Sunday, July 31, 2011

Danger and Forgiveness

I have written here many times about how some people have admonished me over the years for participating in boxing.  One of the best came from Ma, who told me back in 2001, "Can't you find something else better to do?"  It has been pointed out to me more than once that boxing is, well. . .dangerous.  I tell people how much I love the sport, and I laugh it off, but they're right.  Precautions are taken (especially in the amateur ranks), but sometimes, things go wrong. 

One of the most horrific tragedies happened on March 24, 1962 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  Emile Griffith, a boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands, fought Benny "The Kid" Paret, a Cuban.  It was the third time the two had fought, and the match was aired on national television on NBC.  The first time they faced each other, Griffith won the welterweight title by knockout.  The second time, Paret regained the title.  The other night on ESPN Classic, I watched a documentary, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, which detailed what happened that night. 

During the sixth round, Griffith backed Paret into a corner and pounded him with punches.  Some of the people in the documentary differed as to how many punches Paret took.  Now I've been hurt myself in the gym and in the ring.  I've seen others, both professional and amateur boxers, get injured on TV and during matches I've seen in person.  The footage of Griffith beating Paret however, had me cringing with my mouth open.  It was one of the most brutal beat downs I had ever seen.  The referee, Rudy Goldstein, jumped in too late to stop it.  Paret had been knocked unconscious while still on his feet, then he slumped slowly down to the canvas.  A reporter interviews Griffith, who regained the championship, right after the mayhem.  Griffith and his corner people look cautiously over at the corner where Paret, who was still out of it, was laying.  Griffith commented that he hoped Paret "is feeling very good." Paret never regained consciousness, and he died ten days later, leaving behind a wife and a young son.  Paret's widow is interviewed throughout the film.  Several times, she is wiping away tears. 

Boxing doesn't have a patent on deaths.   Cars spin out of control during races, jockeys fall off horses on the racetrack and are trampled. Luges crash, bulls stomp on their riders, and skiers slam into trees.  But people are more scandalized about a boxing death because animals, sports equipment, and machines didn't contribute.  It was purely at the hands of another human.  It does not matter if the fight was sanctioned, or what the referee observed, or how the judges saw the bout.  People will cry, "Murder!", and the calls to have the sport banned will be raised -- again.  Indeed, that fight was the reason why boxing disappeared from network TV for the rest of the 1960s, not to be seen again until the 1970s. 

Some thought that Griffith may have intentionally beat Paret like that due to Paret using a gay slur towards Griffith during a weigh-in.  Griffith seems to admit to being bisexual during the documentary, but there seems to be confusion about that, even on Griffith's part.  He said that the slur didn't bother him.  Footage of him being interviewed in the ring after the fight shows Griffith looking at the playback of the action.  He appeared to be surprised at the intensity of his punches on Paret.  Griffith gives the impression that he got caught up in the moment, and just followed the directions of his trainer to keep punching. 

As harsh as that night was, as well as some other messy aspects of Griffith's life -- a brief marriage, an assault that nearly killed him, dealing with puglistic dementia -- the documentary offers a most poignant and hopeful coda at the end.  Paret's son, now an adult,  finally meets Griffith.  Initially, Griffith has trepidation, as anyone would in that instance.  How will Paret's son react to him?  What can Griffith say to the son of the man he killed?

The two men meet in a park.  Paret's son tells Griffith that his mother still has a hard time about his dad's death.  But the son has no hard feelings.  Griffith hugs the younger man and cries on his shoulder.  Forgiveness is a hard thing to do.  I am not fond of the concept, and I admit that I'm guilty of carrying grudges.  I'm not the only one.  But the documentary taught me that it not only can be done, but it is necessary for closure. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lessons From Kenny

I did a round robin session of sparring with Sarah and Taheerah.  Sarah got in with Taheerah first.  I was impressed at how Taheerah hung in there with Sarah; she's not that much taller than I, and Taheerah is petite.  But she was able to handle Sarah's punches.  When I got in with Sarah, it was the usual; I took hits to my head and to my right eye.  A right hook grazed me across my face.  I focused on giving out body shots, but none of them slowed Sarah down.  I'm convinced that Sarah should try to get a fight at the field house's boxing show next month.

