Author Archives: Girlboxing

About Girlboxing

The wit and wisdom of the sweet science! Check out http://girlboxing.org

Telling the truth

I’ve spent a lifetime as the world’s best mask.

My old analyst Ralph figures I took one look at my very young, eager parents and said, “Whoa, keep you own counsel, sweetie,” and so it went.

There was the time I was 15 or so playing the trust game on a sidewalk near school when I fell back and suffice to say, my pals didn’t catch me, which meant a hard crack on the back of my head and lots of stars, but at least no blood.

And so things continued to go. Trust just a five letter work that spelled n-e-v-e-r.

Well, fast forward a life time, say 50+ years, and I am still wrestling with the concept. With what it means to put things out there. To unravel. To have tears glisten. To yell out, “help.” To not falter.

Sparring with Lennox Blackmoore, Gleason's GymNow, I don’t like getting punched in the face either, but at least I can see it coming, with the exception, perhaps, of a left hook coming at me from the right side. The point being, there is a truth about being in a ring. Yes, skills should be in evidence. A deep familiarity with the vernacular of jabs, and straight rights or lefts, of uppercuts and hooks, and all of the defensive strategies. Of balancing offense and defense. Of knowing enough to hook off a double jab. Of deftly moving laterally and back again. Of making one’s opponent miss and pay. Then at least one is prepared for those moments of truth. For how a doubled up jab goes over the guard. And how that pop to the forehead stuns, and before one knows it, there is a crushing hook to the jaw.

Then truth works.

Makes sense.

Just like my squeaky right jaw from a hook I didn’t defend five years ago or more. I knew it could come, but didn’t defend. Got so stymied by the double jab over the top, I lost touch. Let my right hand come down around my waist with nary a thought to the left hook coming my way. The perfectly timed one that snapped me to the side, and even as I leaped laterally, could still feel my head turning from it.

Truths of the soul kind though. The one’s that leave squeaks to the heart. How much harder are those to face? To come through? To ever let go? To even speak about in any coherent sort of way? I mean it’s all those years later. One would figure it’s time.

Getting sick … the return

Sick bedI have been laid out flat with laryngitis, fever, a rib flailing cough, and all the misery of a GERD flare. Not to mention sore muscles from nights on the couch because my wracking cough shatters the calm of my husband’s sleep and sense of well being.

Okay. Enough with the complaining, right? I do, after all, mostly have my voice back, and, thanks to a plethora of drugs to include an inhaler, cough medicine (three tries till I could find the one that worked–Mucinex, the honey flavored one), antihistamines, massive doses of PPIs to stop the stomach acid, Tylenol for the first few days to stop the razor blades in my throat feeling, cough drops, which I stopped, because they exacerbated the GERD/Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease, and my lovely daughter’s TLC who came to stay for a couple of days, ostensibly to ensure that husband was okay, but worriedly keeping an eye on me, having already sent a humidifier via Amazon prime. Meanwhile, she’d slipped and fell and cracked the radial head of her elbow the night of her 22nd birthday, the same day I came down with the dreaded “L”.

My what a bunch my family is.

So now that I am taking a reasonably deep breath without a hacking exhale, I’m trying to put some perspective to all of this, admittedly a bit drugged up from the steroid in the inhaler and whatever cocktail of ingredients is in the cough medicine.

Still. In the throes of sudden vulnerability. Of coughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Of fearing Covid for the first couple of days, even though I’d just had the third booster and knew the symptoms were for a different sort of virus. Of realizing that life is so fleeting and that I am so unprepared for its end. I mean, yes. I have wills and powers of attorney and that sort of stuff, but everything else is so messy and in the middle. It’s like my desk. I know where things are, but looking at it from an outsiders point of view. Where to start? How to fathom it all? How could I leave my daughter and my husband with this? And in particular, my husband? My beautiful Jed with short term memory so fleeting that he asks the same question 4-5 times before he figures out from a cue on my face that he’d asked it already.

A caregiver’s dilemma is always one of balancing the self with the non-self.

Self says, “hey, it’s my life, I do whatever I want. So what if there are unpaid bills? Or if I didn’t send in the signatures for the new account? Or even the latest round of retirement forms?”

Non-self doesn’t even say. Non-self is there soundlessly. A support bed of soft puffy clouds. A hand guiding without ever telling. A hand that gives full agency to the other. Allows them to find their way to the shower on their own to scrub the days of not showering off their body.  And doesn’t worry. Doesn’t feel wrecked inside at week two of not getting out of his pajamas.

