01
Aug
15

Ever the optimist, the longer view of women in boxing

Ever the optimist, the longer view of women in boxing           

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Heather “The Heat” Hardy (13-0) fights Renata Domsodi (12-6) on 8/1 at the Barclay’s Center on PBC’s Daniel Santos v. Paulie Malignaggi card.

My day job has me pretty busy these days, but it hasn’t stopped me from coming to the gym upwards of three days a week—working as hard as a 60+ girlboxer can to learn to slip my trainer’s straight rights and hooks and gain more savvy in the ring.

IMG_4729“Damn” is about all I can say about those unseen punches, but I have been moving a heck of a lot more in the twelve-foot squared circle we spar in, which has given me my latest “eureka” moment when it comes to boxing, and after four tough rounds last Saturday I thought, “so that’s what it means to set up punches.”

It’s the “seeing more” that got me thinking and the idea that stepping back while in the pocket of engagement, gives anyone of us the opportunity to place ourselves in the grander scheme of things.

So too with women’s boxing.

If we step back for a moment, we can see enormous shifts.

The amateur game has never been better in the United States and globally, with young girls entering the sport as young as seven and eight, and contesting it with remarkable prowess right on through the Elite women, such as 2012 Gold Medalist Claressa Shields, who on the heals of her stunning performances at the 2015 Pan American Games, where she won gold, will contest the sport with vigor alongside her brilliant boxing sisters in the 2016 Rio Games.

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On the professional side, the view form the United States may seem bleak, but the excitement of the sport in places such as Argentina where Canada’s Jelena Mrdjenovich (35-9-1) is putting her WBC world female featherweight title on the line against the other Matthysee, Edith Soledad Matthysse (13-7-1) as the main event on top flight card in Buenos Aires, gives hope of opportunities to come.

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There’s also a main event bout in Brandenberg, Germany tonight between SuperFeatherweights Ramona Kuehne (22-1) and Doris Koehler (12-13-2), a WIBA World Minimum Weight title fight in South Korea between titleholder Ji Hyun Park (21-2) and Gretchen Abaniel (15-7), and a main event ten-rounder between Esmeralda Moreno (30-701) and Jessica Nery Plata (15-0) in Michoacán de Ocampo, Mexico.

In the United States Heather “The Heat” Hardy (13-0) will be facing Renata Domsodi (12-6) in an eight rounder on the Danny Garcia v. Paulie Malignaggi card to be fought at Brooklyn’s premiere boxing venue, Barclay’s Center. This will be Hardy’s third appearance on a major card at Barclay’s and while once again, her fight will not be broadcast, she is creating momentum in the sport and along with the able work of her promoter Lou DiBella, is on the precipice of being televised rather sooner than later.

Most recently in late May, world champion Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano (24-1-1) appeared on CBS Sports in a six-rounder against Fautima Zarika Kangethe (24-11-2), the first female bout to appear on the network since the late 1970s. That is pretty heady stuff, and despite the sense that the sport continues to decline in the US, I’m feeling rather more optimistic.

The fact that Elite amateur boxing star and Olympic gold medal winner Katie Taylor will appear on boxer Andy Lee’s fight card on September 19th is also a step forward—especially since Andy has been such a vocal supporter of the sport and of Taylor’s importance to female athletics not only in their native Ireland, but around the world. He’s also a very visible fighter in the US and his recent statements in support of Taylor and women in the sport against his upcoming oppenent Billy Joe Saunders’ rather sexist remarks have gotten a lot of play here.

In the United States, the phenomenal success and incredible skill of Ronda Rousey (who fights on the UFC 190 PPV main event tonight) have firmly placed women’s MMA in the spotlight. Boxing stars such as Holly Holm are finding success crossing over into the the sport and in doing so are putting female boxers in the spotlight.

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While I have my theories as to why women’s boxing died on the vine vis-à-vis the media in the middle oughts (a piece for another day), women never stopped entering the ring—which has meant the sport has continued to improve by leaps and bounds.

The women of the ring circa 2015, are faster, stronger, better trained and perhaps even more motivated than their sisters who fought 19 years ago when Christy Martin graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

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Christy Martin, April 15, 1996, Photo Credit: Brian Smith

Is there a lot wrong with the sport?

Yes.

Inequity, lousy pay (if any), and a PROFOUND lack of respect.

Still, women box, and continue to claim their rightful place in the ring!

