The day before: A meditation on venturing into the world of boxing

Written and reposted with permission from Natalie Matushevsky, a participant in Haymakers for Hope. Society Nine is a proud supporter of Haymakers for Hope and was the training and fight night apparel sponsor for Belles of the Brawl IV. Original post by Natalie can be found here.

It’s the day before The Fight and I’m experiencing a complex, oscillating range of emotion. In the last 48 hours I’ve gone from “I got this! I’m a beast!” to “Oh shit oh shit oh shit” to “No, seriously, I’m good!” to “I’m just going to disappear and hope that no one notices.”

Some of my closest friends know that I like to approach difficult situations with a calm, stoic and perhaps sociopathic demeanor. When in loaded situations, I don’t enjoy feeling things. But in light of The Fight, I find myself consumed by them…

It’s messing with me.

My coach tells me that this is normal — being confident one minute, freaking out the next and spending the rest of the time somewhere between points of Zen and heart palpitations. He didn’t phrase it in that precise way but he did send me a few quotes from Cus D’Amato (Mike Tyson’s Coach). Here’s one that seemed to calm me down for a few minutes:

Every fighter that ever lived had fear. A boy comes to me and tells me that he’s not afraid, if I believed him I’d say he’s a liar or there’s something wrong with him. I’d send him to a doctor to find out what the hell’s the matter with him, because this is not a normal reaction. The fighter that’s gone into the ring and hasn’t experienced fear is either a liar or a psychopath.”

So I’m not a psychopath. Noted.

But back on topic…The self-reflection moments make me wonder why this venture is so different from all other crazy stuff I’ve done in the past — trekking the Andes, jumping out of a plane (twice), canyoning, traveling across the world by myself…assembling IKEA furniture…

I have a love/ hate relationship with pushing myself out of the proverbial comfort zone. I find it to be an absolute necessity in experiencing personal growth. The ability to step into the unknown and push through to the finish line- in any measure- is how I assess whether or not I’m truly engaged in the human experience. At the same time, the initial feeling of being in a place that’s so wholly unfamiliar is incredibly unsettling. And I can honestly say that I’ve stayed in that place for the entire duration of training for this fight.

Boxing is a very unique sport… in my three months of training, I found it to be a medley of strategy, endurance, precision, skill, strength, speed, aggression, assertiveness and mental agility. In other sports, a subset of these components can lead to rising above the rest. In boxing, it seems like you need all of them at the same time. It’s difficult to determine which element is lacking until you’re well into your training. Once you start sparring, it’s almost 95% mental agility and endurance — you’re constantly adjusting to your opponent. You have your strategy and so does she. Your strategy changes and so does hers. You’re constantly thinking but you have to train your body to react without much thought. If you get in your head, you’re immediately at a disadvantaged no matter how in shape you are. To get anywhere close to being decent, what it mostly comes down to is lots of sparring… which is pretty much fighting. I fought two to three times a week for three months. It wasn’t fun. Sometimes it sucked and other times it sucked less… but it was never enjoyable.

Still…If you don’t put the time in the ring, nothing else matters. Being a rock star on the mitts, bag work, sprinting , long distance running, lifting heavy — it’s all obsolete without sparring. The ring is a very scary place. It’s like the ultimate litmus test for who you are as a fighter. Without it, you’re not boxing. You’re just working out.

Boxing is also a very solitary sport, massively reliant on only one other person besides you — your coach.

Finding a good coach is pretty tough because boxing has become commercialized over the last few years. There are many people that can hold mitts and take you through a fantastic workout without knowing much about how to teach. It’s important to learn from someone who has spent time in the ring precisely because they understand the psychology of being in there. They know how much it sucks to get punched in the face and they can work with you to build Boxing IQ, which requires emotional and physical agility in synchronization.

I may be bias, but I lucked out. I have a pretty great coach. I can tell you a million reasons as to why, but in light of short attention spans, here are two simple reasons: He still fights… which means that he fully understands all that needs to happen before you get in that ring. And he drills the basics.

Remember Mr. Miyagi from Karate kid? Wax — on- wax- off? No matter how boring foot work is, that’s where he starts. If you can’t land a 1–1–2, he doesn’t show you anything else. To put it simply, he believes that learning “fun” stuff before you can demonstrate the basics in the ring is a giant waste of time. And now I do too.

Letting him take control and embracing being a student again was an adjustment as well.

As adults, we forget what it takes to learn something new. We expect to learn things as easily as we did when we were kids. But the truth is, what we actually forget is the learning process. The learning process consists of trying to the point of failure. Failure in learning requires egoless perseverance — and that’s a tough pill to swallow as an adult.

Working with my coach was exactly that — letting go of what I thought I knew, checking my ego at the door and starting from scratch. I think we worked on stepping and 1–1–2, 1–2–1 punch combo for a solid month before he added anything else.

So here’s where I am today. Despite the pre- fight jitters, I find myself ready for tonight. Jon Krauker’s voice keeps popping into my consciousness… he talks of climbing mountains and it makes me think of the last three months…

Early on a difficult climb, especially a solo climb, you’re hyper-aware of the abyss pulling at your back, constantly feeling its call, its immense hunger. To resist takes tremendous conscious effort, you don’t dare let your guard down for an instant. The void puts you on edge, makes your movements tentative and clumsy. But as the climb continues, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head. You learn to trust your self-control.”

I reflect on the journey that got me here — dedication, sacrifice, that inclination to step into the unknown. I find myself getting calmer as we approach Fight Night. I’m ready to see where it takes me.

** This was written the day before my first fight, on October 4th. I won by unanimous decision…but I don’t think that matters now. It was truly the journey that made this experience.

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