Purple bootsOkay so I am in the throes of a lot of mixed stuff here. Me with laryngitis and me as a caregiver and me as a recently retired person trying to find her way and me as a 67 year old facing the fact that I don’t bounce back as quickly as I used to and me as a lot of other things I haven’t even figured out yet.

Meanwhile, I bought a pair of purple boots and are they ever cute.

Courage …

Adult male lion in the Serengeti.
Photo Credit: Michael Nichols, Nat Geo Image Collection

My mind has been fairly unfocused when it comes to writing this week. Nothing specific. No traumas to speak of. In fact, mostly in the zone. Work outs going well, things at home in a stable place, nice talks with my daughter. Still, there is something unsettling and a word that keeps circling around in my thinking … courage.

As a kid growing up on East 12th Street in the early 1960s, courage seemed to be equated by its assumed opposite: cowardice.

As young as seven, kids called me out for this or that thing. I was, however, the child of young, idealistic, radical pacifists suddenly thrown into the maelstrom of a working class block — in the low rent mini-Little Italy area of what became known as the East Village.

On the First Avenue end, there was an Italian Men’s social club, wink, wink, where men sat outside rain or shine playing dominos under the stripped awning, or so it seemed to me.  That end of the block and its six-story tenements was mostly Italian, with kids that looked like shrunken versions of their parents: girls with teased hair, pencil skirts, sweater-sets, and boys with gold saints’ medallions showing through their open-collared shirts. These boys never seemed to wear dungarees or sneakers — the uniform even then of play time on the block. This was the north side of 12th Street between First and Second, with a giant nine-story social services building dominating the middle, where kids taken from their parents were processed. The looming building that seemed to instill fear in every one was the demarkation point between the Italian kids on one end and the mostly Puerto Rican kids, plus my brother and me, living in the tenement buildings trailing towards Second Avenue.

Michael K. Williams, Photo Credit: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

In attempting to tease it all some more, I realized that in the background, I have been tied up in the sense of grief and loss I felt at the death of actor Michael K. Williams. And more to the point, the release of the New York City Medical Examiner’s report a few weeks ago noting that he’d died of acute drug intoxication from a mixture of entanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

At first glance one could ask why I would be so affected. After all, our lives never intersected and yet, in his words, and actions, and struggles, they did. Always. From the first time I watched him perform as Omar Little on screen on The Wire.

Now what would the character of stone cold killer like Omar have to do with me?  I mean it’s no secret. I am a 67 year old Jewish woman from New York City. I reek of privilege, right?  I can go anywhere. But … and it’s a big one, I’ve spent a good part of my life passing. Not acknowledging that I’m a street kid too. A shorty. And a lonely one who fended for herself. Who had her own code. But who later in life used language and appearance to cover a multiple of early traumas.

As I think of it, that pesky 12th Street “c” word comes through too, but not the one about courage. No. The one about cowardice. And that’s where Mike from East Flatbush comes into the picture. Because he never passed. He always wore his scar with pride. With a truth to power, the power of those who hurt him over the years in his rear mirror, until the moments came when the dark meanies came back and they went up his nose or into his veins. But still with his chin out the next day. Figuring out how to live his best life. Showing us clearly and explicitly that this was who he was including his frailties.

Seeing Omar was seeing what I wanted to be as a kid. A fire fighter for justice. In my games with my pal Mara when we were nine, it was all about fighting nazis. We’d crawl through the culvert that connected my building with the one next door and in our minds, crossed behind the German lines to infiltrate and free prisoners from concentration camps. Many years later it occurred to me that coming through the culvert was also about finding my own authentic self. About owning all the parts–the good ones and the bad ones and pushing those truths forward no matter the consequences.

As I think of it now, it occurs to me that it’s one thing to be a spy in the shadows and quite another to push through with guns blazing. And that’s the intersection. That was Michael K. Williams to me. A purveyor of truth and authenticity in a world hell bent on crushing him. I’m sorry I never met him or had the chance to tell him that his story and the way he lived his life as Mike from East Flatbush touched me deeply, but he’d have understood.

May his memory be a blessing.

Spotify playlist: Trouble Man, For Mike from East Flatbush

Introducing WAAR Room

I am so very pleased to introduce WAAR Room the new video podcast series on the WAAR Sports YouTube channel.

Along with my co-hosts Chris Baldwin (aka Fight Goddess) and Eddie Goldman (No Holds Barred), the WAAR Room (see the link to the page!) covers the dirty business of boxing and corruption in sports governance at every level of play, all over the world!

That’s opened up this entire exciting world for us!

