh a lot now.)

Anyway, I ran across this in an old diary entry dated April 7, 2004: “Eventually, like many months into the future, I have visions of actually boxing, although reconciling this vision with the fact that I really don’t want to hurt anybody on purpose is proving to be difficult.”

(This also makes me laugh a lot now. Apparently I got over that somewhere along the way.)

I go to a different gym now, but I sort of wish I could find out if my first instructor is still teaching there, and if he is, I wish I could drop in on a class now and show him what my attendance in that class eventually evolved into, and thank him for helping me lay down the fundamentals.

And then, I just realized, this next and wholly unrelated part of the blog entry is extremely ironic because it deals with an article about a man who died while boxing. UNRELATED. REALLY. I PROMISE.

So, again, unrelatedly, I wanted to share a favorite piece of boxing writing, by legendary sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney. His account of the fight that killed Johnny Owen is emotionally wrenching and every time I reread it I’m reminded that it’s one of my favorite bits of writing about anything. If you’re a boxing fan at all, I’m sure you’ve already read it, and if you’re not, you might not be wild about an article in which someone dies doing the sport your friend engages in, but all the same, I’m sharing it in case you haven’t read it and it’s maybe possibly your kind of thing. The best line in this article, and maybe the best line in any article about boxing:

Outside the ring [Johnny Owen] was an inaudible and almost invisible personality. Inside, he became astonishingly positive and self-assured. He seemed to be more at home there than anywhere else. It is his tragedy that he found himself articulate in such a dangerous language.

Incidentally, I recently bought the domain and forwarded it here – I don’t know if I’ll end up using that as my permanent blog home, but it’s the only name that’s really fit so far that hasn’t already been used in a similar context by someone more famous than me.

Also, you CAN watch the fight McIlvanney is writing about on Youtube, but it is really not an easy thing to watch, so I’m not sure I recommend that, especially if you are only a casual or incidental fan of boxing.

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What’s Best for Your Chest

The New York Times posted in their Well blog today that a bunch of Australian scientists have made huge strides in sports bra technology, concluding that the ideal support would both lift and compress. Their final solution had foam pads to do the lifting, which you don’t see on sports bras very often (although I don’t see why you couldn’t add them yourself). The bra isn’t going to be available for sale anytime soon, but it’s a new idea that I will definitely try out once they hit the market.

But I thought I’d throw in some plugs for a couple of my favorite bras and bra-makers while we’re on the subject.

My favorite sports bra in the history of ever is the Everlast seamless bra. It’s basically the most comfortable bra I’ve ever owned, sports or otherwise, and it supports like a champ. Not that I am, uh, prodigiously gifted, but if you, like me, can buy your bras off the rack at department stores and you don’t have to go to one of those specialty retailers where everything costs a hundred bucks, you will probably like these just as much as I do. I’ve paid twice as much money for bras that I like about 25% as much as I like this one.

Breathability is a key feature for me – when I work out, I sweat like nobody I’ve ever seen. I am not a sweaty person out in the world, and I never got particularly sweaty from working out before I started boxing, but these days it is not unusual for me to finish a workout looking like I’ve just gone for a swim in my clothes. Gross, right? But it’s just something I have to live with. At least nobody can accuse me of slacking off. Anyway, having a bra that doesn’t hold in extra sweat is a very, very good thing, and I’ve never had anything else that breathes half as well, not even the stuff that claims to have special wicking powers.

You can buy this bra online from Everlast, but they turn up in a lot of chain department stores and outlets, too, so you don’t have to pay the ridiculously overinflated shipping charges that all the major boxing retailers seem to like to do. (In fact, they’re $12.99 at Sears right now.) I got mine at the Loehmann’s on 17th and 7th, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have them there anymore because I went back and bought everything they had in stock once I realized what an awesome bra it was. (By the way, do not confuse them with the Racerback bra – this model is okay, and it’s the one that’s approved by USA Boxing, but it is nowhere near as durable or comfortable as the seamless ones.) Note that this bra looks small on the hanger but they are very stretchy, so stick to the sports bra size you’d normally get and if it varies for you, err small.