Taheerah's head gear kept coming off while she was sparring with Sarah.  The same thing happened last week when she and I were in the ring.  She has a lot of hair, plus the head gear Alan put on her was old.

Kenny noticed that it seems that there are fewer sparring and bag gloves on the table each time the gym is opened.  "Sometimes, Barry locks up equipment," I said.  When the gym was given a lot of free equipment back in 2007 when the International Boxing Championships were in town, Barry had to put a lot of it under wraps for safety.  Unfortunately, a lot of that equipment -- the gloves in particular -- walked anyway.  Kenny figured that maybe some of the equipment was beginning to walk again.  

Kenny held pads for a few people, including me.  He showed me another way to throw an overhand right.  Usually, I do it the way Alan does, like a bolo punch (which is what that punch was originally called), setting it up like a right cross, but coming down with it in an arc.  The way Kenny showed me was to come over my opponent's jab so that my fist ended up striking their chin or cuffing them behind the ear.  He also had me throw right uppercuts and immediately follow up with a left hook to the body, as I would already be in position to throw the hook from leaning in to deliver the uppercut. People were watching us, including Taheerah and Ray, who cheered me on. "There you go!" Ray said, and Taheerah laughed as she told me, "Don't try those punches on me when we spar!"  Next week, Kenny is going to show me some more combinations and how to step over to avoid counter punches.

I sent an email to Steve on his birthday; I believe he's now 38 years old.  He emailed back and told me he saw the letter I sent to The Ring Magazine praising them for finally including regular articles about female boxers.  He asked if I was still going to Loyola Park and how the gym was going.  I gave him an update and asked him to say hi to Ellen (his wife) and their kids.

Tommy and I were talking about energy drinks on the market.  "Have you tried that Five Hour Energy?" he asked.  "I've never drank a full bottle.  Half of one is enough to have me hopping," I said, and I comically demonstrated the effect.  Tommy laughed.  "I drank a full one, and I was sitting on the train when suddenly I felt pumped up!' he said.  I don't trust most of the energy drinks I see advertised because I'm not really sure about the ingredients that go into them.

Alan and I were the last ones in the gym at the end of the night, and I told him, "I forgot to take pictures of the action."  "Take a picture of the ring.  You can put a caption on it that says the ropes are in distress -- much like Leon's love life," he chuckled.  "If Leon sees this on the blog, I'm going to tell him that you put me up to it,' I laughed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ears and Eyes

Earlier in the day, I was wondering how I was going to make it at the gym Monday night.  The usual menopause insomnia and fatigue had plagued me the night before, despite the fact that I did get a few good hours of sleep.  Sometimes I feel tired in the gym and push on, but other times, like last night, I'm able to shake it off.

While walking through the park to get to the field house, I saw a little boy who looked familiar.  "Nico?" I called out to him, and he stopped in his tracks and looked at me.  I waved to him.  Nico is one of the children who regularly attends my church.  Jesse, who used to be an intern at my church, and who's also a friend of Nico's parents, saw me and waved.  I guess he was watching over Nico.  Nico has often played with Jesse's young son Emmit. 

And it was a good thing I was able to keep the tiredness at bay as I sparred with both Taheerah and Ursula (Renee and Amy opted not to spar).  Ursula only did one round and she was done. I was in the ring for two rounds with Taheerah, who got in a few good shots to my stomach.  Trying to be slick at one point, I covered up my mid-section, but left my head wide open.  Taheerah clocked me in my ear with her right hand.