10
Jul
15

The thing about being a girl

The thing about being a girl

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There’s a school of thought that considers the use of the word “girl” to describe a female over the age of nine as somehow degrading to her womanhood. The thinking goes that ascribing “girlness” consigns women to a perpetual child-like state of existence—and certainly, as someone old enough to have had a job in 1971, I do remember being one of the “girls” in the back (not to mention having experienced one of the oldest clichés about working in an office: being chased around a desk … literally.)

What I also remember, however, is being a girl, and feeling my own power as I ran like the wind, or punched a pinkie ball in the schoolyard over the head of the kid on second base. In those days it was just a classmate named Frances and me among the girls, who could actually do that. This was circa 1963-1966, when my own girlness meant wearing white knock-off Keds sneakers, beige jeans and a stripped T-shirt.

I could wander through my range on the Lower East Side (in the pre-East Village days) that took me roughly from 14th Street as far east as the East River Park, through Tompkin’s Square Park down to 4th Street and Avenue B and up over to Second Avenue and 12th Street. Sure, there were streets I wouldn’t walk down and creeps I would avoid, but mostly I felt invincible. I was, in one sense, a sort of Artemis in training with none of the knowledge that being “fleet of foot” and self-assured in my girlness was in the greatest of Greco-Roman traditions that reached back further than Homer, or that as a girl in Sparta I could have wrestled or boxed in competitions with the boys.

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In thinking about girlness now, I feel an almost evangelical sense of connection. And as I unpack the feeling, what I come up with a sense of self that is stripped away from the trappings of gender as an expression of sexuality that seems to always add so much bloody noise to the conversation about women; or in other words, the thing about the breasts. Yep, the twin charms—the two lovelies that get strapped in and down or puffed and up or whatever configuration is necessary to meet whatever that perfect standard happens to be in whatever orbit those twins charms are circulating in.

Ever try buying a bra for 12 year old? It is a frightening experience. Please explain to my why a size 30AA needs to be hot pink, lacy and pushup! Unless the occupant of that contraption is anorexic or REALLY tiny, the only possible person it could fit is a girl, yes, a girl, aged between 10 and 13. So … what’s up with that??

Watching women and girls fight over the last few days at the Women’s National Golden Gloves in Florida, I have marveled at how much of that “girl” spirit is imbued in the strength, prowess and lightness of foot in the athletes ranging in age from 11 to 49 who have competed so far. There is also no sense that the athletes are fighting like “girls” in the pejorative sense.

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Iman James, amateur boxer, Brooklyn, NY

The best of these athletes are fighting with the technical skills and ring savvy that marks them as boxers demonstrating complete fluidity of movement, improvisational talent and perfect execution. And when some of these athletes go on to compete in upcoming Olympic qualifiers in their weight classes they will reach back to the spirit of Artemis in whose name games were held through out the Greek world.

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If the “skirts” controversy proceeding the 2012 Games has died down–for those who may not remember, AIBA, the governing international boxing organization had pushed for female boxers to wear skirts instead of shorts in the ring because some people couldn’t figure out if they were boys or girls–the continuing effort to sexualize female athletes, however, remains a constant in athletics, including boxing.

More insidious is how much we inculcate such notions. One fighter I know readying for her novice championship bout last night remarked that she couldn’t wear her makeup. “I’m borrowing Jenn’s headgear,” she said, “I promised her I wouldn’t wear it if I had makeup on.”

“Even when you fight?” I asked.

“I always wear makeup,” she said.

Somewhere in the 1970s I remember eschewing makeup and its trappings as a feminist statement of sorts—though I was far from a bra-burner, and in fact, did little by way of movement work. Fast-forwarding another twenty years I was less rigid about it, and did indeed have a pedicure before coming down to Florida for the tournament and have been wearing a hint shadow on my eyelids with faint eyeliner color for years.

Still the notion that an athlete would feel the necessity to wear face makeup during a fight—when goodness knows one sweats on one’s sweat—struck me as a “drink the Kool-Aid” kind of moment wherein one so inculcates a construct as to go beyond all sense.

There is no question that as social beings we are very much defined by the cultures we find ourselves in. Still, there are “languages” of culture that transcend our tribal/national/religious forms into a more global form. Sport and athletics are certainly transcendent cultural pathways with agreed upon rules and formats. Some specify for gender differences and some do not—and most, though far from all (think Olympic Beach Volleyball)—do not overtly sexualize gender.

