Saturday, July 07, 2012

Being Short In The Ring

The young lady in the above picture is Marlen Esparza; she's on the women's boxing team in this year's Olympic Games.  I first became aware of her via a news documentary on CNN which ran under the "Latino In America" series.  She appears to be very tough.  She also doesn't look to be very tall.

I remember seeing a picture of my maternal grandmother, Aida Mae.  She passed away three or four years before I was born.  My mother once described her to me as, "She was short, like you."  Actually, Aida Mae was shorter than I am, 4'9 to my 5'1.  Ma also said that my grandmother was quick to fight, and some of those fights were with my grandfather, who stood about 6'2. 

My father's mother gave the impression that she was quiet and polite, but being 4'11 didn't stop her from giving out beat downs when she was younger.  I have told the story here before about her taking down a woman who was 6' tall.

I've been thinking about height in terms of boxing lately.  It has always felt to me that being short was somewhat of a disadvantage in the ring unless the other fighter is the same height.  When I spar, usually the other person is towering over me.  I've often expressed frustrations about not being able to get around someone else's long arms and not being to catch someone whose legs are longer than mine. 

But there are advantages to being short in the ring and there are ways to make up for being height challenged during fights:

1) Don't keep aiming for the other person's head.  A little over a decade ago, while training at another gym, I sparred with a guy who was 6'5.  People standing around the gym watching kept yelling to me, "Knock the guy out!" My arms kept flailing in the air, but there was no way I was going to land anything near the guy's head.  It uses up a lot of energy to go head-hunting, so the alternative tactic to do is. . .

2) Break down the body.  Shorter fighters have to learn how to be inside fighters by default.  Fighters have to work their way in with the jab, then go for the sides, the stomach, and the ribs.  Lots of fighters can shake off cracks to the head.  But body shots aren't so easy to bounce back from if they're done right. 

3)  Get in and get out.  "Stick and move!" we've heard coaches say.  It's valid advice.  Shorter fighters can and should be able to move in fast, do damage, then get out of reach before the taller fighters can react. 

4) Don't chase the other person.  Early one New Year's Day in the late 1990's, I was walking as fast as I could next to my then-boyfriend, trying to navigate the ice and snow downtown while wearing a pair of dress shoes.  He laughed, noting that I had to take several steps to keep pace with his long ones.  The ex (and now deceased) boyfriend was 6'3.  During a few sparring sessions I've had recently, the coach kept telling me not to chase the other person in the ring.  Just like always aiming for the head, chasing someone will zap energy from a fighter, too.  Make the other person step to you. 

5) Be mindful of your stance.  Shorter people have a lower center of gravity, which can make them more stable in the ring.  In other words, it's a little harder to knock me down because I'm already closer to the ground. 

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