A pop to Nathaniel's eye from Jacob ended the sparring session they had.  But Kenny, who had gone into the ring earlier with him, and Ray, who had observed their pairing, had nothing but praise for him.  "He's got a lot of heart," Ray said, while Kenny exclaimed, "That mother------ kept coming despite taking hits!  I have to give him his respect!" 

Ray helped Jimmy along while they sparred in the ring, encouraging Jimmy to throw more hooks.  Alan was trying to keep his eyes on them as well as all the sparring that went on, while keeping an eye on the damaged ring.  A few times while Kenny sparred, he kept stepping over the rope, and Alan would gently push him back onto the playing area. 

In the photo above, Jacob spars with Kenny (who's facing the camera).

I got the name of the cream that Ursula recommended for helping with arthritis pain: it's called Arnica, and I'm going to look for it tomorrow.  My knees felt pretty good today.  Taheerah had seen me out with my bike a few weeks ago.  "I have rode as far as Highland Park, but these days, it depends on how my knees feel," I told her.  I've only rode my bike once this season, but I'll need to pull it out more beginning next month as part of the training plan for the tentative fight I'll have in September.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fighters and An Old Sitcom

I've been watching reruns of "Car 54, Where Are You?" over the weekends on MeTV.  For those not hip to cult TV history, it was a sitcom that aired from 1961 to 1963 on NBC.  The main characters were a couple of New York City cops: tall, college-educated bachelor Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) and short, none-too-bright married man Toody (Joe E. Ross).  There were a couple of episodes where the cops were trying to catch up with a gang of thieves.  There was one guy who appeared as the muscle of the gangs in both episodes.  I was surprised to read the credits at the end of the episode to find out the guy was real-life boxer Jake LaMotta.  As of this writing, LaMotta is 90 years old, and still very much alive.  His life story was chronicled in the movie Raging Bull (1980), with Robert DeNiro playing the boxer. 

The writers and producers of "Car 54" must have really liked boxers, because just this past weekend, I saw another episode featuring two of the greatest boxers of all time.  The episode, "Puncher and Judy", had one of the cops, Kissel, (Bruce Kirby) bragging about how he was going to take on an opponent.  Toody informs Kissel that he took the liberty of signing him up for the Golden Gloves.  He even has the name of the opponent, some guy named Tony.  Suddenly, Kissel's not so brave anymore, and decides he's going to back out, but not before snapping on Toody for putting his name in the competition.  A woman (played by the late Shari Lewis, who was also a popular voice over actress) shows up at the station and begs Toody and Muldoon to convince her boyfriend Tony, a gentle hairdresser who has customers who are crazy about him, not to fight in the gloves.  The cops take Tony to a boxing gym, and arrange with a trainer to have one of the pros at the gym pop Tony one good time in order to make him lose his confidence.  To the surprise of Toody and Muldoon, Tony wipes the canvas with his opponent, and has to be pulled off of him.  The part of Tony was played by boxer Rocky Graziano.  His real-life story was also done on the big screen: Paul Newman played him in the movie, Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956).

The cops get the bright idea to get an even more experienced pro to beat Tony in order to keep him out of the Gloves.  They manage to convince the pro to disguise himself as an old man as to not bruise Tony's feelings too bad.  Tony doesn't want to get into the ring with a "70 year old man" but Toody and Muldoon convince Tony to give him a few rounds.  What Tony doesn't know is that the "old man" is actually Sugar Ray Robinson in disguise.  Tony is knocked to the canvas, and decides that boxing is not for him.

However, when Tony returns to his hairdressing job, he's mean to his customers.  Tony threatens to cut off all the hair of one customer, and he sends another woman running out of the beauty shop crying.  His girlfriend realizes that boxing was the way Tony let out pent-up emotions, so she begs Toody and Muldoon to convince him to go back to boxing.  The cops and Robinson let Tony know how they tricked him at first, and all ends well with Tony beating down three guys at one time at the gym as his girlfriend cheers him on.