We’ve exposed the fight fixing at the Rio 2016 Olympics, had tight talk and analysis of  the Fury/Wilder bout, and in our latest edition, we were joined by the brilliant Irish crime reporter and author, Nicola Tallant. As the star of our Clash of the Clans Edition, Tallant took us through the relationship between the Irish mafia gang leader Daniel Kinahan’s dope empire and forays into the world of boxing. We focused on the potential for corruption in the sweet science and how the tentacles of Kinahan’s boxing empire have begun to invade the USA and the world of women’s boxing. Her new book, Clash of the Clans: The rise of the Irish narcos and boxing’s dirty secret (available in the USA on Kindle) is causing a sensation around the world and we were so honored that she chose to give us her time to expose the ongoing criminality of the Kinahan empire.

With new editions weekly, we will look to cover all aspects of the sport with a special emphasis on women’s participation, sports justice, and rooting out corruption and abuse in boxing and beyond.

Please join us and be sure and hit the like and subscribe button!

Reflecting the positive

Gleason’s Gym, September 23, 2021


I admit it. Not every day is stellar.

I’d walked to the gym at my usual clip, feeling as if I’d work through my 16 rounds or so with reasonable ease, already planning out the things I wanted to work on: Moving with the jab, followed by a sidestep for a quick right to the body, left hook, straight right combination, before moving on to the next jab. As I shadow boxed, that worked for about a minute of the first round before I started to slow down.

“One of those mornings,” I thought, as I took the pace down a notch.

And yes, Gleason’s Gym was still fairly summer-hot and very, very humid, but today, the stickiness in the air seemed to be getting to me more than usual.

By the fourth round I found I needed to slow it down even more. Still feeling that I could make it work I boxed four progressively slower rounds on the heavy bag and one last attempt at a fifth, making my total nine for the day.  And yep, that was it. I knew I had to call it quits. This was not my morning.

In trying to analyze it, I realized I was still a bit unnerved by news I’d received the night before. Someone I am close to suffered a TIA* – a mini-stroke that left her unable to speak in the middle of a zoom call. She was pretty much back to her self within 30 minutes, but on the advise of her doctor, went to the Emergency Room and was admitted overnight for monitoring and further tests. I had just seen her the week before our first true outing since before the pandemic, so it all came as a surprise. At 76, she is robust, but the reality is at a certain point, things just happen.

As I walked back home, still slow, slow enough that my walk wasn’t even registering as “exercise” on my iWatch, I reflected on it all. I realized that knowing when to pull out was just as important as pushing forward. That there is a moment when the positive of exercise or any of our actions gives way to something that may be less than brilliant. That knowing one’s limits is another aspect of self-care.

So … yes, reflecting the positive sometimes means listening to your body when it says, you are done working out for the day. Time to go home.

There’s always tomorrow.

 

*TIA: A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary period of symptoms similar to those of a stroke. A TIA usually lasts only a few minutes and doesn’t cause permanent damage. Often called a ministroke, a transient ischemic attack may be a warning of a future stroke and an opportunity to prevent it. (Mayo Clinic)

forgiveness ….

Tonight is Kol Nidre, so named as it is the old Aramaic prayer Jews around the world will sing annulling all oaths and vows made before G-d at the start of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

If that felt like a lot, believe me, it is a lot. And hearing it sung feels as heart wrenching as it implies as it signifies the beginning of 25+ hours of prayer, self-reflection and fasting–along with entreaties to G-d and oneself to be written into the “good” book of life for the coming year.

This morning, like an ersatz acolyte in training, I figured I would use my time boxing at Gleason’s Gym to clear out my mind for the mental and emotional gymnastics that Yom Kippur would bring.

Meanwhile it was hot, hot, hot and humid, and as I went through my first four rounds of shadow boxing, I became bathed not only in my exertions, but a less than charitable feeling as I angled for the portion of the ring underneath the overhead fan against all comers.

“Oy,” I realized, “Yet another thing to seek forgiveness for.”

Still, by the time I was on the focus pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, I was indeed more in the moment, less concerned with the fan, and working on the exact angle of my head as I dipped under to bob and weave among the other technical corrections I was seeking to make as we trained. I even felt like I could go for a fifth round of pads, and although I gulped sips of water between rounds, and I was just short of panting, whatever it was I was aiming for in the “clear one’s mind department” was starting to kick in.

But that doesn’t mean I was really any closer to getting the whole forgiveness thing.

