Tag Archives: boxing training

The moments I’m not prepared for

Mount Everest, Photo credit: The Tribune, India

Caregiving for a person who is losing themselves is the Mount Everest of experiences. One puts one foot in front of the other for some sort of forward momentum, but without really looking too far ahead. To do so is to risk one’s own break down and that plaintive, wistful, despairing question, “how can I do this?”.

As I ponder it all, I’m realizing the moments I’m not prepared for seems to be a growing list. This morning, Jed asked, “Who are you?” and I really didn’t know where to go from there.

I smiled.

Sweetly.

In the moment.

Said, “I am Malissa,” paused and added “we are married.”

Jed said, “I don’t remember things.”

He then smiled and said, “well Sheila, how are you!”

Now that was typical Jed. A moment of clarity in his fog of a mind, covering his sense of embarrassment at not being on top of things and making a joke of it all. We carried on with the Sheila joke for a bit before focusing on breakfast: a toasted slice of leftover cranberry walnut bread, our Christmas morning family tradition for years. He said, “hmmm, this tastes good, where did you get it?”

I explained, the Christmas morning stuff and he looked at me with wide eyes and a big smile and said, “you made this? It’s delicious.”

And so it went. Through breakfast. Through discussions about haircuts. Showering. the scabs on his arms and upper body from his newly acquired OCD habit of scratching and picking.

And no, none of it is ever something I thought of. I mean, really, who does? At our age, one thinks of the bad luck of cancers or heart aliments, diabetes or COPD from all the smoking we did as kids, but something that slowly erodes one’s ability to think or even recognize or put words to the people they know and love? No. Believe me. You don’t think of it. Not even if it is all around you, never for your own spouse or loved one.

As I write this, we’ve conquered the confusion of waking up and not being able to understand the most basic of things. Slowly though, I am watching as cognition returns. Yes. Morning meds and vitamins. A shower (no fight about it either), shaving using his electric razor, putting on spanking new duds from his Christmas haul. A pet to our kitty Mimi who is on her last legs from chronic liver failure. Sweet words to me about how much he loves me. Appreciates me. More talk about getting a haircut. And then an actual walk, our first in almost two weeks since he accompanied me to the Post Office to pick up stamps.

All went well, but the haircut didn’t happen. We lost the window, too soon when he turned from our apartment house entry way and too late when we passed it on the way home.

Walks are in fact, really tiring both physically and mentally, even our very short ones. He becomes overstimulated by the sights and sounds. People on the street. Noise. Shops. And today from wandering around the first floor of Barnes and Noble, the colors of the fruit stand, the plants and trees lining the brownstones on Clinton Street. And needing to stop as well. The sweat beading on his forehead, needing to catch his breath, this from the man who has circumnavigated Manhattan at night in a kayak by himself and written about it for a Weekend Warrior column in the NY Times.

Once upstairs, he remembered about the haircut. “Maybe tomorrow,” he said. He had to go to bed, to drift for a while in the darkened room with drawn curtains and to eventually asleep.

Meanwhile my day. Yay to getting my delivery of Covid home tests after a pre-Christmas frantic search of medical supply companies on the internet. Yes to laundry, churning its way through rinse cycles and the dryer. Yes to a quick text touchpoint with my daughter. Yes to realizing just how overwhelmed I feel — and to the bits of tears in my eyes as I blink my way through a minute or two of silent meditation to keep myself together for the next steps of the day.

If yesterday morning was self-care at Gleason’s Gym, today, through chores (garbage out, laundry, vacuuming), I’m giving myself the sense of order externally. Sure, not spanking clean, but at least with some of the holiday disorder at bay.

And then I locate myself again. Clear my mind, breathe, inhale, exhale, and start it again. This is the way.

****

For more information about dementia and caregiving resources here are some helpful links in NYC as well as two of the main national organizations. And of course, always feel free to contact me.

CaringKind is a caregiver organization in NYC with remarkable resources, courses, caregiver groups, and other information. Link here: Caring Kind.

NYU Family Support Center has programs for caregivers to include a fully array of “zoom” meetings that range from looking at art with museum curators to music and caregiver “KaffeeKlastch” meetings. Link here:  NYU Family Support Center.

Alzheimer’s Association, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: Alzheimer’s Association.

The Association for Frontotemperal Degeneration, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: AFTD

Getting it wrong to get it right

December Roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

December roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

I’ve been having that sort of week.

Really from last week till now. Forgetting to put stamps on letters. Referring to the wrong person in an email. Fretting as Izzi waits for another round of Covid tests because more of her co-workers have tested positive.

And sleep has been an on again, off again thing too. Drifting into a nap in front of the TV for 40 minutes during the boring parts of a boxing undercard and then not falling asleep till 4:30 in the morning.

Last night was so ridiculous.

I just gave up at about 3:00 AM, showered, and began making the dough for the cream cheese rugelach with apricot jam and walnuts I’m baking as part of my holiday array of goodies. Dough made and put into the refrigerator to rest, I didn’t fall sleep again till around 5:30 AM. I’m just chocking last night up to the winter solstice, with the notion that my body just wanted to get a jump start on the the longer days to come.

But I also know something else is going on. That the working from up in my chest rather than the sense of being rooted onto the earth is the sure knowledge that things are off kilter in my sense of being.

Scratching it further I’m having to ask myself what underlies it all.

Holidays?