It was an amusing episode.  Graziano exaggerated his boxing moves, beating guys after they had already fallen onto the canvas by pouncing on top of them (something that is not in the boxing rulebook).  Robinson was getting fitted for a suit by a tailor when Toody and Muldoon approached him to take on Tony.  "I don't know fellas. . .I have to train for a fight," Robinson said, then he casually flung a backhand fist at a nearby speed bag as the tailor measured him for the suit.  Robinson's manager handed him a contract for his next fight.  The boxer asked if all his demands had been met, which were all outrageous, including 92% of the box office receipts.  The manager assured him the demands were in place, and Robinson signed the contract.  The manager walked away, then a thought occurred to Sugar Ray.  "Wait!  Who am I fighting?" he asked. 

Graziano did meet Robinson in the ring for real, in 1952.  Robinson knocked Graziano out in three rounds.  It would be Graziano's last attempt at a middleweight title.  Graziano was entered into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.  Robinson was entered there in 1990, as was Jake LaMotta.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Coach, His Son, and Pizza

Taheerah and I sparred Wednesday night, and I honored her request to go light.  Her husband, Nate, gave her tips from the side.  I heard Alan say to me, "She's your height!  Throw straight punches!" 

The ring itself continues to be in disrepair.  I heard that it might take a year for maintenance to fix it, which I can believe.  When the back door of the field house was broken, it took about that amount of time before that was repaired.  As Kenny pointed out, it makes it hard for the fighters who need to learn how to work off of the ropes.  It's also hard to gauge where one is at during sparring because half of the ropes are down on the canvas.  Alan and I are constantly calling out, "Watch out!" when someone gets too close to the edge.  In my opinion, what's needed is a ring that doesn't have its canvas bolted down on the floor.  The last time I was in JABB Gym, I remember they had a small ring that was only a couple of feet from the floor.  It didn't take up a lot of room; such a ring could probably fit into Loyola Gym.

The temperature in the gym was very hot, and no wonder -- it was about 100 degrees yesterday.  I was banging on the teardrop bag when I noticed my bag gloves were slick with sweat.  Jilberto told Colonel and I that most of the other field houses didn't open that day due to the heat.
I got some more good tips from Kenny on how to throw uppercuts.  I had reverted to my old habit of bringing my arms all the way before throwing them, which is a good way for an opponent to step in on me with hard hooks.  The last time I sparred with Taheerah, I tried to sneak a couple of uppercuts in, but I wasn't close enough, and she danced away very fast before I could execute them properly.  That's the one punch that I never feel I do correctly, and the one I feel I need to practice the most. 

Lots of sparring, despite the heat -- Kenny, Jimmy, Jacob, Matt, Nathaniel and Nate -- all took turns on the canvas. 

After the gym, Alan, his son Matt, and myself went to Giordano's.  Matt had chicken, while Alan and I split a pizza (the leftovers of which I will have for dinner tonight).  Alan had me cracking up with a some "Curb Your Enthusiasm" moments he had.  One involved him asking a woman if she was pregnant.  She wasn't.  "You never assume that a woman is pregnant unless she tells you," I laughed.  I think of all the times people have seen my gut -- which I have been trying to whittle down for the longest -- and assumed that I had an ankle-biter on the way.  It's one of the quickest ways to tick off most women.

We had a good time.   I could tell that Alan worries a lot about Matt, and like most young folks, Matt thinks his dad's fears are unfounded.  However, father and son appear to have a comfortable way of talking and relating to each other.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sparring All Around

I turned on the fan that's built into the back window of the gym, as well as the box fan.  It didn't do much.  Ray commented, "You can just stand around and sweat and lose calories in here!"  Despite of the heat, the gym was well attended tonight.

Taheerah and Ursula sparred.  Taheerah kept coming forward.