Sure, I can forgive another their “trespasses” and mostly do. I work hard at that and do bear it in mind not to attach to the behavior of others even when it violates me to a degree. But I do bump up against things. The “big” violations that become harder to deal with. Frankly, the closer they are to my core being, the harder those, “I forgive you,” words become. And then I also have to wonder where the line is between not attaching to the behavior of others and the psychological state of disassociation I have entered into from time to time over the course of my lifetime from the deep pains and in some cases emotional trauma those acts have caused.

All of that is difficult and can set-up a spiral of clarity to defensive posturing as a tornado of the soul. But that is not my understanding of what the day is about per se. Rather the purpose is here and now–and has less to do with forgiving others than calling out oneself for the crap we’ve pulled all year, such as how not forgiving another may have set up behavior we need to ask forgiveness for. Subtle. Yes. But that’s the point. It’s all about one’s own behavior.

I hogged the fan in the ring… I was snippy to my husband… I didn’t take my friend’s mother’s call… I removed someone’s laundry from the dryer… I said I was going to make dinner, but binge-watched The Bad Batch instead.

We are talking countless acts that I will have to pound my chest about.

But it will be the deeper reflections that I have to really sort out:  Can I forgive myself for being me? For being less that perfect? For thinking a thing, but not always doing it? For my humanity? And frankly, to my mind, for those acts where I cheated myself?

I am grateful for the chance to renew myself. For taking a day to cleanse as I go forth into whatever the next space will be. Will I be perfect at atoning? No. I can’t even say for certain that I will fast for the full 25+ hours or stay online for all of the prayers. But I do forgive myself that. It’s my intentions that truly matter. My intentions for a good and full year doing all that I can to live my best life.

I will close with this:

To those I have wronged, I ask for forgiveness.

To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.

To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.

To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you …

Gmar chatima tova – May you be inscribed in the book of life for good.

Cantor Josef Rosenblatt singing Kol Nidre from a 1930 recording.

My 9/11 …

World Trade Center, view from New Jersey

Twenty years has passed in the blink of an eye since the events of September 11, 2001, and yet we also have all of the extraordinary moments that we have lived through year in and year out since then.

I have raised a child, completed my BA and MA, published a book, started and retired from a 15 year successful career with the City of New York, nine plus years of which were spent with the special people of the NYC Fire Department in the post-9/11 culture of camaraderie and pain that is unique to the FDNY.

In that latter realm, I have had the honor of christening the fireboat Three Forty Three, a 120 foot vessel that graces New York Harbor having been named to honor the men and women of the Department who lost their lives in the horrific events of 9/11.

Each of us who survived the events of that day has our own stories of what has happened to us over these past twenty years.

We also never forget where we were and what we were doing on that beautiful Tuesday morning.

Yet we move forward, feeling the holes in the sky as deep scars on our collective psyche, and for many of us when looking at the reconfigured landscape of towering buildings, no longer seeing it as a symbol of home.

For New Yorkers, in my case a multi-generational denizen of the City, 9/11 carries special resonance and pain. Most of us knew someone who perished or in playing the six degrees of separation game someone who knew someone and so one. For some of us the loss remains unbearable and still we persevere.

I remember Peter “Pete” Mardikian.

He was 29.

He had been married for just six weeks–a wedding I’d been invited to but couldn’t attend in his wife, Corine’s hometown in Ohio.

Pete worked for me for a while at Imagine Software before a promotion that saw him working for one of the partners, Scott Sherman. We’d spent a great time in London together, all of us ensuring our software product didn’t crash and burn at the turn of the New Year on January 1, 1999.

Le Meridien Hotel Bar, Piccadilly, London

Along with others of our colleagues, Stephen Klein, Karen Rose, and Mark Lipsits among them, we’d meet up at the end of our long work days and sit up talking about the meaning of life until well past midnight at the bar of the Le Meridien Hotel off Piccadilly Square. As this was long before the days of smart phones and Instagram feeds, there are no photos to smile at documenting our moments together nor memes captured from Scott’s brilliant stories that had us reeling with laughter nor our wonderment at Stephen’s instance that we enter “drift time.”

So those remembrances have to live inside. In our collective hearts. In how we laugh about that time at the bar on the infrequent moments we meet up or pound out notes on Facebook.

But it’s without Pete.

Without his special brand of magic and sweetness. Without him as a 49 year old, perhaps a father a couple of times over, regaling us with the firsts of those kinds of experiences: first birthday, first day of kindergarten, first white belt ceremony … and so on.

At the 9:05 am moment in the 9/11 Timeline records, it is noted that Peter Mardikian called his wife on one of the few working phones. He was on the 106th Floor of the North Tower attending the Risk Waters Group Conference at Windows on the World. One other of our colleagues, Andrew Fisher, 42, also perished, and a third colleague in attendance left mere moments before the first plane hit the towers to go back to the office to pick up something.

