This past weekend, I had my first fight in 2 years. We were only 3 girls in our weight category, and as luck would have it, I was cast against my sparring partner. For that reason, it was an exhibition fight, but it went well enough that a coach from another gym spotted me, and asked me to fight her boxer the next day. Quite the compliment: her boxer weighed 7.5 kilos more than me (18lbs) and had 14 more fights than me. I fought that other girl on Sunday. My objective was to not make a fool of myself, survive all 3 rounds, and not get injured. Competitive spirit, right there. I achieved my objective, came a way with a long list of things to work on and made a startling discovery.
I don’t like fighting.
I fight because it allows me to evaluate if I’ve improved during sparring. I spar because that is how I can evaluate if I am properly applying all the lessons learned during boxing classes. But I don’t particularly enjoy either one of those activities. A bit of a problem, for a boxer.
Beaut believes that it is because I am not a violent person: my privileged life (“poor little rich white girl”) has left me without any accumulated rage in my belly to work through in the ring. He is almost envious: he wonders what it must be like to navigate life free from the shackles of permanent anger, frustration and injustice. Until Beaut, I would vehemently rejected that description of myself: growing up as an invalid, watching helplessly as my mother’s health collapsed and her years of suffering, and living off my father’s blue-collar wages, I did not feel the Universe had handed me the best hand of cards. But the past year has given me perspective: my life thus far includes far more blessings than battlescars. So maybe Beaut has a point.
I think my dislike of fighting is symptomatic of a much deeper problem – an inability to manage my anger. It is an accepted premise that the ring is an analogy for life, and our behaviour in the ring reflects our behavior in real life. If I follow my progression as a boxer, a theme emerges:
- When I first started boxing, 4 months after my mother died, I couldn’t hit the punch bag with intent or power. I would start each punch with the proper momentum and technique, but I would hold back when making contact, turning a punch into a tap. It took months of practice to accept my strength, to feel comfortable with the power I was capable of generating. In real life, I felt constantly muzzled, self-editing myself as I struggled to keep my depression hidden in the workplace.
- When I first started sparring, during that same depression, I’d dissolve into tears when I was punched. I would feel overwhelmed, stop defending myself, and let myself get punched until Coach intervened.
- I eventually learned that I would get hit less often if I kept my opponents at a safe distance, typically by using my jab or moving out of the way. This became my go-to approach in sparring for at least a year. I’d never attack my opponent – why expose myself to the risk of getting hit? Unsurprisingly, I adopted that fighting style at the same time as I began working through my third depression, during a period of my life where my therapist pleaded with me to accept that vulnerability was the cornerstone to happiness. I told my therapist I’d rather stay safe and avoid getting hurt emotionally, than take a risk and have my chance at happiness.
- My latest breakthrough in sparring has come with a surge of confidence. Hit me? I’ll be sure to hit you back. To dissuade you from wanting to hit me, I’ll occasionally hit you first, and I won’t hit kindly. Similarly, in my real life, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will not please everyone. I’d rather be respected, stay true to myself, and live with the knowledge that I am not universally liked, than expend energy constantly molding myself into a persona that will please everyone and all their quirks. That means I’ll say what needs to be said, regardless of whether or not my audience will like my message. I’ll formulate my message with respect, but I will no longer edit the content.
So far so good, right?
Well… that isn’t enough to win a fight. I’ve no urge to ever hit my opponent first, to bend them to my will, to impose my fighting style over theirs. Those are not impulses that appeal to me either in the ring, or in the real world. I’m much more of a “live and let live” kinda person. I’d be perfectly happy if my opponent and I each took a corner of the ring and shadow boxed in silence. I’ve noticed that in the real world I do not know how to manage my anger. I’m totally comfortable feeling bitchy, annoyed, irritated and pissy. But anger? Real anger? I feel a flash of it, before dissolving into sobs, and giving way to despair and defeatism. I don’t ever fight back, because my anger has evaporated, leaving me with apathy. This is my go-to approach when an emotion is overwhelming. I fear what might happen if I did give way to my feelings: who I’d hurt, and how badly. To avoid facing that fear, I rid myself of the problematic anger entirely.
Which brings me back to Beaut’s hypothesis: I think my problem is not that I am not a violent, angry person, but rather that I am scared of discovering just how violent I truly am. I know that I won’t be able to control my anger, so rather than learn to do so (and live with all the painful mistakes I’d make during that process), I avoid the entire issue, both in and out of the ring.
THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why I box. Not because I enjoy it, but because of what it teaches me, and how it forces me to grow as a person. Apparently, I’ve some hard work ahead of me.