Then I got into the ring with Taheerah.  I put out as many straight punches as possible, including an overhand right.  The video clip of us sparring looks odd because Alan was holding my camera, and he hasn't quite got the hang of how to operate it.  Plus, I had problems uploading it, so it's not featured here.

After some coaxing by Leon, Jimmy agreed to spar with him.  Alan got into the ring to referee, and he had to warn Leon several times to go easy.  Jimmy did take a shot to the side.  "He didn't hit me as hard as he could have, but I feel it," Jimmy told me later.

Matt, Alan's son, came in, and he sparred with Oscar.  Matt plans to go to college for a year here in Illinois, then transfer.  He's eyeing a kickboxing team at a school out in California.

Ray and Alan had a great sparring session -- with no headgear -- which ended prematurely because Ray slipped and fell.  Ray got in a nice, crisp uppercut on Alan right before Ray fell. Kenny, Oscar, and Marcus also sparred, so the ring was used a lot tonight.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recognizing A Southpaw

I stayed at work a little longer yesterday because I had come in late (didn't sleep one wink the night before).  Paulette had come in to help set up for that night's Vacation Bible School session, and she gave me a ride home.  As we were leaving, Pastor told Paulette that he'd see her later that evening.  He looked at me and said, "Box somebody for Jesus!"

Tommy sparred for the first time last night, and Alan picked me to get into the ring with him.  As I've mentioned before, I have a hard time building up some sort of manufactured antagonism towards opponents, even when I have regular bouts.  Also, Tommy is a holdover from when Steve was the coach, and the only connecting person currently in the gym to that past time.  I felt kind of guilty for having to hit him, and I didn't want to go hard. 

Around the middle of the first around, I began to notice that Tommy was using his right hand to jab.  I kept moving to his left to avoid that hand.  He was moving a lot faster than I was, too, considering that I usually plod, and I'm more flat-footed in the ring.  In the second around, I caught some shots to the mid-section, then a right hood grazed across my eyes and the bridge of my nose.  "You okay?" he asked, and I said, "yes" as I backed up real quick.   After the third round ended our sparring session, I asked, "Are you a southpaw?"  When he answered in the affirmative, I exclaimed, "Ah-ha!"  Tommy has an advantage.

The video clip above is of Jacob sparring with Nate.  I stood on the opposite side of the ring so I could also include Alan in the shot.  He's the guy shadow boxing near the ropes and keeping an eye on the action at the same time.  Jacob also sparred with Oscar and Jesus, getting in several rounds.

There's a couple of Rocky posters in the gym; this one is for what (is supposedly) the very last movie in the series.  Sylvester Stallone, the actor who plays Rocky, was recently inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.  Many people thought that was a dubious choice, but the Rocky character is considered one of the patron saints of boxing.  A lot of people took up the sport because of those movies. 

Did I mention that I used a free pass to workout at XSport Fitness this past weekend?  I wasn't overly impressed by the place, and even less so when I went in the back to find two heavy bags and one double end bag.  The double end bag wasn't even filled properly with air.  I punched one of the heavy bags for about twenty minutes.  Afterwards, a woman told me, "I really liked how you were punching the bag.  You don't see many women boxing."  A black man who was walking nearby looked at me and grinned, "Yeah, especially black women!"  Humph. . .I could have told him stories.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Feeling Menopausal

Another hot night in the gym, and the fan didn't do much in terms of circulating fresh air around.  I was happy when I opened my locker to find the air freshener I placed inside still worked.  It will need to be replaced soon, however; I think it's been in there for about three months.

Oscar sparred with Jesus for a round, then I got in with Jesus.  "You've worked with him in the ring before, right?" Alan asked.  "Nope, this will be the first time," I answered.  He didn't give many hard hits, but he kept busy enough to prevent me from landing a lot of my harder shots.  Somewhere in the second round, I heard Alan say to me, "You're not tired -- work!"  Oh, yeah, I'm tired, I thought to myself, and the realization came that it wasn't all from the energy expended in sparring.   After the third round, I went over and sat down directly in front of the fan, my legs out in front of me.  Alan had to chuckle when he saw me.