Pete’s funeral at the St. Vartan Cathedral an Armenian Church on 34th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan created levels of pain I did not think were possible.

All of us, his family, his colleagues, his friends were crushed beyond measure. We saw in Cori a figure of strength and fortitude we did not think possible and in our own grief looked to her to model how to endure his loss.

I spent most of my time with Scott. Both of us were 47 years of age. We were bereft at the notion that someone with so much left of his life could be lost. We felt like helpless parents with inconsolable grief at the notion that our bright, brilliant boy with a limitless future had perished so horribly.

He was our Petey. Our pal. And in those moments of pain we had to reconcile what life meant. How we could go forward. How we could separate our anger and the sense that life was not worth living in the presence of such horror. How to navigate those moments to get to the pivotal point where we were choosing to live. To experience grief as it is and then go on to live life as best we could.

Any loss is grievous. The loss of 2,977 in one day was incalculable for New Yorkers and incalculable still as we viscerally reconsider how it unfolded and the many permutations that have affected our world in the aftermath of 9/11. Those memories form indelible pictures that hit the senses in waves that strip us bare again. Causing that gulping feeling of a gut punch one never fully recovers from.

All we can do is continue to live our best lives if not for ourselves then for the those we lost.

May the memory of those who perished be for a blessing.

Last rounds of the year …

I had a good boxing workout this morning at Gleason’s Gym, aided by the fact that I had a decent sleep for a change.  My work out was my favorite, four rounds of shadow boxing, four on the focus pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, four rounds of the double-end bag, and finally four rounds on the speed bag.

There was something comforting about being back to “normal.” Yes, I tried to keep to my “wear a mask at all times” mantra, even in a gym where everyone is vaccinated, but it was still pretty hot and humid, and eventually took it off in the midst of my rounds with Len because it was getting too hard to breathe.

If that is the worst I ever have to deal with — all I can say is wow, what a great life.

And really, as I am at the start of the rounds of examination I will go through over the next ten days starting with tonight’s first night of the Jewish New Year’s process and ending up with breaking the Yom Kippur fast, the workout I had today was just a light flurry of facing up to moments of truth.

Because that’s really what it is all about anyway.

Avoiding the easy path of cheating at solitaire.

You know … pulling from the deck when you’ve already lost … as if no one will notice!  Kind of like that. And it’s the same thing in the ring. You can throw the jab with authority and energy, mindful of your stance, of how you move forward, of how you hold your opposite hand to protect your head. Or not. One gets you to the truth of your capabilities and of what you need to do to improve, and the other cheats it.  Doesn’t get you forward at all. Says, I’m pulling from the deck.

We all do it … all the time, whether knowingly or not. The trick is pushing forward anyway. Owning up. Facing those demons of crap you pull, mostly on yourself, but to others as well, and understanding what the motivations were, how you got there in the first place, and what you can do to make it better. To manage the process of moving forward with your life.

Jewish New Year, Tashlich, or the throwing off of sins symbolically by tossing pieces of bread. Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn, 1909, Photo Credit: The Bowery Boys

I do have it in mind that in Jewish tradition, this next ten days is a process of unburdening and in so doing, sealing our collective fates for the next year. Will you live? Will you not? Will it go easy or hard?

I’m not certain that I buy into all of that, but I do believe that our actions foretell our futures. That cheating at solitaire doesn’t mean we have “won” our games, only that in so doing, we have denied ourselves the satisfaction of the real wins when they finally come, whether that is throwing a jab worthy of it’s name or facing up to the myriad of truths that life throws at us and coming through it a more enlivened human being.

I wish everyone sweetness, peace, and an easy passage to the enlightenment that living in truth can offer.

Happy New Year – Shanah Tovah!

Being in it…

Having just lived through the effects of the post-tropical Hurricane Ida from the safety of my 4th floor apartment in Brooklyn, I can say that while life can be a wild ride, our reference point will always be the determinant for our perspective unless we fight to see it otherwise.

Sure, torrential rain, high winds, flying debris, but hey, I was nicely tucked in with my husband Jed. We were glued to Hulu binge-watching the first three episodes of Only Murders in the Building, so what did we care until we started to feel a few drips on our head and realized we had quite the leak coming through the brickwork by the window.

And isn’t that the way? We go blissfully about our daily lives even through downpours that seem biblical in nature, while passing a pithy quip or two, but otherwise remaining unaffected, well that is until we are right in the middle of whatever that drama is.

A drip from the ceiling. A flooded basement. Subway stairs that look like class 5 rapids. Downed trees and power. And on and on.

