defence

I decided my defence wasnt good enough and I’d like to get hit as little as possible so asked my trainer to tailor a few sessions this way. This meant lots of rounds just defending – slipping, catching punches, blocking, moving etc – as well as many drills. The rounds vary between not being allowed to move off the spot whilst getting jabbed and being allowed to move.. but not throw any punches back.
Not moving off the spot means keeping the front foot (the left) on the same spot and pivoting off it moving the right foot to the left or right, ducking, slipping, blocking and generally squirming to avoid being hit or at least making sure your guard is tight so when you do get hit its not too bad. I can see some shots coming but not all so slipping/blocking is the only option.
Being allowed to move is more frustrating because you can at least get in good positions/avoid too many few punches/keep the feet loose but you still cant throw anything back. This one drives me nuts! The rare time I can see space for a shot I’m not allowed to take it.
Argh!
Of course the fact you know if you leave your guard you’ll get hit means slipping/catching tends to take a back seat to blocking or moving out of the way. This means progress can be stunted as you’ll spend more time worrying that if the slip/catch is incorrect you’re open rather than executing the move correctly. I decided I was just going to have to go for the technique first and foremost and accept I’ll get hit until I have improved. Yeh, will let you know how this one goes!
Overall its great for discipline/fearing getting hit and I’m learning but man, its frustrating.

 

pain

So one of the things they don’t tell you about boxing is the constant ache and pain – and I don’t necessarily mean an aching nose after you‘ve blocked a firm right with it, but the general all-over-ache the days after the work out.
I’d been doing pilates to make sure I was stretching correctly and building strength in my core – even though my trainer reckons I’m still weak and uncontrolled there, which compared to him I am – but also to stop the back problems getting worse and so far it has worked. However I now have constant aches in my back and tight left quad/calf/hamstrings as well as tight left glute. I’m in my 40s so its probably more pronounced even though I have a reasonable level of fitness/mobility. When I walk back from the gym on a Sunday morning I can feel my whole body pulling to the left due to the time spent in the same position whilst working the heavy bag. I have to stretch all the major muscles every day and get a regular massage.
I have considered stopping due to the aches and all round pain-in-the-ass (literally) nature of the body problems but… once you’re in full flow moving around, sparring or on the bag and “in the zone” everything else disappears and the mind refreshes. Plus its fun. I guess I’ll push on until it becomes unbearable.

Speaking of the heavy bag.. last week I was working with it and a large, built guy comes over asking how long I’ll be

“About 20 minutes”
“Ok, I’ll use the other one”

He goes up to the free-standing punch bag and puts his gloves on. Does some stretching. Moves around a bit then steps in and WHACKS it, knocking it over with one hard right. I’ve had it rocking but not knocked it down in one. Imagine taking a punch on the nose from that guy.

getting hit

Ok, so getting hit isn’t much fun. Second session of the year and during sparring last week my trainer stepped it up and kept on coming at me, which was unnerving as he usually does this alternate rounds not every round. I found myself covering up, moving my torso and stepping backwards (but not with any purpose) and as my stamina got less and less so did my punches. It kept the blows on my gloves or elbows but at some point you’re going to have to come up and throw some back or you’ll just get battered. This is where the mental side comes in – If you come up and engage, chances are you’ll take a few (most likely in the face) and you know this. So I came up to engage and took a few in the face, and yeh it hurt! He wasn’t going full-on or obviously I’d have been on the floor but he was jabbing enough to make me worry about showing my face again – one time I came up to the side to throw a left hook and just missed a straight right as it whizzed past my cheek. Conquering the fear of this is also about learning the technique and trusting in it.

When you’re getting hit there’s 4 basic options –
1. Block the punch – with the correct technique, not just throwing your arms in front of it. e.g. elbows down and tight in to cover your ribs or arm up by the side of your head and elbow across half of your face, at an angle.
2. Catch the punch – open palm and respond with an appropriate punch or move.
3. Move out of the way – head to the side (known as slipping), moving your torso, squatting downwards or stepping back but always with purpose and economy of movement.
4. Take the punch.

The key is not to panic, keep breathing and keep moving, watching your opponents feet to indicate shifting of balance/movement and if at all possible work out his timing and combinations he likes to throw. Once you’ve got this then when you’re hit in a specific place respond with a specific movement or punch. e.g. a blow to the body = upper cut response, as you should have an idea what is coming next or where your opponent is. Sounds relatively easy but I also have this habit of blocking punches by trying to throw my own. My trainer knows this so fakes to throw then moves and I’m wide open. BOP!
Moving your head a couple of inches to the left or right (economy of movement) when a fist is coming at it instead of trying to deflect it or just stepping backwards takes discipline and nerve and this is something I’m trying to learn. I’ve been hit enough now to know what it feels like but I’m more interested in the movements and technique that come with the art. Down the gym some guys come in and wail on the heavy bag for ten minutes then leave (which can be fun) but I find the movement, combinations and responses fascinating so I spend ages dancing with the heavy bag or throwing a few light punches then moving. Hopefully I’ll be able to put everything together and it’ll all be one glorious movement of slipping the punch(es) then throwing some back in a useful way whilst saving energy and moving with purpose! But not for a while yet.

injury

So it happened. Not that much of a surprise considering my age and how physically demanding boxing is but I’ve injured my back and now have 6 weeks out. My posture was too tight, left shoulder too high, my left side was leaning forward (due to leading with the left, hundreds of jabs) and stretching the left side of my back – specifically the mid-area – which then pulled on the lower part of my back above the pelvis. I was aware my posture wasn’t loose enough and (conversely) I wasn’t keeping compact enough in the right areas but adding this onto coordination, balance, footwork, guard, movement etc was hard work even though I spent time trying to correct it.