It is also, in my view, one of the places where that sense of girlness asserts itself along with the street dancing moves of female dancers on this year’s So You Think You Can Dance that capture the boundless sense of possibility perfectly.

If the Canyon of Heros tickertape Parade for the triumphant 2015 USA Women’s Soccer Team is any indication, our spirit of Artemis is alive and well, we just haven’t named it, why not just try for owning the word girl.

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10
May
15

Three Minute Rounds for Female Boxing In New York State

Three-minute rounds for female boxing in New York State

Susan Reno

 

When Susan Reno (1-3-2) and Paola “La Loba” Ortiz (0-5-1) step into the ring at Brooklyn’s storied Masonic Temple on May 15th, they’ll be doing something no other female fighters in a sanctioned New York State bout have done before, they’ll be contesting their battle using the three-minutes per round they’re trained to fight, not the two-minute versions they’ve been consigned to.

A smattering of states quietly sanctioned three-minute rounds over the years. In California, current IBO heavyweight champion Sonya Lamonakis fought six hard three-minute rounds in 2013 against the current WBC champion Martha Salazar. While a surprise to Lamonakis, who’d expected the bout to be fought at two-minutes per round, in a recent conversation as she readies for her championship battle against Gwendolyn O’Neil in St. Maartin on May 30th, she said, “Well I’m all for it. I did it already for six rounds in California. I think it may even make the women more elite.”

Of all the states, however, Nevada has led the way in sanctioning three-minute round female bouts. Most notably, beginning in 2007, the Boxing Commission worked with pound-for-pound women’s boxing great Layla McCarter  to not only sanction longer rounds, but twelve round championship bouts. In the late 1970s, there were also more than a few boxing matches that were contested at three minutes per round, and even a couple of fifteen round championship bouts, but otherwise, women’s boxing has long been relegated to near on amateur status when it comes to professional fighting: two-minutes per round with a maximum of ten rounds for a championship fight.

The issue of three-minute rounds has been a crucible for women’s boxing, and lies at the heart of legitimizing the hard work and effort that goes into professional boxing contests between female fighters including such matters as television time and the pay checks female boxers receive, which are paltry compared to their male counterparts. The “joke” is that women are told they receive less pay because they only fight two-minute rounds! It is also part of a continuing argument on issues of female stamina and even whether the monthly menstrual cycle affects the ability of women to fight longer. The latter was part of the argument used by the World Boxing Council (WBC) sanctioning body, which in supporting championship belts for women, has also waded into the fray by stating they would only sanction two-minute round, ten round bouts for women.

Alicia “Slick” Ashley, a former WBC champion has been outspoken on the three-minute round issues. In her experience, she’s, “felt the pressure to perform quicker because of the two-minute time limit which of course is better suited for volume punchers but as a boxer I’ve learned to adjust and started my fights off faster.”

She also argues that, “MMA had the foresight to have women on an even footing immediately is something that powers behind boxing never had,” and goes on to say, “How can you say women cannot box three-minute rounds when MMA proves that women can fight five-minute rounds? Hopefully MMA will help open the eyes of the boxing world. We as female fighters can only keep pushing for change or at least the option of fighting for three minutes.”

When asked about New York State’s decision to sanction three-minute rounds, she said, “I’m very happy that NYS had the option of women fighting three-minute rounds if both parties agree. The fact that the Commission understands that women can and will fight longer if given the opportunity is a step in the right direction to competition and hopefully pay equality.”

Boxing trainers also agree that holding women to two-minute rounds is arbitrary at best. Veteran Lennox Blackmoore who has been training female champions since the late 1990s including Jill “the Zion Lion” Mathews the first woman to win a New York Daily News Golden Gloves contest in 1996 said, “I think that’s great. When a woman trains, she trains three minutes a round like anybody else. I don’t see why she shouldn’t fight that way. There are a lot of good women boxers, and it’ll show people what they can do. Jill Mathews fought ten rounds for a championship belt, but it could have three-minute rounds too, she had the experience and the endurance to do that because she trained that way.”

Grant Seligson, a trainer at Gleason’s Gym who works with an array of female fighters from White Collar boxers on through competitive fighters agrees. “Women’s endurance is not only as good as a man’s, but is often better. Besides it’s women competing against women of the same weight, so why shouldn’t it be three minutes a round.”