And in the aftermath, in the sunrise that is clear with air as fresh as it can be, even as we assess, perhaps in tears for our losses, or annoyed that we no longer have the convenience of say the nearest subway stop on the corner, but of having to hoof it, is it then that we know we are in it?

Part of the larger story?

Have “skin in the game” so to speak?

Whether it’s understanding that our climate change future is now or masking up to protect someone from a raging virus or helping out a stranger who is struggling to cross the street, our participation, our understanding that we are in it is what makes us part of the human chain.

I am as my brother and sisters in the literal sense of having siblings — but I am also as all my brothers and sisters, those who suffer and those who have joy.

Planet Earth

Perhaps I am in this mode because we are so close to the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and all of the incumbent self-reflection of the season. Whatever the reason, I am struck by my connectedness to the people around me and beyond. Knowing that whether we want to be or not, we are all in it.

Our connections to each other are real and important.

How we treat those relationships and how we strive for the betterment of other human beings is, at the end, the testament of who we are. What our passage on our beautiful blue marble of a planet will come to mean.

 

And continue to box …

I am in week 19 of my campaign back to physical fitness at Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym after a long pandemic induced hiatus — and wow do I need it.

Okay, yes, the COVID-19 pounds.

The stress of the on-going pandemic. 

A plethora of incredible change in my life like retirement and my daughter graduating college and moving into her first apartment.

But it’s also the stress of seeing my husband living with a degenerative brain disease. Called Frontotemporal Degeneration or FTD, it saps the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain in particular, affecting behavior, language, or movement, and as the disease progresses short-term memory. The horror of it is its insidious onset usually starts at an earlier age–and progresses relentlessly with no known treatments that stop or slow the disease.

Far from wanting a pity party, the infusion of whatever self-care I can muster, including the opportunity to get down to the gym to work out is the best present I can ever give myself.  

Beginning with my 15 minute or so walk to the gym, I begin to destress, thinking of all the things I want to work on for that day. From “keeping it neat” to quote trainer, Don Saxby, to working the counter shots to the body that I practice on the focus pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore

Lately, it’s been about the telephone–keeping my hands up like earmuffs to not only protect my head, but to better position myself for throwing what ever punches are called or when working the bag to practice neat and tight jabs, rights, hooks and upper cuts.

I’m also working on stamina ’cause at 67 and having not exercised for the better part of a year, whatever fitness I had went out as the calories packed on.  

But mostly, going to Gleason’s Gym connects me to the larger community that is boxing from the camaraderie of what I call the #AMBoxingCrew to knowing that just by being there I am supporting the efforts of others. 

Boxing has been a part of my life for 25 years. It is has given me strength, health, the sense of my own place in the world, and ultimately the courage to move forward no matter what the obstacles are. It’s also uncaged my sense of being and though I may try to give back through my support of women’s boxing, it always seems that I am on the receiving end of the brilliance that is the sport.

And so, I continue to box … for what I can only hope will be the next 25 years.

___

For further information on FTD, I recommend The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration:

http://www.theaftd.org/ 

 

 

 

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – January 18, 2021

What would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., make of us today?

ZUMA Press/Newscom/File

We have undergone a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capital Building by those intent on not only impeding the acceptance of the Electoral College vote that saw President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris winning the election, but one that showed a resounding 306-232 win. Those perpetrating the attempted coup and their enablers also came to the Capital with murderous intent seeking out the Vice President and the Speaker of the House for assassination.

A man of faith, Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence saw him to lead a movement for Civil Rights and go on to embrace anti-war sentiments, social justice, the rights and plights of the poor, and the deeply rooted fractures and faults of the American experiment that were rooted in slavery. That Dr. King persevered through beatings, imprisonment, and attempted assassinations before finally succumbing to a white supremacist’s bullet is a testament not only to his faith but to his belief in democracy.

On the cusp of inaugurating the nation’s first Female, Black, South-Asian Vice President, let us consider how Dr. King’s legacy has fueled our sense that justice must come for our experiment to succeed. Now more than ever, that project is in peril and it is up to all of us to fight for the “liberty and justice for all” that continues to allude our understanding of a more perfect union.

Dr. King’s 1967 speech at Stanford University is as potent today as it was 54 years ago. We must overcome.

19 Years ago today

19 years on …

The World Trade Center was my point of reference from the first time I spied the towers in the fog looking south on Sullivan at the corner of Bleecker in Greenwich Village.  I was with my father, with whom I used to roam the City on our occasional Sunday’s together. The towers had been on our radar all through its construction. We’d pass by the towers first as a hole in the ground and then as partially constructed buildings as we peered up from under the old West Side Highway on one of our jaunts through the docks on our way to Battery Park.

