by Bobby Franklin
I have been around boxers all my life, and I’ve gotten to know hundreds of fighters and have spent quite a bit of time speaking with them, getting to know them, and making friendships with them. In the past couple of years as we have gotten older the conversations I have with them have become more reflective. One of my favorite topics is discussing what their motivation was for first stepping into a boxing gym. The answers vary, but I did seem to find a common theme among a number of them.
Just about every other sport available to young men involves joining a team; Little League Baseball, Pop Warner Football, hockey, and so on. All, of these are good ways for youth to learn the lessons of working together, sharing responsibility, and being a part of something bigger than themselves. It also allows for the sharing in victories as well as failures. Sure, there are times when one player will get the glory for pulling out a victory for the team, or get the blame for blowing it (just ask Bill Buckner), but it still comes down to the team working together to make things happen. It is said over and over again that there is no “I” in team.
Boxing is very different, it is all about “I”. When a young man first walks into a boxing gym he knows he is not there to join a team. What he is going to have to do is confront himself. He is going to have to deal with his fears; his victories and his failures all on his own. If he losses a fight or even has a bad sparring session he will not be able to point the finger at a teammate. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are owned by the individual.
Alan Sillitoe wrote a book published in 1959 titled “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. I often think of how appropriate a similar title would be to describe a boxer; “The Loneliness of the Boxer”. When that bell rings and the lights go down and the boxer steps forward to face his opponent, there is no other sport that comes close to invoking the emotions that erupt within him. He moves forward with no team to look back on for help or support. He is in the ring with only two other people; his opponent who wants to knock him senseless and the referee who is on nobody’s side. This isn’t about moving the ball up the field or striking out a batter. This is comes down to the most basic of human instincts: survival.
Many of the guys I have talked to about their motives for taking up boxing told me they were shy kids who didn’t feel comfortable playing on a team. They felt insecure and wanted to face their fears. The boxing gym seemed like the best place to go for that. Just about every one of these former boxers have told me their lives were changed because of their experiences with boxing. That they learned more about themselves through the Manly Art of Self Defense than in any other activity they took part in.
A boxing gym is truly a paradoxical place. It is a venue where controlled violence is taught. the participants spend hours practicing moves and conditioning themselves so A may inflict head trauma on their opponents. It is a place where a young man will have to deal with his fear and his fight or flight response to it. Where he will inflict and feel pain.
But, the boxing gym is also oddly Zen like. Boxing forces a person to become self reflective, to look deep within himself, too confront his demons, and oddly enough, to find a certain inner peace. It is a violent world but also one of serenity. This may all sound a bit strange, but if you have been there you will know what I mean.