Given the momentum of women’s MMA with its five-minute rounds–the same for male and female fighters–, and the obvious appeal  female boxers continue to have with audiences even given the virtual media blackout in the United States, the fact that the NYS Boxing Commission has opened things up is something to be applauded.

To learn more about how this all came about, boxer Susan Reno agreed to take time from her busy training schedule to detail her experiences with Girlboxing readers. We all owe a lot to the New York State Boxing Commission’s, Melvina Lathan and David Berlin, along with Susan Reno, Paola Ortiz and Uprising Promotions for what will be an historic event on May 15th.

Paola “La Loba” Ortiz (l) and Susan Reno (r) will fight the first sanctioned 3-minute per round female bout in New York State on May 15, 2015 at Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Credit: Susan Reno

 

  1. In the world of women’s boxing, 3-minute rounds have been the “Holy Grail”? How in the world did you convince the NYS Boxing Commission to sanction 3-minute rounds for your upcoming six-rounder with Paola Ortiz?

There was very little convincing! It just took time. I feel New York has seen female boxers demonstrate time and time again, that we belong in the ring and know what we are doing.  In 2013 Vanessa Greco and I fought a fast-paced, six round draw. After witnessing our action packed bout, NYSAC Chairperson, Melvina Lathan and long-time NY Promoter Bob Duffy both agreed that it was time for women to fight three-minute rounds. Not only are we capable, but we are entertaining and the longer rounds could help avoid draws.

The opportunity did not present itself until this year (I had only fought in California in 2014). In a conversation with NYSAC Executive Director, David Berlin, he wondered out loud “why don’t women fight three-minute rounds?” I jumped on that thought and said, “I’ll do it!”  He too, recognized women have the skill, stamina and focus to fight the same amount of time as the men. His response was “let’s make history!”

I was unaware that there had not been a female boxing match consisting of three-minute rounds in New York. I knew that both Melissa Hernandez and Belinda Laracuente had both fought Layla McCarter in Vegas and their bouts were three-minute rounds. I definitely wanted to seize the opportunity and follow in their footsteps.

My team, Ronson Frank/Uprising Promotions and Paola Ortiz’s camp all agreed to the three-minute rounds and the Commission approved and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”

  1. WBC has come out to say they would not sanction 3-minute round female boxing championships citing what many have considered to be specious “science.”  What do you feel the response should be from female fighters?

I respect the WBC’s decision to not sanction three-minute rounds. They run a business and every business has to protect itself. I love your phrase “specious science” Malissa! There is no shortage of it on the internet! I can understand a company’s struggle with “inconclusive” or “cloudy” data. Maybe when the question regarding three-minute rounds came up, the answers where not ones they were ready for. From a business standpoint the question is to invest (sanction 3 minute rounds) or not invest? While I respect their decision, I don’t have to agree with it. I feel female fighter’s response should be to invest in our ourselves. Take the best possible care of ourselves physically and mentally and get in the ring and prove them wrong!

  1. Every woman I know who boxes (myself included) trains and spars for three-minute rounds, but when it comes to fights, has had to adjust to two-minute rounds competitively.  How does that affect your fight plan?

I feel the adjustment from training three-minute rounds to fighting two-minute rounds applies unnecessary pressure to “get the job done.” I know many women who can pace out and box the two-minute rounds. World Champion Alicia Ashley does it beautifully and consistently. But many times, the two minutes can create more of a battle than a boxing match. While this can be exciting and fan friendly, it can be difficult to set traps for your opponent and catch them before the bell rings. I imagine the short rounds can make judging difficult as well.

  1. With a three-minute round fight, what adjustments to your fighting style do you feel you will make–or, is this the “natural” way to fight, since it’s the way you train, and the adjustments have come in the two-minute round battles?

I have proven time and time again that I can fight. Now it’s time to box and I feel I will be more comfortable knowing I have more than 120 seconds at a time to hunt, trap and catch my prey.

  1. Now that NY State has sanctified a three-minute fight, what do you think the future will hold?

I feel this fight will open the door to all of the talented and dedicated female fighters in New York as well as those (such as my opponent Paola Ortiz) who are hungry to prove our worth in the business of boxing. Boxing is a business. I understand that. One excuse women are given in regard to our fight purse, is that we fight shorter rounds. Some promoters say that since we fight less time, that equals less pay.  So I say, let’s fight the same amount of time and take away that rationale. I recognize that what I can do in boxing right now, can benefit women in the future. It is my hope that in the near future, professional female boxers can get on TV, gain recognition and get paid for their work same as professional male boxers. I believe fighting three-minute rounds will help level the playing field and create equal business opportunities.