That night, with the windows illuminated in shrouded light felt magical and has been a point in time I have always treasured.

When I gaze on the City now, I feel the holes in the sky as a huge ache in my heart.

It happens whether I am looking across from the vantage point of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade or most recently from the vantage point of the Rockaway Ferry looking across towards Manhattan just past the Marine Park Bridge.

Our nation, our citizenry, our sense of who we are as a people have undergone many, many transformations since the ill-fated morning of September 11, 2001. Some have been for the good, but much, as now, has been fraught with conflict, fear, dislocation, and the kind of damage that can take generations, if ever, to heal.

I can only offer my fervent hope that we will persevere to better days.

COVID-19 Morning

Does art flourish in a catastrophe?

Does fear and panic? That in the throat kind of hysteria that sees boxers pounded down to the ground, only to shake it off and dance across the canvas in a flurry of inwardly rhythmic feints and jabs to get through the round?

I’m not so sure.

And yet I feel awakened.

For two days now as I’ve squelched down panic I’ve felt a sense of joy.

I read it in the faces of people I’ve passed in the streets.

In the way the servers hand over packages at the market.

A determination. A grit. An adaptation in the now that creates something.

That claims the present as a prospector would a piece of a stream.

Here is where I stand those faces say. My domain. My six foot circle that enshrines me in hope and destiny.

remembering martin luther king jr. – january 20, 2020

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – January 20, 2020

“For years now, I have heard the word ‘wait’ … this ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.’ We must come to see that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

To understand Dr. King is to know the record of his work. “King: A Filmed Record … Montgomery to Memphis” was released in 1970. It carried the raw pain of his terrible loss a mere two years before along with a clear understanding of the arc and breadth of his work for civil rights and social justice — fights we engage in today with a renewed urgency for action to overcome the ills of racism, intolerance, fascism, anti-immigrant fervor, anti-semitism, the denial of LGBTQ rights, climate change denial, and on and on.  Now as then we are called upon to witness and fight against justice denied.

Helen Joseph, the Iron Lady–getting ready to rumble

Helen Joseph, the Iron Lady–getting ready to rumble

Helen Joseph, Mendez Gym, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

First of all let me introduce myself, my name is Helen Joseph, “The Iron Lady,” the Princess of Africa, former IBF champion, former GBU champion, present WBF champion.”

So begins my interview with Helen Joseph, (17-3-2, 10 KOs), who will be facing former WBC champion Delfine Persoon (43-2-0, 18 KOs) on November 11, 2019 at the Versluys Dome in Ostende, Belgium, contesting for the WBA World Female Super Featherweight Title.

I’ve come to Joseph’s gym, Mendez Boxing located in the Flat Iron district of Manhattan to spend some time with her. A busy gym on a Saturday morning, the rhythms of jump ropes hitting the flooring, the “thud” of boxers’ gloves hitting pads, and the “thwack” of gloves on bodies are all in counterpoint to the ever present beat of music piping through the speakers.

The boxers at Mendez are young and old, professional, amateur, and novice, male and female and everything in between—all of whom are in constant movement: working out on heavy bags and double-end bags, working out in one or the other of Mendez’s two rings. Trainers standing poised on the aprons to offer encouragement, coaching, or shouting instructions, such as “bend your knees.”

Joseph, who is 30 years of age (to Persoon’s 34),  is well into her 10th round of jumping rope when I arrive, skipping with ease and constancy until the last thirty seconds of any given round when she speeds up to double or triple her time. In between rounds she shadowboxes.

Watching her work, it is plain to see that her body is indeed iron. The sinews of her muscles are defined and lean as she bounces lightly from foot to foot, her arms punching with ease, her hands flicking out to her own inner rhythm. Embracing her is like embracing a hardened living machine of efficiency and stamina and intention, all punctuated by the sweetness of her smile as she says hello. But make no mistake–she is iron, forged by a difficult childhood in her native Nigeria, the untimely death of her mother, the tough love of her grandmother and her early boxing coaches, all sustained by a fierce belief in herself, her faith in God, and her sense of destiny.

“I am not afraid of any girl,” she says, “because I know I work hard … and it would take a very long time to defeat me so easy.”

By now, we were speaking of Delfine Persoon.

“I don’t believe she’s going to beat Helen Joseph,” she says, “…this fight’s going to be a kind of surprise fight for people to really know who is Iron Lady, that name is not just [an] ordinary name, now I want to go to the ring to prove it more to the world that is all … so I am well ready and that fight is going to do a lot for my profile.”

