Life lessons painted on bloody canvas
For those of you who denounce boxing as barbarism, take another look.
Boxing is the purest form of competition in the sporting world because it is the most demanding mentally and physically. The English literary thinker Louis Golding described boxing as “a sport that both creates character and revels it.”
My time as a crusierweight fighter for Santa Clara University, was less than spectacular. I joined the team as a snot-nosed-18-year-old and did not compete until the end of my sophomore year.
I frustrated my trainers and, at times, I think disgusted them. Like so many who had entered the ring before me, I had marginal technique and little real respect for the art I supposedly sought to learn. I relied on a strong back and a solid Irish chin to subdue my opponents. I took a lot of beatings.
At the end of the summer before my senior year, I was emotionally wrought. I had just been through an ugly breakup with my girlfriend.
I drove out from my home in Nebraska to begin my final year at school and to get away from all of the hurtful memories. The pain followed me to California. I tried all of the usual remedies of a 21-year-old ill-equipped to deal with his circumstances. I hadn’t even thought of boxing or the season ahead.
One afternoon, before the start of classes, a teammate of mine stopped by my house. He found me in a dismal state. I was fat (by boxing standards,) slow and apathetic. He told me that the team was going to start training.
The next day I managed to gather myself, pull my hand wraps out of the closet, and get to the gym. I engulfed myself in my training, spending up to four hours a day running, swimming, bag-punching, shadowboxing, sparring, and jump roping.
When the season started I was apathetic as ever. I had a few fights and I gave a respectable showing at each, but I was missing something. I was performing on physical merits alone.
In the moments before one of my fights at California Berkeley I had an epiphany. The game that had once seemed as so vague and barbaric, was now clear and pure.
When I climbed in the ring I could hear the expectant murmur of the crowd. On the canvas were spots of blood, dried under the hot arc lights. My trainer, T.J., was giving me a last minute prep speech. Some how it all seemed surreal.
Directly across the ring loomed my opponent, a solid, fiery kid with a bad attitude toward me. He starred at me across the seemingly vast expanse of canvas. Before other fights I had had, I experienced a nervousness to the point of mild nausea. I had felt like an animal being pushed in the ring to amuse a rampant mob.
This time I felt peace. I was well aware of my situation. My pulse began to quicken. I had already begun to sweat from the heat of the lights, which blinded me from everything outside the ring. My breaths were deep and deliberate. All the while I could feel my spirit rising from the pit of my stomach.
It was not anger, fear or any form of animal instinct. It was something deep in my humanity coming to rear itself. I felt strong. I felt fast. I felt virile. At the same time I felt just and passionate. My sense of the world shrunk to that piece of raised canvas. I was in a place were the cares of the world melt away.
Terms of life inside the ring are much simpler. To succeed you must beat your antithesis, knock it out, much like ridding yourself of a bad habit. Your ability to survive can be measured solely by your will to go on. Victory is achieved by resolve, rather than physical prowess. Boxing is more of a contest within yourself than with an opponent. I had experienced what fighters describe as a moral ascendancy. No amount of strength, skill or speed can match it.
My opponent continued to stare menacingly, as though he thought he might frighten me out of the ring before the fight even began. I might have laughed, but I could not feel anger, I could not feel humor. DING!
– Timothy Bowman is a general assignment reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
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