11
Apr
15

Q and A with Boxer Federica Bianco

Q & A With Boxer Federica Bianco

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Boxer Federica Bianco is making her pro debut on April 25, 2015 in Richmond, CA, Photo Credit: Shelly Vinson

On April 25, 2015 at the Richmond Auditorium in Richmond, California, a Bay area town near San Francisco, Federica Bianco will be making her pro debut at the age of 36 against a fighter named Laura Deanovic. They’ll be fighting on Squarevision Entertainment’s Night of Glory II, card with the top contenders in the Bay Area fighting for the new GBO belt. (And by the way, the promoters will also be donating a dollar from every ticket to the Race to Erase MS (multiple sclerosis research) charity—so if you’re in the Bay Area, you should think about supporting a worthy cause.) Federica came to boxing from the world of Brazilian capoeira. She got good enough to teach it, but started to get intrigued with boxing and switched over completely a few years ago. I got to know Federica in and around Gleason’s Gym, though her true boxing home is at Manhattan’s Church Street Gym. She’s been competing as an amateur with fights in and around New York City, and as far afield on Beautiful Brawlers’ cards and at Bonnie Canino’s 2014 National Golden Gloves tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where I got to Federica bang, and bang hard. As a boxer and someone who has developed a love affair with the sport, Federica helped arrange to bring IWBHOF hall of famer and boxing champion Lucia Rijker to Church Street Gym this past February. Rijker spent two days training and motivating participants in boxing and kickboxing in her unique style—prompting Federica to commit even more to the sport she loves. I had the opportunity to speak with Federica recently, and then through a series of emails, we ironed out a Q & A for Girlboxing readers. Here’s what Federica had to say.

  1. You have your first professional fight coming up at the end of the month?  What can you tell Girlboxing readers about the fight?  

I have been cuddling with the idea of going pro for some time, and I am really excited that this is happening! We’ve been trying to find a match for about a year. It is not easy: there is no money behind women’s boxing, so its hard to get an opponent from afar, or finding a promotion company that is willing to fly a debuting fighter out, and no local matches were coming up. My opponent has more experience, and is a bit bigger than me. But I saw her boxing and I think she has a style that will suite me well.

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Federica Bianco getting ready for an amateur bout, Photo Credit: J. J. Ignotz

  1. In discussions we’ve had, you’ve stated that you are “not so young.” At 36, what is prompting you to step into the ring for the first time as a pro–at an age, when on the one hand many fighters are stepping out of the ring and on the other, when it comes to female boxers, many are still finding great success.

That’s right: I am no spring chicken! I am 36, and I only started competing a few years ago.  But, honestly, I am in the best shape of my life. Boxing is physical, but also very mental, so I think age helps: I know how to pace myself better than I would have 10 years ago, I am a more experienced athlete, I know how my body is feeling through training camp, I know what diets work for me to make weight responsibly, and I know how to control my emotions way better. So much more is known about sports medicine, and how to train responsibly, that the peak athletic age has definitely shifted ahead. In fact about a year ago I was looking at statistics about title holders: the mean age for boxing title holders for males, as well as for the WBC women title holders, is over 31! Two years ago the age cut for the amateurs was 35, and as I was approaching it, with such few chances for women to compete in the master division, it became clear that I would either have to hang the gloves, or turn pro. I could not keep up the level of intensity in the training that I am used to without a goal in sight (and I am not one to do things half way…). So “pro or couch?” was the question buzzing in my head. And I feel physically great, and mentally ever so eager to continue training and learning, and fighting. So the couch is not really an option – yet. Even as they increased the age limit to 40 for the amateurs, the thought of going pro was in my head. I am ambitious, I want to continue challenging myself, and so it is time to bring it to the next level, and turn pro. In addition to that, there are some things that were frustrating about the amateurs. There are a lot of tournaments I cannot do, either because they have different age cuts (like the New York Daily News Golden Gloves which tops out fighters at 35) or because I am not a citizen. I am Italian, (I am a permanent resident in the USA), and finding matches outside of tournaments was getting harder and harder: with so few women, we all know and have fought each other in each weight class.

