Boxing: Elegant Waltz, Savage Bloodbath—Or Both?


Since beginning boxing lessons several months ago, I've been constantly quizzed by friends not involved in the sport.

Sample questions include:

“How do you feel being a woman surrounded by male boxers?”

“Are you looking to pick fights?”

“Could you kick my ass?”

But one question is asked the most:

“How do you feel about how violent boxing is?”

OK, confession time: in the years I spent watching boxing on TV—before taking a single lesson—it never occurred to me that it was a sport more brutal than any other. I was of course concerned about fighters’ head trauma. But I was equally concerned about neurological issues afflicting soccer and hockey and football players.

Further, I’d dated two boxers, and they were the least violent people I’d known. The boxers I met had all been mellow, with few who unleashed their anger outside the ring; they saved that action for when they were working. That said, we hear about violence infecting the personal lives of famous boxers (ahem, Mr. Mayweather), so I could never with integrity claim that all fighters were docile.

And I have to admit, the violence of boxing partially encouraged me to start lessons. There’s appeal in learning tools to protect myself. By mastering proper technique in the ring, if someone were to attack me on the street, I could win. This is a great asset as a woman: I can protect myself. Knowing I have that power grants me confidence. That said, I hope to never be in that situation; at the end of the day, I don’t want to hit another person.

But mostly, my blindness to the sport’s violence was caused by my main viewing medium: television. The screen removes you from the brutality. Now that I’m seeing more matches live, I understand what that remove was doing. It’s now like: holy cow, they’re hitting each other! This guy’s blood almost got on me! And it’s unnerving to see the boxers at my gym sparring. Though they’re wearing headgear, they’re still getting hit. They must be in pain. It’s freaky! These young men are putting their bodies at risk every time they get in the ring or even train.

So, while some may be drawn to boxing because of its violence, that’s not the appeal for me.

Instead, I’ve always related to boxing—surprisingly—through my love of dance.

Similar to dance, boxing involves choreography. You learn individual five- or eight-counts, and go through those counts repeatedly. You learn a combination and build upon it. In that structure, it is entirely similar to dance—not in the execution, but in the way it’s put together. And footwork in boxing is very hard: to combine what’s happening on top of the body with what’s going on waist-down boggles my mind. It’s as complicated as dance, and it’s a challenge I love.

Boxing also constitutes a fascinating use of space. On TV the ring looks small, but when you’re in it, the vastness overwhelms. You wonder, “How could someone fill up this whole space? For twelve rounds?” Even one round is exhausting. My instructor says the goal is to use the entire ring, with all the choreography learned. Successful boxers know the space in and out, and how to strategize with the space—using that room to their advantage. Dance is similar is this regard; space is a core element of dance, defining it, critical to movement.

So is boxing a vicious, grisly sport, or a graceful motion through time and space?

Both, I’d say—and something more.

There’s this Siberian guy at my boxing gym, and he is very much what you would expect a Siberian boxer to be like: stoic, gigantic, given to few words. After a lesson one day, he approached me and said something sternly and earnestly, in his thick accent:

“Boxing, Gia, is relentless.”

It’s true: in boxing, you have to be relentless. Because if you’re not, you’ll get your ass kicked.

It’s an adage to carry in life too. You have to keep going. Always carry that with you, that relentlessness, even if you get knocked down. You have to get up and try again and again. Sometimes elegantly, sometimes brutally. But always unflaggingly. Always tenaciously.

That, I believe, is the essence of boxing.

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