Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Woman?

I took some of the newcomers aside to teach them some basics, while Coach worked to prepare some of the guys for our boxing show on Friday. I thought I felt some disdain, as well as disbelief from one of the new guys, a lanky kid who looked to be no more than 18 years old. "You know how to box?" he asked suspiciously when I introduced myself.

I ended up with two of the newcomers at first, the second being a tall guy who resembled a young John Cusack. We went over footwork and bobbing and weaving. Suddenly, Lanky Kid wants to know how soon can he get in the ring. "Some are in three to four weeks later, if they feel confident enough--and if the coach thinks they are ready--to step into the ring," I answered. His expression said that wasn't soon enough for him. Just then, a woman walks in who used hang around my church a few years ago. Inwardly, I groaned. I call her Bad Penny, because no matter how much I wish she would go away, she turns up like that coin.

Bad Penny had come into the ring a few weeks ago, asking a lot of questions and writing down a lot of her information for the Coach. She would pop up at my church on and off, with stories about how she was getting her life together. A former member took her in after she was bounced out of one living space. After discovering that she was being taken advantage of, the former member showed Bad Penny the door. It came out that Bad Penny was involved in a lot of shady things. Perhaps sensing that people knew her game, her appearances at church became less and less. Ever so often, I would run into her on the street, and she would tell the same story about trying to turn her life around. Several times it looked as if she was carrying all her belongings with her.

So there she was in boxing class, doing more hopping around than actually listening to instructions. I'm a tomboy, but Bad Penny is way more butch than I am. She was even wearing one of those "doo rags" that some young guys like to wear, making her look even more hard. Near the end of the class, she asked me a question about upcoming boxing shows, and I could have sworn I smelled alcohol.

On the way home, Coach told me that Lanky Kid had a bad reaction when he was told that I was going to teach the newbies the basics. "A woman?" the kid told the coach, turning his nose up. "If he gives you any trouble, let me know," the Coach said me. Sexism is still alive and well, although I'm always surprised to hear it coming from guys who are under age thirty. Keep thinking that since they grew up in an age when women were not as blocked from opportunties as they had been when I was a kid. I forget that in some households, women's rights are still not held in high regard. Maybe Lanky Kid was raised in house like that.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Friday Night Crowd

I walked in the gym five minutes late and noticed a lot of new faces. "Ah", I thought, "the new fall session has started." One guy showed up with his wife and two little girls in tow. Maybe they wanted to see what was going on. If it becomes a regular habit, I'll have to wonder what's up. Two women also joined the class. I overheard one of them say that she was a grandmother. She sure didn't look old enough to be one. The other told me that she was a student. Coming to the gym on Friday night after a full amount of classes back to back was going to be a good outlet for her, she told me.

Meant to ask Coach early in the evening did he need help with the newcomers. He's glad to see them come in, but during this time of year, the boxing shows are going on. It's hard for him to take out time to instruct them when he has guys to shape up for upcoming matches. While he drove me home afterwards, he asked me to help with coaching the new people. Have to take it slow with them; they can't be taught everything at once. There will always be someone who wants to jump to uppercuts before they have mastered the left jab, but all of the lessons have to build upon the next one. This upcoming Wednesday, I will take them aside and continue the lesson on movement that Coach started yesterday.

The newcomers never stay for the entire class. After approximately twenty minutes of lesson time, they are turned loose to continue a workout. Some do, some stand around and wait to be told what to do. Fortunately, all of the boxers are very helpful and will demonstrate techniques to them. It was sparring night, and I notice two new guys just stopped everything to watch the more experienced guys in the ring. The look in their guys seemed to be one of "Man, that looks rough!" After the newcomers left, the rest of us remained in the gym for nearly another hour. Coach asked us who he thought would continue with the class. I think Youngster immediately said, "None of 'em!" I did overhear Grandma say as she was hitting the heavy bag, "If I had to do this for two minutes, I'd fall out." College Girl said she had her nose broken once, and wasn't eager to do it again. Neither of the ladies expressed an interest in sparring. Maybe it didn't help for me to say I had nearly been knocked out a couple of times while sparring (smile). Youngster might be right about the new folks, but time will tell.

I swear if Coach didn't put us out after awhile, we would be in the gym until 10 or 11 PM. All of us who were there for that extra hour were working hard. A good workout was had by all. I'm excited about next Friday's boxing show which will be held at our fieldhouse. I told the fieldhouse supervisor that I would sing the National Anthem again, and this time, remember the words. I sang before a fieldhouse event a few months ago that highlighted all of the programs that happen there, and I blanked out on the lyrics. It was embarrassing. Fortunately, some kids in the audience picked up where I dropped off. I remain grateful to them!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Close But So Far

CoolMex was nervous but ready to rumble at tonight's boxing show, which was held out in the summer air. His fight was number eight in the line up, so he had time to relax and stretch out. CoolMex was the only one who was matched up out of our gym. Youngster was denied again for I believe is the fourth time. Petite Warrior had no prospects, either. I never show up with my gear anymore to the park district exhibitions because I'm an extreme long shot to get a bout.