  1. Having started out in capoeira, the Brazilian martial arts form with roots that go back centuries, you’ve brought a background of a pretty tough form into the ring.  What prompted the switch to boxing and what adjustments have you made between the two styles?   

I got to capoeira through dance and dance-theater, and then capoeira brought me to boxing – a pretty winding path. There are many different styles of capoeira, and a few years back I had to move from Boston to Santa Barbara for work, and my school of capoeira was not represented in SB. I started teaching classes, but of course that meant I was not getting the same workouts that I was used to training every day in a large and competitive group in Boston, so I picked up boxing for the conditioning (choosing boxing over other martial arts cause I did not want to try a style that would mess with my capoeira kicks). And it stole my heart. As a capoeirista, my best assets were aggression and fearlessness, and the same goes for boxing. I love capoeira; it is such a rich art, with profound cultural depth. I love the ritual, the instruments, and the sense of community. But ultimately, it is the competition, and the confrontation swayed me, and that is on another level in boxing – you are in the corner, looking at your opponent, and she is surrounded by all her own demons. Everything about boxing is clear and plain. Unlike most martial arts, the technique is simple: there are only a few punches! So the name of the game becomes perfecting them. You get in the ring, and in most cases it is clear who is getting the better of the other. Plain and simple. I love that about boxing. And every time you step into the ring, you face yourself. As for the adjustments, I remember going to my boxing coach in California and telling him my capoeira Mestre was complaining my capoeira started to look like boxing, and him saying “well, that’s weird, cause I am still waiting for your boxing to stop looking like capoeira!.” Of course they are very different forms, but it is interesting that among all martial arts and combat sports, both capoeira and boxing put a lot of emphasis on avoiding getting hit, rather than blocking, so they are end up being more ‘fluid’ so to speak, than other martial arts. Coming from a different athletic background in general helps at the beginning, then gets in your way for a while, and only later you start being able to integrate your diverse background in your new style.

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Federica Bianco stunning her opponent with a hard right, Photo Credit, Anthony B. Geathers

  1. You’ve been a trainer and with your boxing have switched more and more into a role as a fighter?  What has this given you in terms of your understanding of the sport, and more importantly, your feelings as you commit yourself to competing on the professional level?

I love teaching and training, but I love being a student best. For me it is really all about improving and learning, that is what I like to do: I am a student for life! Of course though, looking through a coach’s eyes helps tremendously as a fighter! I enjoy every opportunity I have to coach and corner fighters, it sharpens my eye and my brain, so that I can become a smarter, and more tactical fighter! The feelings of a fighter though are always hard to deal with, and I am not sure that seeing them from the other side helps at all. Being conscious of the process does not always make it easier: as a fighter you really just want to rely on your coach for emotional guidance, and a good coach will know how to work your energy to keep emotions in control. And then again, as hard as fighting is emotionally, it is that fear, that uneasy sensation, and the fact that it dissolves as the bell rings, that draws us to fighting. 10421272_871329859575991_920216048370414717_n

  1. You had the chance to work with Lucia Rijker having helped set up her training seminars this past February at Church Street Gym in New York City. Please share your experiences and how it has affected your boxing as you look towards your first pro fight?

Meeting and working with Lucia has been one of the best things that boxing brought into my life! I met her in California for a few training sessions when I still lived there: a present from my husband. Of course I knew her from her fame – my first coach handed me Shadow Boxers [the 1999 film by Katya Bankowsky] the moment I expressed interest in competing – and my expectations were oh so high in meeting her. Well, she fulfilled and exceeded them all. Her coaching is great, but better than her boxing coaching is her vision of the sport, and of a fighter’s experience. She obviously witnessed her own journey in a very conscious way, and has such terrific heritage to share. That is why I really wanted to bring her to NYC and share her with my teammates! She taps into the kinesiological and the spiritual aspects alike. And again, boxing is mental, at least as much as it is physical. Each time I worked with her I was reinvigorated, empowered, and more focused and centered than before. I consider her a friend and her positive energy and encouragement (her motto “be your best self”) mean so much to me!

  1. As with many female boxers you also have a entire life outside of the ring?  What are your other passions and how do you integrate them with your training and the competitions you participate in?