I’ve actually had incredible luck with Everlast products, to the point where the other day I found myself in head-to-toe Everlast apart from my t-shirt and socks, right down to my handwraps and brand-new sparring gloves, and I felt like Garth shilling for Reebok:

It's like people only do stuff because they get paid. (Note: I did not get paid.)

It's like people only do stuff because they get paid. (Note: I did not get paid.)

I’ve also got a couple of Champion reversible bras that are pretty excellent. They don’t breathe as well as the Everlast ones, but they compress a little bit better. They’re also cute, if you care about cute. (Personally, since nobody ever sees mine outside of the locker room, and I mostly don’t care what I look like at the gym anyway, the cuteness is really only something I appreciate for about 10 seconds at a time when I’m putting it on in the morning or folding it up after I’ve done laundry, but the makers of this bra should know that it did not go unnoticed.)

For those of you with more generous assets than I have, there’s one word in sports bra technology, which you probably already know but I’m telling you anyway: Enell. The company’s founder is from my hometown, so I’ve been hearing about their products since the company was founded back in the early 90s. I’ve never been bigger than a D cup, even when I was 50 pounds heavier (and I’m a B or C now), so it’s not something I’ve ever tried myself, but numerous friends of mine swear by Enell – including a whole lot of people who’ve never even HEARD of my hometown. If you’re looking to start working out seriously but you’re well-endowed and afraid chestal discomfort is going to be an issue, invest in one of these bras.

Have you got a favorite sports bra, or a specific need you’d like an ideal bra to address? Get it off your chest (ha! You see what I did there?) in the comments.

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Pink Boxing Accessories Are Having the Best Week Ever

I watched so much boxing over the weekend, it’s not even funny. While I unpacked things in the living room, I finally had time to start cleaning off the DVR, and I caught three really amazing fights from the 2010 NY women’s Golden Gloves. I need to be watching more amateur boxing, and watching women being awesome at it is especially good at lighting a fire under me.

Also, Friday night, there was the Chris Arreola fight on ESPN2, and then on HBO on Saturday night, Jean Pascal upset Chad Dawson to retain his light heavyweight title. Pascal/Dawson was an exciting, if often perplexing fight. I was fairly certain it was Pascal’s fight for most of the duration, but Dawson’s energy level was kind of all over the map and occasionally he’d rally in a big way.

But please excuse my moment of being a girl. Did you click through to the article? Did you see the photo? DID YOU SEE JEAN PASCAL’S TRUNKS AND GLOVES??????

Sure, the announcers called them “fuchsia,” but I of all people know pink when I see it. I think I would have been rooting for him anyway, but as soon as I saw the trunks I knew I’d have to. Loved the gloves, too.

And Pascal’s weren’t the only pink trunks I saw all weekend. Marvin Cordova, Jr. also sported pink trim on his trunks (and pink glittery trim at that!) when he fought in the co-featured bout on Friday night. Though pink did not emerge victorious against Josesito Lopez, it was a very fun, very dynamic fight to watch (up until that below-the-belt hit, that is) and the consensus seems to be that we have not seen the last of Cordova by a long shot. (Personally, I thought the Cordova/Lopez fight was much more exciting than the main event – the Arreola fight was kind of boring, actually.)

Now, as much as I’ve got pink gear all over my site (and my person), it’s not actually a color I wear very much out in the world (and I’ve talked about this before). It just became something I started doing for reasons both practical and political. As I’ve said, I don’t like that pink is an exclusively female color when the notion of femininity is still equated with weakness in so many people’s minds, so I want to be both strong AND wearing pink.

I especially love when male boxers wear pink because it says that they aren’t going to participate in the marginalization of a color as representing weakness, either. If other people see the pink trunks and think that means the wearer is weak (or feminine and by extension weak), these guys couldn’t care less. Actions speak louder than words, after all. Let’s see how weak you think pink is after the fight. It’s a great and fearless statement. I can’t not root for a fighter who’s wearing pink.