We were trying to figure out who CoolMex's opponent was. Several guys looked like possibilities, but they weren't the ones. Two matches before his, Coach took him aside to warm up, which is the usual procedure. I stood by with a water bottle so CoolMex could get some hydration. Some kids decided to play basketball--with no hoop--near us. A couple of time they had to be told to get back. The dads of Coach, myself, and CoolMex are not glassmakers, so I'm sure the kids saw us trying to handle business in that area. CoolMex was wrapped up, headgear placed on him, and mouthpiece put in. His opponent decides not to show up.

Doesn't happen often, but it is highly annoying. The officials had no choice but to skip our boxer and go on to the next match. CoolMex remained suited up for a few moments, all of us hoping that the other guy would appear. No such luck. He and Youngster have to get matches at our fieldhouse boxing show next Friday.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Always Knew She Was Crazy

My dad and I were not close. He didn't know that I boxed until I told him as he lay in a hospital bed. Little did either of us know that his leukemia, along with other long standing health problems, would never allow him to come out of the hospital alive. That was early summer of last year. He passed away in October of 2004.

He laughed when I told him, a laugh that said, "I always knew she was crazy." He watched boxing on and off, but he was never a big fan. His sport was football, followed by baseball. Boxing was the only sport he watched that I found interesting. "I bet you could knock my teeth out," he grinned.

My stepmother certainly thinks I have left my senses to be involved in such a sport. "You need to be careful," she always says with a mix of concern and horror. My late younger sister just said what was on her mind. We were watchng "Nightline" one evening. They profiled a boxer who had recently died after being knocked out during a match. I had seen the fight when it aired on ESPN2. "Why in the hell would anyone want to get involved in something like that?" she spat. I tried to convince her that amateur boxing had all kinds of checks and balances to keep it safe, but she wasn't convinced. I remember letting her try my sparring gloves on once. Unfortunately, she was in the hospital, too, struggling with oral cancer that would eventually beat her in February of 2002. She did think the gloves were cool.

Both my younger sister and I were little street fighters when we were kids. My late little brother was no slouch either, but he was a lot more mild mannered than his hot-headed sisters. Our mother, who had suffered domestic abuse at the hands of our father (they divorced when I was seven), encouraged us to stand up against classmates and other kids who picked on us. "Never let someone hit you and get away with it!" she'd say. If I came home sniffing after an after-school beating, Ma didn't give any sympathy. "You'd better stop being a chicken and learn how to fight back!" she'd snap.

When I was sixteen, my younger sister, my oldest niece, and myself planned to beat down some gang affiliated girls who had been harrassing our paternal grandmother. The poor woman couldn't come back from grocery shopping in peace. Three girls would wait for her to drive up, then they would insult her and pick on the way she walked. Grandma walked with a limp due a hip that never set right after it was broken years earlier. This went on for weeks. Grandma wouldn't say anything until after she had come inside the house. We would run out to grab the girls, but they were long gone. Grandma knew she had crazy granddaughters. Actually, I realize now that she was actually doing the right thing.

One day, we did catch the gang girls in the act. Before we could get out of our grandparents' house to jump them, Dad caught us. "What the hell are you doing? Get back up those stairs!" he yelled. We explained why we were after the girls, but the old man didn't want to hear it. "Talkin' about fighting somebody! That's so unladylike!" he snapped. We caught them later--one by one--when he wasn't around.

When I took up boxing, it occurred to me that I was learning the proper way to fight. I'm not knocking the wild, vicious moves of street fighting. Those are extremely valid for those times you need to get a mugger or rapist off of you. The thing about boxing is it has rules, and when executed properly, is a beautiful thing.

I still get the "she must be crazy" look when I tell people I box, but it doesn't bother me. The naysayers just don't realize the beauty of the sweet science.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ladies Who Box, Or Don't

When I first took up boxing at age 39, I trained at a school known more for its martial arts programs. There was one other woman in the class. The guys appeared to be very comfortable with her, so I figured she had been there for some time. I got the feeling that she thought I wouldn't last long. There were about three women who came in after me. Two of them came fully loaded with all kinds of boxing gear. They got bored quick with having to practice the punches over and over. I saw them gossiping and giggling in the corner instead of training about 95% of the time. The coach believed that everyone should spar. The chatty Cathys eyebrows went up. "We have to get hit?" they said in horror. What in the world did they think boxing consisted of? Needless to say, they disappeared after a few weeks. Another woman came in, all fired up, going on and on about what she hoped to accomplish in the class. She was around for a couple of weeks before she blew out as fast as she blew in. I lasted eight months, but I had a legit excuse as to why I left the class. My younger sister, who had struggled with oral cancer for a couple of years, was told that her time on Earth was limited.

