In boxing, everyone has a nickname. Cool ass nicknames like ‘the machine’, ‘lightning’, or ‘terminator’.
I’ve got a nickname. It’s not a cool nickname. It’s the kind of nickname you dread earning. It’s the kind that you earn in grade school and follows you forever. It’s a nickname I’ve earned, and nothing pisses me off more than that.
‘Take a knee’ Sherwood…
I readily admit, my penchant for taking a knee early on hasn’t earned me the respect of my coaches, peers, or frankly myself, but I’ve spent my whole life protecting myself from unreasonable physical harm, and it’s a tough habit to break. That coupled with the fact that I didn’t have the conditioning to last a full round, I didn’t have the defensive skill to avoid taking multiple heavy shots to the head, and I had the ill advised bravado to keep going in the ring with guys bigger, stronger and meaner than me.
Some problems are addressable, like conditioning, defense, and movement. Others, like a preference for diplomatic discussion as soon as I get punched in the face, are a bit more difficult to train away. That said, I spent the last two weeks dedicated to duct taping the gaping holes in my defense, doubled down on movement drills, and spent the off days on strength and conditioning training. Those were controllable issues that formed most of my excuses, the rest is just a question of mettle.
Monday’s training came, and two weeks of training had made me stronger, fitter, and far more defensive, so I called out coach Brian and went into the ring with the single goal of going the full round.
Brian is a solid, strong, and quick guy, but I’ve got 30 pounds on him. By rights, I should have an advantage, but he’s fast, skilled, and beats on guys like me for a living.
Like a surgeon, he picked apart my defense and threw quick, stinging shots anywhere and everywhere. I panicked, turtled, and covered any part of me I could. Immediately, I knew how this movie would end, and resigned myself to find a way to last it out. I was throwing jabs, and he was answering with quick combos, finding spots to nip, tuck, and tweak. I found myself tiring at that familiar place one minute in, I had blown it all again on punches that never pierced his guard, and had two minutes to turtle, catch my breath, and hopefully avoid the crusher.
But it didn’t end, I didn’t tire out, and I felt for the first time like I had the energy to mount a counter-attack. He was dancing around me, backing me into the ropes, and picking me apart. Like always, I felt like quitting, making the pain stop, and taking a knee, but the weeks of conditioning and the training kicked in, and my second wind arrived.
I threw a jab, then two, and the stinging stopped. My shoulders, usually weighted with fatigue, had strength, a bit of energy, and were more than a little pissed off. I threw another jab, and followed it with a right so filled with righteous anger it pushed through his flawless defense and landed. Adrenaline, sweet and pure, poured fuel on a fire that had finally turned to flame inside me, and I answered his barrage with a flurry of jab, hook, uppercut combos, pushing him against the ropes, wearing a turtle shell of his own. It was empowering, amazing, and a little frightening. For the first time in the ring, I was in control, I was the harbinger of justice, and justice was being served.
I was proud as hell, but spent. I wasn’t going to be able to keep up the torrid pace, and with a minute left I backed off to center ring, gave Brian a chance to recover, and waited for him to come to me. My defense had held up, I’d weathered the storm, but another one was coming, and this one had a purpose. Coach was intent on teaching a different kind of lesson, one that leaves a slightly deeper impression.
Speed is everything in boxing. Speed is power. Like a golf swing, the perfect punch seems effortless, and is honed to rote execution from years of dedicated practice. Jab, punch, hook. It’s a basic combination designed to break apart a defensive guard and set it up for a devastating hook at the end. Seasoned boxers do this combo in their sleep, rhythmically pounding it out on heavy bags day after day after day. It is so ingrained into their muscle memory that it escapes thought, avoids the microsecond delays of conscious thought, and becomes reflex itself.
Jab, punch, hook. I saw it coming, and knew it instantly. I had practiced this, I knew this, I could defend this. Every shot that had dropped me to this point had been to the head, and I locked that shit up like Fort Knox. Coolly, I nudged the jab aside, curved my glove against the incoming punch and deflected it upwards, with this economy of motion I ensured both hands were up and I was ready for the incoming hook. I was already planning my jab, jab, punch response when it came, low, and in the ribs, lifting me off the canvas with a yelp and into gravity’s familiar embrace.
The contact was unexpected, and quite an unsettling surprise, but more so was the sharp pain and shortness of breath from having my lungs collapsed. What was worse, though, was that I was there on one knee, on the canvas, begging for oxygen, humbled once again. I anticipated the head and he took the body. My normal fat based defense worn away by the weeks and months of training left my ribs without cushion for all 160 lbs of Brian to be concentrated into a single point of devastating impact, and it dropped me.
With 15 seconds left on the clock, time wound down, and another round where I had been measured, and found lacking, had passed.
A hard lesson learned, with a painful reminder. It’s clear that coach Brian knows how to make sure the curriculum sinks in.
I went home and iced it, popped some pills, and walked it off. Being humbled I’m used to, sports injuries are nothing new, and I was happy to see some progress, but to end up on my knee once again was demoralizing. I nursed my wounds in a hot bath with a cold beer, and I made a silent promise to myself that I would never stay down again. If they want to see me on my knees again, they’ll have to put me there.
But only if I don’t put them there first