I actually “did” the injury whilst stepping down off a chair after changing a lightbulb but the origins have been around for a while… on the train to Barcelona last year I picked up some heavy luggage and turned my torso to move it which stressed my lower back causing the initial lower back injury – very painful! After, I’d had treatment but not given myself enough rest time and just carried on my usual exercise, which considering I’m a massage therapist and work with sports injuries, was stupid of me.

The plus side is now some actual rest (with lots of stretching the right areas) and time away so my brain can process what I’ve learnt. The last session on my own was a struggle as I kept repeating the same patterns (jab, upper cut, always looking for the left hook) and was getting tired quickly so hopefully I can re-think things and watch some videos of the old greats to get some tips.
Missing it already.

 

left

I’m getting the importance of the jab now and the left in general.. and I don’t just mean as a punch. Using the heavy bag or sparring really brings home how the left is the main weapon. Moving around your opponent means judging the distance correctly and when to attack, which is what fighters spend the first few minutes of the bout doing – testing each other. The left will help with this if you keep putting it out there, finding your range and keep your opponent working.

Obviously a tight jab is a good punch but the left is also the first line of defence, blocking or parrying punches. It can hook, upper cut and double jab, can strip the opponents arm away from their ribs or head and allow a quick blow plus it can also set up the straight right or other combinations.

On Saturday I was using it for defence and then counter-attack. Simple drills such as a quick jab then moving the head down and gloves up to the face (keeping the elbows close together to stop an upper cut) to block a punch. To simulate the punch I stepped into the bag –not exactly head-butting it but moving in quickly so it struck me – then stepped back and throw a double jab before blocking again then stepping to the right and throwing a combination jab then right. There are variations on this such as dropping left after the block then hooking or upper-cutting or whatever feels good. This takes coordination so I was all over the place by the 7th or 8th time in a row but with practice can be done without thought. It’s a good way to get used to taking the blows, stop shutting the eyes and keep breathing and moving.

fight

I started training with an ex-pro about 4 or 5 months ago and its been an education. I trained in rowing when I lived in London and that was hard work, harder than anything I’d done before but Boxing..? These are the ultimate athletes.

I have an hour training on a saturday morning then on sundays I go to the gym and go through the drills I’ve learned. Some people hate the drills but I love them – the repetition allows you to really get inside what is going on and it becomes hypnotic. The body learns the movements but the mental side requires work, maintaining the concentration to keep the movement the same each time, over and over again. This requires body awareness from head to toe as the whole body is involved in many of the punches and slips or blocks. For example a simple straight right (bizarrely even though I’m right-handed this is my weakest shot) involves pivoting the back foot (the right foot) turning the hips and torso to get the torque and reaching the right arm to land the punch, keeping the left on guard by the chin to avoid taking a punch. I’ve done this thousands of times but still cant get it consistently to hear the satisfying THWACK on the heavy bag every time. Keep good posture, move the front foot first stepping forward, back first stepping backward, left stepping left, right stepping right, take little steps to keep a solid stance, chin down, arms up, side-on to be a smaller target, keep guard up, make each punch crisp and return to stance after every movement, keep improvising and don’t be predictable, don’t stay still, stay alert…

I’ve changed what I do in the gym to make it more sports specific which used to involve 60-80 press-ups but that kills the wrists so I’ve been using the machines to lift weights. Lots of stretching, jumping rope (I still find this impossible) and some obvious cardio. Then it’s the drills.

This usually begins with stepping up and down the gym in stance, first time adding a jab, second time a jab then right, third time jab right duck, block or slip etc and so on. Doing this stepping backwards takes concentration but will come in handy later on when sparring – throwing a jab or two when stepping back means your opponent will either walk into one or back off allowing you a few seconds to right yourself.

Next its a brief shadow box – providing there’s room in the mirror with the young pretty boys lifting weights and grunting – then onto the heavy bag and more drills. Starting simply with a few jabs and rights, some hooks, upper cuts then onto combinations, blocks, footwork before a free session of whatever feels good. When I started I’d do 50x jabs and 50x rights before anything but now it can be more general depending on what I’ve learned with my trainer.

Sparring is completely different and a great way to show just how little you actually know and how unfit you are…
6×3 minute rounds and by round 5 I can keep my guard up, move and throw a few jabs but not much else. Absolutely exhausting. But yeh, my trainer is going easy on me and will put in a few light shots to show when my guard is open or to shake me up. The last 6 rounds we did I landed 2 decent shots – a left hook and an uppercut, that was it – 2 shots, as he moved or blocked everything else..

Now when I watch boxing I view it in a different light, observing the boxers footwork or blocks, the craft and subtleties, who takes the bigger hits or moves the lightest, quickest and looks strong, who has the most heart, the ebb and flow of a fight when one is on top before fading as the rounds go on or changing their game-plan when it’s not working..
when done well its more than just two guys beating each other up.