And although it was an especially good weekend for pink gear in pro boxing, Cordova and Pascal are not the first male fighters to sport pink – not by a long shot. If it’s awesome enough for Floyd Mayweather, it is awesome enough for pretty much anybody, I think.

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How I Know It’s the Future

As much fun as it would be, boxing training is not entirely putting on gloves and hitting stuff. No, there’s a wide variety of things most boxers do over the course of their training schedule – strength training, agility, cardio conditioning. Chief among these are two activities that will be familiar to any boxer or boxer wannabe – running and jumping rope.

Roadwork, as boxers call it, is no problem for me. I like running and while it would be a big honkin’ lie to say I always have, I definitely have since I started actually trying to do it on a semi-regular basis. I’ve done a few 5K races over the past couple of years and I love the spectacle, the experience of running with a few thousand buddies, the swag, the discovery of new roads and paths (or the chance to run straight down the middle of a section of road you’re not normally supposed to run on). Running by myself is usually the way I roll, though – I find few things as meditative and relaxing as running, and I find myself not wanting to share that with others most of the time. I don’t even really mind the treadmill, although outside is always more interesting.

The jump rope has been another story. I know it’s important to my training, and I even concede that it has really helped me be a lot lighter and quicker on my feet. But at first it was nothing but flashbacks to eighth-grade gym class and that time we had to choreograph our own routines with a variety of steps, jumping forward and backward to music of our own choosing. (I don’t remember what music I chose, only that it was on the Cocktail soundtrack because I’d brought in my cassette and half the class forgot to bring their own music so everybody just borrowed my tape, which ensures to this day that neither “Hippy Hippy Shake” nor “Don’t Worry Be Happy” can EVER be dislodged from my head once put there.)

It didn’t help that when I started incorporating the jump rope into my training, I could do it about as well as I could back then, which is to say that 10 skips in a row without tripping was a very, very good showing. I’ve gotten better, and I can do some fancy steps and crosses (still nothing like what I was supposed to know how to do in eighth grade, however – man, I really hated gym class), but it’s still drudgery most of the time. One of the main things that keeps it drudgery for me (besides my own bad attitude, of course) is the fact that I can’t listen to music while I do it.

Now, certain schools of thought hold that you’re not supposed to listen to music while you’re doing roadwork (I do anyway; someday I’ll wean myself off of it). But nobody has ever said anything about listening to music while I’m jumping rope. In fact, a bunch of articles and books I’ve read about various boxers have used their rope-jumping music as a human-interest bullet point – most famously, Sonny Liston’s love of “Night Train.” Dudes, if Sonny Liston was allowed to do it, I think I should be too. But the perfect technical solution was eluding me. When I jump rope, I’m usually in a gym, so putting my own music on speakers is out of the question, and most ipod setups I’ve tried have ended with an ipod on the floor and a set of headphone cords trying to strangle me. Armbands, pockets, sleeves, inside the sweatshirt, inside the t-shirt – these all failed.

Fortunately, technology has finally come through for me in the form of a hooded sweatshirt I found at a crappy discount store. It’s got headphones sewn into it, with the cord poking out of one pocket and the earbuds popping out of strings on the hood. This solves the headphone cords trying to strangle me issue, although my iphone didn’t quite fit in the pocket. So I invested in a very tiny, very cheap clip mp3 player, slightly smaller than a box of Tic Tacs (with about the same sound quality, but oh well, it was cheap), and I can now jump along with any of about 300 songs I’ve chosen for the device. It’s still drudgery, but at least now it’s drudgery with a soundtrack. Thanks, technology!

(Sadly, I never upgraded my Cocktail soundtrack from cassette. But I think I already had more than enough early 90s jams on the playlist.)

(Also, I never actually saw Cocktail. I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies when I was a kid, and I guess it never came on the right cable channel at 4 in the morning when I was in college.)

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