(this post originally appeared January 13 2008 on my old website).
I used to box back in Oakland, California. I started as a way to control the stress I was feeling after my best friend died. I figured hitting things was one way to deal with the anger and sadness and frustration, and it was. It worked great. One of my friends was a former champion and a trainer and he agreed to take me on. I trained solo, one on one with him, which was good for accelerating my efforts because he was totally focused on me, but exhausting also because I couldnt slack off. Ever.
I saw him three or sometimes four times a week and ran the other 3 days, and jumped rope, and worked the bags at home. I admit I took Sundays off. Do you know that the way you build muscle is essentially by ripping your flesh to shreds and then adding scar tissue? My trainer told me early on too that training is all about learning how to recover your breathing quickly, gaining your second wind, even when it feels like youre gulping like a fish out of water; taking yourself to the point of exhaustion over and over again.
Its not like in the movies when the fight is over in seconds and you get a one-punch knock-out.
So I figured I needed at least one day for my body to regenerate itself. Not only was learning how to fight hard but I boxed in my office- we had our record label housed in an old warehouse in west Oakland- at 3 oclock in the morning. Eric, my trainer, had another job, which started at 6 a.m. so that was the only time I could see him.
It turned out that I liked being up when most sane folk were in bed. I liked driving down the empty streets of west Oakland past Jack London Square and into the old jazz club neighborhoods which were now squalid and decrepit and filled mostly with abandoned houses and industrial space.
And I liked the sound of my leather gloves thumping into the training gloves, the slap of my jump-rope, and my steps echoing off the concrete floors as I danced around him. â€¨I never competed but I trained really hard for five years and I think I was pretty good. I was strong and my punches were powerful and I didnt mind getting hit in the face too much.
My problem was, I was good but not great, and I dont like to fail. Id meet Eric at a local boxing gym on Saturdays sometimes- thats Kings Gym in East Oakland- and hed have me spar with a guy (and once womens champion Gina Guidi who scared me more than anyone) for short two minute rounds, and Id sometimes do pretty well but many times Id be completely dominated by a superior fighter, and afterwards Id sit in my car crying and shaking because Id let myself down.
If Id started in my twenties rather than my thirties I might have stuck with it. I still have all the equipment- my heavy bag, speed bag, my competition gloves and my bag gloves- and some day Ill find a space in the garage and Ill hang the bags and Ill start the difficult process of building up my stamina again, and honing my mind and will-power so I can plant those punches exactly where they need to go.â€¨
Boxing is a science. And Im talking about old school boxing. None of this flailing, ear-biting, vicious, animal style stuff that passes as sport these days. But beautiful, precise, calculated, graceful, powerful displays of determination and endurance; of one will pitted against another. Watch Sugar Ray Leonard or Lucia Rijker skip around the ring and tell me it isnt poetic.â€¨
Two minutes in the ring doesnt seem like any time at all when youre not in there but believe me the seconds tick by with almost unbearable slowness and youre only conscious of the fact that you cant
catch your breath, that your muscles are so tired that you can barely lift your arms, but you must keep moving and slipping and blocking those punches that are raining down on you with a quickness that is terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.â€¨
What does all this have to do with writing?
I think its about discipline and perseverance. The more I trained the better I got and the less I cheated myself by taking the easy way or the short cut. Then, I had a trainer- and you know how in movies like the Karate Kid or Million Dollar Baby, an intense relationship between fighter and trainer is forged? Well, it was like that with me and Eric too. I could not bear the thought of letting him down, of disappointing him, so I ran those boring miles every day and I worked my bags, I did without that glass of wine, and I got lots of sleep.
Now I have editor, and its sort of the same kind of relationship, but in the end its still just me putting it out there, so Im the one who has to keep practicing, Im the one who has to put in the work, and once Im in the ring, Im really all alone so Id better come out swinging.