Well in my “other life” I am a scientist – an astrophysicist. I am a postdoctoral fellow at NYU [New York University], and mostly I study exploding stars. It’s a lot of fun: I get paid to do research, which in a way means I get paid to play around and solve puzzles to improve our understanding of the Universe! Of course it is a demanding job, so juggling that with boxing is not easy – I don’t get a lot of hours of sleep, but if you really want to do something you will find the time and way to do it. Luckily my job affords me a flexible schedule and the possibility to travel, as I need to for boxing. It is interesting that both my careers are in male dominated, very competitive fields. I guess I like the challenge.

  1. Having watched you fight last year at the National Golden Gloves, I know how tough you are in the ring and have a good chin. What is your fighting style and what do you expect of your performance in your pro bout?

I do have a good chin and I am a stalker in the ring. I like working inside in phone-booth, toe-to-toe fights. I am excited to fight with smaller gloves, and no headgear: together with a good chin I have good power, and the pro style suites me better than the Olympic style of touch-and-go.

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Federica Bianco working her opponent towards the ropes. Photo Credit: J. J. Ignotz

  1. For readers who may not yet have sparred or fought competitively, what advise can you offer as they embark upon their journeys into boxing?

Keep an open mind, and if you are eager to improve yourself, there is no better environment! I have seen many people stepping into the gym thinking they will be professional fighters, and just hating it in the ring – either hating getting hit, or hating hitting the opponent. And I have seen people that were reluctant to exchange leather, only to find out they loved it and could no longer live without it!  Sparring and fighting are truly nothing like one would guess not having done it. There is no rage, it is not emotional – at least for me, it is very rational in the fight, I find myself as lucid and focused as I ever am.

  1. Once your down with boxing professionally — say ten years from now :) — what’s next for you in the sport?

I enjoy the ride, it is hard for me to think ahead by years: my life keeps surprising me! But I love teaching and coaching, and I especially love how I see boxing empowers women. I would love to be involved in raising some women fighters. For ticket information to attend Federica’s pro debut, please click on the link: SquareWarriors.com

03
Feb
15

A no-brainer for the greater good … just sayin’

A no-brainer for the greater good … just sayin’

02_newleadership

Having spent a goodly amount of my early childhood laid up with one illness or another–including bouts of Measles, Chicken Pox, German Measles (Rubella), Mumps, not to mention continuous weeks and weeks of fever, swollen glands, strep throat, oh and a positive TB test that still means I need to get a chest X-ray every ten years or so–the notion that a few vaccinations could spare my blessedly healthy daughter weeks of that sort of misery was a no-brainer.

Okay. Perhaps there was a bit of a selfish motivation as well. Did I really want to sit up night after night nursing a highly contagious sick child who could “take a turn” and end up hospitalized or worse?

Betsy and Tacy Go DowntownReading the Little House On The Prairie series and the Betsy and Tacy books to my daughter reminded me of what the pre-vaccination/pre-antibiotic world was really like for small kids. In both series, siblings and friends of the main characters died rather uncerimoniously of Measles and Whooping Cough, Maleria or other infections, or spent part of their childhood in iron lungs or other contraptions to help limbs withered by Polio. Coming to those parts of the stories, I wanted to skip over them to spare my daughter the pain of what those losses meant in a much more precarious world than the privileged one of early 21st century America.

I didn’t though. I plowed through and explained that the world of those books was the world of places scattered throughout Asia, Africa and South America. Places where diseases, long controlled here and in other industrialized (post-industrialized) nations, represent mere glimmers of our collective past.

It puts me in mind that one of the negatives of privilege and its uglier cousin, entitlement, is the ability to forget that the niceties we all have access to are built on the work, toil and pain of others.

Sure. I can understand that for some people, such things as vaccination can bring about frightful consequences, but for those for whom it will not, don’t we owe it to those few who truly cannot take the risk to endure the “stick” and any momentary discomfort for ourselves and our kids?

And whether it’s measles today or some other forgotten horror tomorrow–maybe we should all have a bit of a group think about what it means to be a member of a community where we all pitch in for the greater good. Just sayin’.

 

19
Jan
15

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day – January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day – January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” 

– Martin Luther King, Jr.,  A Testament Of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches 

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last work was to support the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. The following is an excerpt from a documentary on their story and excerps from King’s speeches in support of their efforts.

 

12
Jan
15

Day by day by day … je suis humaine

Day by day by day … je suis humaine

Summer 2014, Harrison, Maine. Photo: Malissa Smith

I’ve been attempting to work through the recent terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newsweekly—and thereby attempt, in some small way to write about it.