Several months after my sister's memorial service, I decided it was time for me to go back to a gym. I had not only taken boxing at the other place, but I had taken martial arts as well. Martial arts was enjoyable, but I felt more at home in the boxing class. To my surprise, I found out that the fieldhouse down the street from me had ran a boxing program for a couple of decades.

This time, I was the only woman in the gym for a long time. After awhile, some women started to trickle in during each new session. The feeling of being intimidated in what is still mainly an all-boys club is very real. I felt it when I first took up the sport, which is why I try to make the other women who came in feel comfortable. It is my way of saying, "Yes, you can do this, and it is okay to be here." It's not that Coach doesn't make them feel welcomed, but I feel it also helps them to see another female wearing gloves. Unfortunately, I usually ended up being the only girl hanging with boys again by the middle of the session. There is only one other women in the gym now, Petite Warrior, who appears to be very focused. Hopefully, she will be there for awhile.

Why do they leave? Many reasons. Newcomers are taught the basics coming in, but then are expected to take the initiative to do the workout on their own after a few weeks. Some want personal attention all the time, however, and the adult program is not set up for that. Many women in this society are still being taught that it is not ladylike to hit. That is detrimental logic in an age when violence against women is very high. Some women are turned off by the tough workout, the sweat and the blood. It's the old "I didn't think it would be like this" routine.

I was glad to hear the head of boxing for the park district announce recently during a boxing show that the gyms are open for women to train, too. He said this after a match featuring two teenaged girls. I have noticed a lot of teen girls in boxing over the past year. Still haven't seen any girls under thirteen in the gyms, but hopefully, that will change over time.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Fight Focus

This past Thursday night was another boxing show. Instead of meeting Coach at the gym and getting a ride with him, I took public transportation. It looked as if Coach might have had a carload of people. Lately, it appears he's always having to chauffer boxers back and forth, no doubt putting wear and tear on his vehicle. Wasn't going to hurt me to take public transportation that time. Not many in our gym have cars. Wish I still had mine, but some guy with a lead foot totaled the Cavalier back in July. If I still had it, I could help to get people to the fights.

Little Slugger, one of the kids in the youth boxing program, won his fourth fight, but made a mistake that no fighter should: he let his anger get the best of him. His opponent was a barrel-chested boy who was slightly husky than Little Slugger. Unlike the last three opponents, that boy wasn't going to go down easy. I guess Little Slugger didn't take kindly to the hard shots. The next thing I knew, he had shoved the other kid to the mat. Little Slugger had a look on his face as if to say, "Take that!" I was surprised that Swifty, the referee, didn't penalize him for that.

Youngster, who is in the adult boxing program, crapped out on getting a match for the umpteenth time. Last year, he had no end of opportunities. Not only have the opponents disappeared, but there's a lack of sparring partners in the gym, as well. Doesn't help that he didn't win the last few fights he had, either. The kid has talent, but his confidence is down, and it needs a boost.

Tonight at the gym, Youngster sparred for four rounds with Old Pops. Friday is normally sparring night. Coach had to take care of some business, so he wasn't there tonight. Sparring is usually not allowed when he is not there. It's a liability thing. Somebody gets hurt when Coach is not monitoring the action, and everyone could find themselves looking at lawsuits. However, Old Pops is a former professional boxer who has expressed an interest in working with Youngster. Old Pops wasn't going to let it get out of hand. I was watching too, just in case.

Every time Coach is gone and leaves me in charge, guys who are not signed up for the class stroll in. It's not long before they ask can then hit the bags, or get into the ring. Many of them think because they've watched a few fights on HBO, or been in several street fights, they can do it with no problem. Coach is a lot nicer than me in the same situation. Guess it's because some guys don't take women seriously, especially if they are short like me, that I get little hard with the wannabes. One character waltzes in and says, "Who wants to go a few rounds with me?" Youngster, College Man and I started at the guy and said nothing. The guy motioned to Youngster, who was standing the ring, but he was waved off. "What time is it?" Youngster asked, just as the guy decided to try on some head gear. "Just about closing time," I said firmly and loudly. The guy took the head gear off in a hurry, mumbled something about wanting to get his box on, and eased back out on the basketball court next door. Women come by on ocassion, but they usually just watch and stay out of the way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Strange World of Show Fights

The first time I went to a show fight was last summer. It was at a country club out by O'Hare Airport. That was the first time I had been inside a country club, as well. Just like the movies--dark wood, plush furniture, the smell of old and new money mixed together.