It wouldn't have been nice to keep hogging the fan, so eventually I got up so I could watch Jimmy and Jacob spar.  "How do you feel?" Alan asked.  "Menopausal", I replied.

There seems to be a great interest among the guys in Jacob's style of boxing.  "He's really coming along.  I saw those punches he was throwing and I was like, whew!" Ray commented.  Kenny held pads for Jacob afterwards, and Jacob's punches reverberated around the room.  Some of the guys stopped their workout to watch how he was doing.  When Professor is around (he wasn't in the gym that night), he likes holding pads for Jacob and giving him pointers, too.  Alan would like for Jacob to consider taking a fight at some point. 

In the above photo, Oscar and Nathaniel wait for the bell to ring to start their sparring session.  Note the condition of the ropes at the back of the ring.  We're all hoping that will be fixed in a hurry.  

Jesus shadow boxes in the mirror some time after he and I sparred.

Kenny works with Oscar on the pads in the photo above.  One of Kenny's ribs got separated from the ribcage.  "How did that happen?" I asked, thinking about the time I bruised a rib while ice skating.  "I think it happened during sparring.  Luckily, it didn't puncture a lung.  I figured I wasn't coughing up blood, so it's all good!" he said.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Bedbugs and Boxing

Alan is always giving advice and pointers. . .in the photo above, he talks to Amanda after her and I sparred Wednesday night.  As soon as I took the first punch from her, I figured out quickly that she had some experience in the ring previously.  She moves very well around the ring, and she did some nice bobbing and weaving, especially when she sparred with Sarah.

Sarah and I commented on what good conditioning Jacob appears to have.  He went several rounds with Alan, and caught him with a good right hook.  "Remember that other day when he did several rounds of sparring?  He wasn't even breathing hard afterwards!" Sarah commented.  I believe Jacob told me he also works out at another gym, so that would explain his seemingly endless energy.   Jacob also sparred with Nathaniel.  Nathaniel had this nice move, where he bent down a little and twisted in order to throw a hook to Jacob's side.

Tommy was really beating on the speed bag.  "That's right, Tommy, kill it!" I joked, and we both laughed.  Tommy pointed at the speed bag and announced, "I'm coming back for you!"

I was so tired when I first got to the gym.  Have I mentioned that the building I live in, like so many others it seems these days, has a bedbug problem?  I clean (using bleach and ammonia), I spray (with over the counter pesticides), I throw stuff out to keep down clutter (I've begun to sell off my old albums), but it doesn't seem to help.  If your neighbors have them, and they haven't been properly dealt with, the problem remains.  I don't sleep much because of them, which is really a trip on top of having to deal with the insomnia that comes with menopause.   I woke up around 5:30 AM, and my legs and arms looked ghastly from all the bites.  It was the worst that I have ever been bitten up by insects.  My skin was raw from all the scratching.  I immediately got up and threw out my couch cushions and most of my bed sheets, pillow cases and blankets.  I don't think I have any pillows left at all.  Then I spent time spraying before I went to work.  It is easier for me to spar ten rounds with the tallest and biggest people in the gym than to fight the bedbugs.  At least I see progress when I'm sparring.  The sofa bed I used to sleep on will have to be thrown out to the alley because it's made of cloth and the bedbugs appear to have made that their personal residence; I have to call movers this week to get estimates on how much that will cost.

A neighbor of mine, Eric, gave me a seven-day pass to X Sport, a popular gym where he lifts weight.  He loves the place because he says it has a multitude of equipment (including heavy bags and kettlebells), plus, it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long.  I will try to check it out before the end of the week.  I know that I'll be subject to a sales pitch because the seven-day pass is designed to get people to sign up for memberships.  I can't afford the cost of membership, but I've always been curious about those gyms that are accessible all the time.