For the French, the three days of carnage beginning with the horrific murder of 12 staff members, including four renowned cartoonists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, by Said and Cherif Kouachi, has been an agonizing period of anxiety and pain. In all, 17 people were horribly murdered including a young policewoman, a jogger and four shoppers in a Kosher supermarket who were all apparently gunned down by another in the Kouachi brother’s “terrorist cell,” Amedy Coulibaly.

For those of us in New York who lived through the experience of the World Trade Center terror attack on September 11, 2001, there is an acute understanding of the almost out-of-body dissociation one can feel living through the moment-by-moment experiences of that sort of horror. We are, after all, merely ordinary, perhaps showing courage in our daily lives, and perhaps not, but certainly not prepared for the kind of terror that a Kalashnikov wielding “crazy” brings.

New York City street sceneIf I am being disingenuous at all, it is in the sense that we people who live in cities do come to understand that there are those intangibles: Cars that suddenly veer off and cause havoc and death in a restaurant storefront, or the running gun play of teens that may careen in through a window, putting a small child in harms way. Not to mention, the daily violence in families that spill out into “social services” pretty much unnoticed except for the truly horrific ones that end up on the covers of the tabloids. Still, those truly terrifying experiences do not seem to equate with the other kind of sudden violence in the cocoon of our western democracies—and go against our sense of decency, right and wrong, and collectively at least, if not individually, our sense that such things as cartoons that satirize religion and politics, are just this side of “okay” in the scheme of things, even if they tend to be on the edge or even over the line of distasteful. What they are not, are killing offenses by self-proclaimed executioners in the name of one ideological or religious belief or another.

What I keep asking myself is this. Are our beliefs really that tenuous? Are they that uncertain, that a cartoon, really, a cartoon can be so offensive as to warrant the murder of 12 people?

I write that having figured that if what I believe is strong and certain, I, me, the individual, can well afford to be magnanimous in accepting that others may not agree or share my point of view. Thus I would never consider that the words of another would so shake me to the core of my being that I would jump at the chance to “right” the perceived “wrong” by choosing to kill as many nonbelievers as I could as I made my way to whatever Valhalla I figured I was entitled to for my “acts.”

The giant, “ugh” aside—at any given moment on our beautiful earth, just such things occur day by day by day in both religious and sectarian struggles all the in the name of a greater something or other. Or, to bring down to the ground, even to the level of a power struggle between two partners where one feels the right to bash the other senseless in the name of being “right.”

Paris march, January 11, 2015, Credit: Time MagazineAnd while it was heartening to know that 3.7 million persons marched in Paris yesterday in solidarity to reaffirm the principles of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Freedom and Fraternity), I am fearful of the backlash to terrorism that can just as easily sweep through to give us yet more examples of the ugliness of revenge on the ordinary, the “us” that is not quite us that devolves into further violence and extremism.

It is the misadventure of well-intentioned reactions that scares me just as much as the acts of terrorism themselves. And having lived through the daily miasma of misery inflicted on ordinary citizens caught in the cross fire of acts for and against terrorism, I remain fearful—and perhaps the tiniest bit cynical about what the future will bring.

My best self, however, knows that just such ideals as freedom and peace and love live on anyway.

After all, in the midst of acts of terror the world over, two-alarm fires, police slowdowns, and the kind of cold that almost demands that one turn over after the alarm goes off to burrow that much deeper under the covers, by 10:30 AM this past Saturday morning, Gleason’s Gym was full of men and women in varying stages of their workouts. A quick glance showed the Give A Kid A Dream youngsters shadowboxing alongside boxing professionals in front of the mirror, amateur fighters putting in rounds ahead of the Golden Gloves, and fighters sparring in all of Gleason’s four boxing rings.

For me, sweaty from five great rounds sparring with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, the scary fever dreams of terror were suitably buried in one recess of my mind or another. And while I have shed tears for the victims, and will likely go to Synagogue this Friday in solidarity with the French victims at the kosher supermarket in Paris, I will try hard to push forward with a smile, with little thought given to the crazies with Kalashnikovs. They are, despite their seeming out-sized appearances, a really, really tiny portion of the world, which is mostly occupied by persons going about their day in the struggles that define us.

Leastways, that is what I hope for, even if the blue meanies hit me square in the nose sometimes with darker thoughts. Oh well. Je suis humaine.

 




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