Last year I purposefully and deliberately got punched in the face, multiple times. Let me explain.
I had been looking for inspirations in my workouts, and a friend of mine David Mandell convinced me to sign up for a charity boxing match called Founder Fights. It was designed for tech founders who had never boxed before. “C’mon” he beckoned, “It’s for charity, and no one will know what they’re doing. Worse case, you spend 3 months getting yourself in shape and learn something new”. I’m not a violent person, and have no real interest in boxing. However, I painted a picture in my head of goofy, silly boxing, with oversized gloves and lots of laughing.
I agreed, making the mistake of committing publicly on Twitter.
My first trip to the Corner Boxing Club, I panicked. No, this was not going to be goofy or silly. This was serious business. These are real boxers! They’re tough as hell! I”M GOING TO DIE!!! WHAT THE HELL DID I GET MYSELF INTO?!?! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!! But I had committed publicly, everyone knew I signed up for this, so I’d look like such a quitter if I backed out. Clearly my ego is stronger than my sense of self-preservation. So instead of quitting, I threw myself into it. I figured the only way to make this work was to WIN. Game on.
Turns out that a boxing workout doesn’t actually consist of boxing – it mostly consists of boxing conditioning. You punch things. Not people. In order to punch a person, you have to spar. So the workouts weren’t as scary as I had imagined. Also turns out that the workouts are absurdly hard. Spoken from someone who’s used to doing triathlons, road biking up steep hills, and hiking 14000 ft mountains in Colorado, a boxing workout will kick your ass. Go ahead and try to punch a pillow with a pound on each hand as hard as you can for 1 straight minute. Boxing uses every single muscle in your body. Your arms, your shoulders, your core, your legs… I’ve never gotten so winded so quickly in my life. Often at the end of the workouts, everyone would be laying down on the floor drenched in sweat and exhaustion, with that blissful, light feeling you get after a great workout. No part of your body goes un-touched.
Here’s the catch though, when competing in biking or running or hiking or swimming or basketball or tennis or whatever your chosen sport is, if you get tired, you simply slow down. You’ll lose, but you just slow down. In a boxing match, if you get tired and you slow down, YOU GET PUNCHED IN THE F’ING FACE! This is a huge motivating factor in a boxing workout. Huge. Whenever you get tired in a boxing workout, you push yourself harder. Do not slow down.
This is reason 1 of why I discovered I love boxing. It’s one of the best workouts on the planet.
In addition to a killer workout, sparing is also mental strategy. It’s not just about punching, it’s about not getting punched. There are moves, and countermoves. Offense, and defense. Often at the same time. You have to read your opponent and decide how you’re going respond, in a split second. They drop their left? You throw a right hook. They throw their right? You dodge LEFT. Do you let them throw and get tired? Or do you attack? Are their arms longer than yours? Then you have to play a short game. You’re constantly thinking, and that can be hard when you’re used to an individual sport like biking when you clear your mind and just go blank. Boxing keeps you present, conscious, and focused like a laser. And Coach Carrie has great sayings, like “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” – a saying I use to this day in non-boxing situations.
This is the 2nd reason why I love boxing. You’re practicing strategy under pressure.
However, the real reason that boxing stands apart from any sport is that you’re getting a great body workout, a great mind workout, WHILE YOU’RE SCARED SHITLESS. Honestly, when sparing and fighting, I’ve never been so scared in my whole life. Climbing glacier-riddled mountains? Not that scared. Scaling the 3rd pitch of a gnarly exposed climb in Leavenworth? Not that scared. Swimming with sharks? Not that scared. But with sparring, I WAS SCARED TO DEATH. Even when I wasn’t working out or sparring, I was thinking about it. But here’s the catch – the likelihood of getting hurt is really low, and you’d be surprised how little it hurts getting punched in the face. Really, it doesn’t hurt that bad. It more shocks you than anything. You’re wearing a head guard, so the fear of getting punched in the face is much worse than actually getting punched. I wonder why I was so scared when the repercussions are low, but I was. My heart was in my throat, I often felt like I was going to vomit. Every cell in my body was telling me to run. But yet, I still got in the ring. This is an incredibly empowering experience. When your body is telling you one thing, and your mind decides to override it, you realize that you are truly in charge of your behaviors and actions.
This is the third reason I discovered I love boxing – the physical, the mental, AND the emotional, all simultaneously. No other non-fighting sport will give that to you. Imagine for a moment that you’re in the ring – you can’t catch your breath, you have to THINK about what you’re doing, and you’re scared shitless, all at the same time. Boxing was powerful for me because it had the combination of 3 key factors that I haven’t experienced simultaneously before.
I spent 3 months training at the Corner Boxing Club. The owners Carrie and Kirsten created a gym unlike other boxing gyms because it’s less of a gym and more of a community. In those 3 months, I did get into great shape. I sparred maybe 8-10 times before getting into the ring for my official match. The night of the match was a great one. Almost everyone I knew and loved in Boulder was there. This was an official USA Boxing sanctioned event, complete with ring-side doctors, referees, the whole works. The crowd was rowdy, loud, energized and added to the adrenaline of the evening. The girl I fought is taller than me, but just as new to boxing. We both wanted to win – I could see it in her eyes. I respected her fighting, as we both trained at the same gym.
When I got into the ring, it felt like I was going to have a heart attack, and every instinct was telling me to RUN!!! But when the bell rung, I didn’t hear anything else except for the sound of my breathing as I repeated to myself “storm of punches” and “breathe”. We fought 3 rounds, 1 minute each, and each minute was an eternity. (I’ve never been so happy to be in the masters level!). I remember almost nothing of the fight. I just remember it being over – and – I lost. When the fight ended, I hugged my opponent in the biggest bear hug I could muster. However, I I didn’t really lose, because went all the way through with it. I got into the ring. I stood up against my fear and did it. And I got into great shape over it.
Fighting in a boxing match was the last place I thought I’d find inspiration, confidence, and power. And yet, I did. It was transformational. It wasn’t my opponent that I fought. It was myself. And I won.
Huge thanks to David Mandell for getting me there in the first place, and to Carrie and Kirsten who own the gym – you’ve created one of the most special communities I’ve experienced in a while. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and for boxing.
If you’re interested in having a similar experience, the next Founders Fights is being planned for May of 2017. Start training now with The Corner Boxing Club for an experience that will define who you are.