What a Year of Boxing Taught Me about Life

Learning how to hit is just the beginning.

About a year ago, I took up boxing on a bit of a whim. I’m a longtime fan of action movies and combat sports any kind, so when I found myself looking for something new to add to my fitness routine, “learning how to punch things properly” ended up grabbing my attention.

There’s a sort of mythic, ethereal quality to boxing; a perception of nobility that you don’t necessarily see widely associated with other popular sports like football or soccer. I think part of that comes down to boxing being a discipline rooted in the individual. You can train with as many people as you want, but once you step into that ring, you’re alone. There are no linemen there to protect you. You don’t have a tag team partner waiting to jump in when you get tired. It’s just you versus your opponent. This makes boxing just as much an internal endeavor as it is an external one. And I think because of that, the lessons I learned at the gym helped me grow just as much as a person as they did an athlete.

Show Up

The first time I strapped on gloves and wailed on a heavy bag, I felt like a fish out of water. It was hard. It hurt. More than anything, it was discouraging. I’m a small guy as it is, and coupled with my lack of form, I’m sure I looked like a prize idiot to anybody passing by.

After a few rounds, I decided to switch over to the speed bag. It didn’t go any better. I found myself struggling to get a steady rhythm going and gave up soon after that. Day one of boxing was a wash.

But I came back. And don’t get me wrong; my second day of working that heavy bag didn’t go much better. The speed bag, though? That was another story. I slowed down. I paced myself. And as I did, I realized the trick to working a speed bag is simple: you just have to show up. You don’t have to smash it with all your might with perfect form. All you have to do is make sure your fist is up when the bag is on its way back down. That’s it. You just show up. You keep doing that over and over and before you know it, that speed bag will be rattling off like a machine gun.

I’m not the first person to say this, but that idea is the key to succeeding at, well, anything. Show up, put in the work, and repeat. Trying to get in shape? Show up. Trying to gain some traction in your dream career path? Show up. Want to make a good impression on a first date? Show up. And this is both literal and figurative. Be physically present, but also make sure that when you’re showing up you’re mentally present. Don’t half-ass the time you’re putting into accomplishing your goals. Otherwise there’s no point in showing up at all.

Being Bad at Something Can Be a Good Thing

When I’m not trying to be the next Sugar Ray Leonard, I’m a freelance writer and comic creator. Writing is something I’ve been working at nonstop since high school. It’s comfortable. Similarly, I’d stuck to a pretty consistent weightlifting regiment in the years before I started boxing. It got me to a point where I was happy with my body, and after that I never changed anything. Why would I? It was easy, even on days when I tried out some heavier weights. That consistency was reassuring. The problem with comfort is that it'll lead to stagnancy if you aren’t proactive.

Like I said, that first day of boxing was something of a disaster. I felt out of place, like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Having perspective a year down the line, the reason I felt that way is because it’d been a long time since I’d let myself be bad at something. At the time, it was a horrible feeling. But don’t let your ego convince you otherwise: being bad at things is great – important, even.

I recently read a quote that sums it up pretty well: If you look around and find that you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to find a new room. Not being at the very bottom of the proverbial totem pole has its perks, but it also means you’re in a position where there are fewer people around you to learn from. Putting yourself in uncomfortable positions where you’re going to be the least knowledgable person in the room humbles you. It opens you up to being less afraid to ask for help. And you’ll find that you take that growth with you everywhere.

You Have to Close the Distance to Get the Knockout

A punch is a pretty straightforward concept: make fist, throw punch, hit target. Simple, right? Wrong.

Once I started boxing, I learned about just how many different goals can be accomplished with punches, specifically the jab. Your jab is the punch you throw with your non-dominant hand, and for most boxers, it’s going to be a good bit weaker than their cross, which is thrown with your primary hand. Because of this, I was a little stressed when I realized how weak my jab was early on in my time boxing. Practicing it was a struggle and it felt pointless. It took a coach explaining the versatility of that punch for me to appreciate it in full.

If you throw a cross, you’re almost definitely throwing it with intentions of hitting your target hard. But with your jab, you can use it to tag, to feint, and most importantly, to close and control distance – it's the most important tool in your arsenal as a boxer. And that concept of using a punch to close distance became a sort of fascination of mine after that. My perception of punching had always been that you do it to hit your target; I never considered that you could use it as a step towards that goal rather than it being the goal itself. And that was something I found myself carrying over into other facets of my life as time went on.

We all have goals and we all go about accomplishing them in different ways. I had, until I started boxing, been something of a sprinter when it came to accomplishing mine. I’d take the biggest steps possible to reach them, trying to surpass the distance between me and where I wanted to be quicker than what should have been possible. Sometimes this worked in my favor. But more often than not, it would lead me to getting burnt out and falling short of what I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t think steps were worth taking unless they would get me significantly closer to what I wanted to accomplish, if not outright accomplish it then and there.

Jabs helped me rethink that, and I realized that oftentimes the smaller steps are the most important ones. And just as importantly, it taught me that even if the small steps don’t seem important, there’s merit in taking them. If the actions you’re taking now to reach your goals are bringing you even marginally closer to them, it’s worth it. It might not seem like it – small steps can be tiresome, often feeling like a waste of time. But you have to counteract that thinking. Remind yourself that you’re closing that distance, even if you aren’t throwing haymakers left and right. Sometimes it’s better to focus on closing the distance instead of scoring a highlight-reel knockout. After all, you can’t really do the latter without the former.

Wrap Your Hands

Seriously. Don’t skip wrapping your hands.

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