Danny Nicholas & Helen Joseph, Mendez Boxing, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Maissa Smith

Joseph trains under the leadership of Dell Brown—with able assistance from Danny Nicholas who stands in for Brown whenever he is unavailable. Joining Nicholas after completing her warmup, Joseph prepares to enter the ring for 12 rounds of sparring with three different sparring partners—all men.

Under the watchful eye of Nicholas, Joseph spars her first three rounds with Duwaun White. A trainer himself, his game plan is to get Joseph to spin out from a come forward pressure fighter, mimicking what he knows about Delfine Persoon’s awkward style of boxing and wide punches. Throughout their three rounds, Nicholas peppers Joseph with instructions from the apron:

Duwaun White & Helen Joseph, Mendez Boxing, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

“Fire back with him. Break his rhythm, break his rhythm.”

“Step and move, step and move.”

“Move, move, move, Helen!”

“Too big, too big”

“Circle and punch, circle and keep punching, don’t let him back you up.”

Of her boxing style, White says, Joseph is “working on punching in the middle” between when a punch comes in and out, and “is one of the hardest hitting boxers I’ve ever met, especially for her size, she’s hit me harder than some grown men have hit me. Between her punching power, which is God given, … [her] tremendous heart, she is not going to quit, yeah,” he continued, “she has a lot of dog in her.”

Callan, who sparred with her for two rounds, came out exhausted saying, “I literally am afraid of her. I have so much respect for her abilities, and she’s got a winning left, man!.”

Her third sparring partner, Maurepaz Auguste, a former middleweight kickboxing champion echoes her two other partners, “She hits hard from side angles, and is relentless too, she just keeps coming.”

Most impressive is Joseph’s stamina in the 12th round, when she releases a barrage of multiple combinations from all angles and levels that overwhelms her opponent. Smiling afterwards, and breathing as if she’d just gone for a light jog, everyone around the apron is impressed and in awe of her abilities.

Danny Nicholas & Helen Joseph, Mendez Gym, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

In speaking more about her upcoming fight with Persoon, Joseph likes that she comes forward and comes to fight. “I love people who fight me. I love to fight people who came to knock me down. I don’t like to fight people who run away, who don’t want to feel what I have. I love her style, because her style is the best I love to fight with.”

When asked what her game plan is to defeat her, Joseph says, with a coy smile, “Her secret is in my heart so when I get to the ring, I will let the world know her mistakes, I know a lot about her, her pattern is the kind of pattern I love to fight. That will be a good fight for me.”

While Joseph speaks of her commitment to boxing, she’s also had a hard road in the sport. Known for her strong skills, work ethic, and heavy hands, she is often overlooked for fights by better known boxers who are looking for opponents to come into the ring to lose–a hard reality of the business side of the sport for male and female fighters who have not been able to crack the elite levels. Joseph, while working with her team to gain entry into more fighting opportunities, trains as if each day is the day before her next ring encounter. This means being fully prepared mentally and physically at all times so that she is ready to do battle no matter how many days, weeks, or months notice she has.

“I love this game so much,” she says with a smile, “and I am ready to fight every month, every week, I love boxing more than everything else apart from my God … I want to be the world’s best, that is my dream. I am not going to discourage my dream no matter how long it takes me to have a fight … And here I am today and I never gave up on my dream and I am fighting.”

Helen Joseph, Mendez Boxing, October 9, 2019, Photo credit: Malissa Smith

Thinking it through some more she says, “To be a boxer is not easy. Look at my friend Claressa [Shields], it’s not easy work to get to that point. When you see a boxer like that pray for them, appreciate them, because they have to work day and night.”

She feels no differently about her opponent, Delfine Persoon. She has worked hard and earned her place as a champion and has nothing but respect for those efforts, for all of the hard work to be in that place. But still, Joseph wants more. She not only wants championships and titles, but the acknowledgment of those efforts by offering up her commitment to the sport as an example for others to follow; to have others admire her skills and prowess in the ring as something to emulate or to have a fellow boxer say, “oh I love that move,” and then go to the gym the next day to try it out and make it part of their own repertoire of boxing tricks.

Joseph is always ready. Her dream a part of her daily being and aside from her deep faith in God, her sense of destiny in the sport is what keeps her going no matter whether she has a fight in her sights, or if she is working to keep herself in shape for calls that never come.

When she climbs in to the ring on November 11th, her belief in herself, her trust in her team, and her sense of her own place in boxing will see her to no doubt “surprise the world.”