Show fights are private amateur boxing shows put together by promoters for organizations. The coaches and boxers get paid a little money for their efforts. If some of the people in the crowd are impressed by the boxers' performances, they may press a few dollars in their hands.

The boxers were hustled into a room away from the patrons. I got the feeling that the management didn't want us to get too close to the country club members. There were a lot of stares as the boxers, their coaches and corner persons walked in. The country club was nestled in an area that is predominately white. Most of the boxers were people of color.

The crowd at that first show fight was filled with nothing but upper class men, ranging from their mid-thirties to their senior years. All of them seemed to have cigars between their teeth. The stench was overwhelming. It's hard enough to contend with an opponent then have to breath in smoke, too.

I don't think we got fed that day. The promoters and judges usually get food. Once in awhile, a spread will be laid out for the athletes, as it was during a show fight I attended that was in a hotel. The coach and the rest of us took a seat in the back after our guys fought. The waiters were clean-cut college boys who probably took the job for networking opportunities. They served all the tables around us except ours. Guess they sensed we weren't the usual country club crowd. A guy at the next table overheard the coach grumbling about being passed over. He offered to get us drinks, but the incident had left us with no taste for them. We politely turned down the offer.

Very few of the spectators at those show fights are true fight fans. I can tell by the stuff they were yelling during the matches. Clearly showed their ignorance. Mainly it was a chance to hang out with their peers and do a little betting. After each match, I saw hands exchanging money, and they weren't small amounts, either.

Never many women at the show fights. A show fight that was held at a hotel was for a trade convention that was in town. The business women bailed out early on, retreating to their rooms. The few females who were left were friends, relatives, and girlfriends of the boxers, and corner persons, such as myself. I talked to a promoter who claimed that there have been show fights that featured female boxers, but I've yet to see one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Life In The Corner

Coach taught me how to work the corner. Still need more practice, however, but I'm getting the hang of it. It is exciting to me, being on the edge of the apron, close to the action going on in the ring.

During the last Golden Gloves tournament here, I worked the corner for one of the guys in my gym. He was robbed in his match. I don't know what his opponent was trying to do, but boxing wasn't it. I wanted to yell at the referee too, but one of the rules of the corner is to let the coach do all of the talking. Afterwards, our guy wanted his gloves taken off in a hurry. I could feel the heat of his anger, hotter than the lights that hung over the ring. It was so disappointing when his hand was not lifted by the referee in victory. Nothing left to to do but take the towels and the bucket and follow him away from the ring.

I have been in the corner when one of our guys has won, and that is a great feeling. What gets me is that after the fights, when the opposing boxer and their cornerperson come over to shake hands, they always looked shocked to see a woman in the corner. They shake the hands of the coach and the guy who boxed, but avoid me like a bad virus. I feel vindicated if our boxer wins, but it still smacks of disrespect.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Another Boxing Show

I went to a park district boxing show a few days ago. Coach was hoping to get CoolMex a bout, but unfortunately, he didn't get matched up. CoolMax told me he is planning to move to Las Vegas next year. He wants to be a professional boxer, and senses time is running out because he's in his early twenties.

Little Scrapper got another match. He said his brother, Scrappy Brother, had to stay at home and finish his homework, or else he would have been there. I like Little Scrapper. He's never nervous before a match or during it. The boy he fought against looked like that old cartoon character, Droopy. I felt sorry for the kid, but he did manage to stay in there against Little Scrapper for a couple of rounds.

There was a girl who told the coach of the fieldhouse where the show was being held that she wanted to fight. He allowed her to get into the ring despite the fact that she had never spent a day in boxing training. I overheard her talking a lot of trash to her friends before the match. "You think I'm afraid of a little hit?" she said. Someone told her, "Boxing and street fighting are two different things." They were right. The girl got her head handed to her by Pony Tail, a girl who I had seen spar with Petite Warrior, who is the only other woman in my gym besides me. Pony Tail is good. Had to give that girl her respect--she lasted the three rounds with Pony Tail, and kept on going.

Last night, Old Pops asked my coach were there any upcoming matches for me. "I've been trying to get a match for her for two years," Coach explained. It's my age that keeps me from being able to find opponents. I came close to having a match during my gym's boxing show last fall, but at the last minute, the local boxing council decided against it. "She's older and heavier than the other girl," they said. I often wonder if I should have been so honest about my birthdate. I know another female boxer who lied about her age to get into a major amateur competition--it was the only way she was going to get in, and she won.

Luckily, I like other aspects of boxing besides being in the ring. I help out in the corners whenever I can, and I'm learning more about the history of the sport. Have an eye on coaching down the line.