Five things boxing keeps teaching me

Call me LAJA Ali.

I love boxing. It’s been a part of my life for almost four years now. I stumbled upon it during my sophomore crisis in college. At this time, I was questioning everything I thought I wanted; from my classes to my career choices. It dawned on me that medical school was not for me and my dreams of running a Beverly Hills dermatology clinic were dashed for good. For a while, my day-to-day activities ran on autopilot. I went through the motions to the extent that I’d scratched my head when people asked how my day went.  It just went, I remembered nothing. I was in an unhappy but necessary place.

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How is being unhappy ever necessary? That’s how I encountered boxing. Generally, I’m an active person; I rowed competitively and swam in high school. I enjoy moving my body and have always admired individuals who pushed their body’s physical limits. I came across a kickboxing class and signed up despite the long waiting list. Since it felt like my life was spinning out of control, I figured I might as well overhaul my workout routine.  By fate, enough people dropped out and I slid in. Then began my love affair. We clicked and I kick-boxed my entire college career.

My silly self took a break after graduating to try other forms of physical activity thinking they would measure up. I was wronger than wrong. I tried them all (running, hiking, yoga, pilates, weightlifting etc), was miserable and badly missed the emotional/mental satisfaction kickboxing provided me. I didn’t realize how much I valued it until I stopped. So I went back. This time, I joined a specialty boxing gym because I wanted to learn the technicalities of the sport.

Re-starting training felt like reuniting with a long lost friend except this time, that lost friend was me. I have no intentions of going pro, I simply love the rigor of boxing routines. Keeps me sharp and anchored in a way no other sport has been able to at this time. I intend to continue boxing until I loose interest or my bank account says otherwise (the Lord provideth). Here are five lessons I’ve learnt from my lover.

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  • Repetition and consistency are key

I love and need the physical intensity that boxing provides me. However, I value the discipline, mental fortitude and body consciousness the sport requires. The techniques are basic. There are 4 punches; jab, cross, hook and upper cut. Then your footwork, which dictates the power behind your punch. Boxing requires you to be grounded but light on your feet. Explosive but controlled. Sounds simple but it is not easy; especially when combined. It’s an art and like all arts, mastery is attained through repetition and consistency. There are no short cuts or quick fixes. You either do the work or you don’t see the results. My motivation is to rebuild my flow whereby my punches are seamless but sharp. This process is made possible thanks to muscle memory and muscle memory thrives on consistency. You train to the extent your body does without thinking. Similar to how you brush your teeth or take that familiar route to work; it becomes second nature. Because of this, proper technique and form are paramount if you want avoid injury and gain quality, long term results. I train 3X a week and it’s wild seeing how much my technique has improved since I got back 4 months ago.

  • Discipline

Boxing strengthens my discipline and mastery over my emotions. I show up for each training despite my mood because I love it and the fact I’m paying for it adds the extra splash of motivation on those extra struggle-some days. Body and mind are highly interconnected so when I train one, I simultaneously train the other. This discipline follows me outside the gym. I hydrate, nourish and care for my body, time and money. Why? Because I value boxing and don’t want anything getting in the way of my training. It’s an upward spiral and I like to joke that my lifestyle has militant qualities. But hey, it works for me and I love it. Outside self-care, discipline is paramount for accomplishing my personal, financial and professional goals. Grit is important to me because life is not always easy. I need to develop the strength to persevere when shit hits the fan.

  • Team work

Sparring is a form of partner training that mirrors the motions of boxing minus the killer blows. It strengthens my empathetic skills becauseI’m forced to tune into my partner’s emotions/needs through their body language. For sparring to work effectively, mutual trust & communication are essential.  With clearly defined goals and roles, I entrust my safety and workout to my partner in hopes they will play their part in helping me reach my goals (and vice versa). For instance, my most recent partner requested I throw as many punch combos at him as quickly as possible. He was training to go pro and wanted to practice his defense. I’m quick on my feet and it’s nice having a hardcore human punching bag to practice my attack so it’s a win for both parties. I was worried about sparring a guy for obvious reasons but he promised I was in good hands; plus, I did need to get over my fear.

It was an honor to play the role of attacker, cheerleader and coach. Through his punches and movement, I noticed when he got tired. His slips shortened, his blocks became sloppier and he began leaning on me a lot. It’s a vulnerable place allowing another see and feel you slipping away. As his partner, I encouraged him to push through by tapping into his mind. I reminded him he asked for this while simultaneously pushing him off me and increasing my intensity. The voice is powerful and I love feeling a change in partner’s energy as I guide him/her through the last 10 pushups or last 30 seconds of the three minute round. I feel accomplished seeing my partner wasted on the ground after sparring with me. I also judge the quality of my partner by how spent I feel after our rounds. Sounds wild but that’s why we’re here right? Training aside, empathy is an amazing life skill to cultivate.

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  • Femininity

I love feeling strong and boxing constantly reminds me that strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive. I’m constantly learning how to further embrace my femininity, use my voice and occupy more space. Since I’m predominantly surrounded by men at my gym, I’m learning how to function, thrive and excel despite being in the minority. Deep down, I know I’m strong and that’s enough; being a woman is enough. It gives me this mellow confidence that I don’t have to go around explaining, proving or molding myself to gain another’s approval. Boxing makes me happy to be a woman. It’s a blessing to have the option to revel in my femininity because places exist where women are endangered species. I can make decisions for myself, access public places, have earning power. I have options. The same way I fight in the gym is the same way I fight for myself in the real world. Challenges exist due to circumstances outside my control but I still have to advocate for myself, demand respect and give my best. I can’t control other people’s actions, I can only control mine. Through boxing I’m constantly learning there’s so much power and freedom in giving/being my best.

  • Self mastery

We are usually more capable than we believe. I’ve experience this phenomenon repeatedly in training across the years. When I restarted training, I was intimidated when my trainer informed me I’ll eventually do 50 push ups. Till that point, I had done roughly 20 – 25 on good days. But 50? I didn’t think I had it in me. Not one to back down from a challenge, I began an experiment. Every week, I committed to doing 5 more push ups than the week prior and started small with 35 pushups. My most recent record was this past week, I did 100 freaking push ups. I split them into 10X10 sets and since I’m crazy I did 10 squats w/ 30lb weights between each pushup set as “rest”. It took me 30 minutes to complete the routine and several tears were shed in the process. I share this to say, 4 months ago I would have thrown up at the thought of doing 100 push up. Yet, here we are today. This is for sure my proudest accomplishment… well the pushups and my jump rope skills 🙂 When I box, I feel free from competition and comparison because at the end of the day, it’s all about self mastery. I am my biggest hinderance and competition.

 I box

For self mastery

For body awareness

For self-care and stress management

To learn to occupy space

To train my mind

Because I love it

Because it makes me happy

How about you? Do you have a physical regimen that makes your body ring and soul sing? I’d love to know.

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Always,

LAJA

2 thoughts on “Five things boxing keeps teaching me

  1. 👏Wow! Good to hear how the boxing gym has been going for you since you said you had started up, again. Glad it’s making you happy again and daaaang 100 push ups!?!? What a bad-A.
    Beautifully written post😊👍

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