The Omicron-variant doubling the cases of Covid in NYC everyday?

Line for Covid testing, Astoria, December 22, 2021 (Photo Credit: Izzi Stevenson)

Jed’s forgetting who Izzi was last week?

Cheng Man-ching

Not putting in the time to take care of the things I’ve committed to? I mean really, I have to ask myself, why is it I haven’t actually performed the Cheng Man-ching 37-move Tai Chi form since my last zoom class ended a few weeks ago?

It may remain a mystery of sorts and not having a particular insight into things can be something we just shrug our shoulders about and let go from time to time.

But I tried the exercise on Monday without even realizing it. Somewhere into my tenth round at Gleason’s Gym I let the flow of things unfold as I threw jabs and straight rights at the double-end bag. Somewhere around the 14th round I realized I did not feel constricted by striving for perfection. I was in the moment. Up on my toes. Flicking punches as I moved from side to side.

Just doing that reminded me that not every action has to be a home run. After all, a baseball player with a 350 batting average is considered at the top of the game. If a 1,000 is perfect … well, you get what I mean.

So that’s been my message to myself. I don’t always have to swing for the fences. And if I get it wrong, well, make up for it. Have the sense to sink down a little lower next time. Feel the power of the moment not as that huge mountain to climb, but as part of the flow.

Sometimes just getting a few hours of something, however fleeting, can be enough. And yeah, smell the roses.

Boxing Saturdays

Double end bag, Gleason's GymI admit to a certain inconsistency when it comes to my boxing training at Gleason’s Gym. Most weeks I am there two days a week, trying for Monday and Thursday mornings, but this week, as with several other weeks this Fall, days slipped away from me. And so … I found myself at the gym on a Saturday morning for the first time in months.

For many years, Saturdays were my mainstay of boxing. I’d drop my daughter off at her Aikido dojo for her three hour class and then make the quick dash to Gleason’s to train before turning back around to make the pickup.

Sparring at Gleason's GymThose were sacrosanct hours. Gleason’s was on Front Street then, the space encrusted with decades of sweat, grime, and hard work, and yet still cavernous.

Getting there by 9:30, my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore and I had our standing date to spar. We’d grab the little ring which remained pretty much unused at that time of the morning, and became so much “our” space, folks who thought to use it would immediately vacate when they saw us gear up.

It was a lot of fun.

Fun in learning the intricacies of the game. How to feint. How to double jab over the guard followed by an overhand right. How to throw a quick jab to the body when Lennox tried to trick me by switching to a south paw stance. Oh, and how to take a punch, which was way too often because I never could get the hang of slipping well or knowing when to put on my ear muffs.

Saturdays also had a lot of camaraderie. Sure there were pro fighters, but there were a lot of folks like me. In love with the sport and with the sense of boxing as a family. And so we would nod and acknowledge each other with waves, and “hi ya’ doing champ,” fist bumps, and mostly a lot of acknowledgements of the work being done. Of progress being made. Of dedication. Of the process of perfecting the lexicon of the sport as both science and art.

Next month will mark twenty-five years since I first started boxing at Gleason’s Gym. I trained with Johnny Grinage then–about as old school a trainer as one could get. We bonded over our mutual love of bebop, and I didn’t even mind when he’d tell me the same Miles Davis or Wynton Kelly story for the umpteenth time. When it came to boxing training, however, it wore out pretty quickly, so after about 8 years of on and off training, I switched to Lennox.

Lennox Blackmoore, Trainer, Gleason's GymI feel kind of proud of the fact that Lennox and I are still at it.  We haven’t sparred since before Covid, but have talked about restarting. After the switch to Water Street, Lennox even got up at the unthinkable hour of 5:00 in the morning (or frankly, never went to sleep), to train me at 6:30, before I went to work. Now that I’m retired, we tend to meet up some time between 9:30 and 10:00 and have not yet gotten back to our pre-covid three day a week schedule.

Neither of us is young, or as spry, but the fun never stops, and there’s always Don Saxby, another mainstay cheer leader of my old Saturday mornings to keep me sharp on my skills when I need a different view of the game,.

Caregiving and the holidays …

Greek Kourembiedes CookiesFor many Americans, the period from Thanksgiving through the New Year is fraught with tensions and anxieties, coupled with moments of exuberance and joy. if you are a caregiver, it can add yet another level of complexity in the ever evolving landscape of illness whether physical or lodged in the recesses of the brain.

I will say things have been fairly smooth so far and actually seemingly less fraught than prior years because the fact is so much of our lives is now lived in the moment. After all, when one’s loved one can’t really remember that tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, or even what Thanksgiving is, the celebration gets quite easy. So my daughter and I set it up such that we’d spend lunch with my sister and other members of our family, and afterwards came home to celebrate “Thanksgiving” with Jed.  Thanksgiving 2021It was fairly simple, consisting of his favorite roasted veggies, a lovely dressing, fresh orange cranberry relish plus a yummy French Apple Cake and voila, we were done. No fuss, no muss. And no hurt feelings because Izzi and I had spent part of the day with my sister.

Our six-week run usually consists of Thanksgiving, the anniversary of when Jed and I met, his birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s.As it happened December 6th marked 25 years since Jed and I first got together.

I admit to sadness at the fact that he didn’t really understand it, but did enjoy the pizza I brought in and otherwise marked it in my own way.

And no. No stroll through Tribeca to Puffy’s on Hudson and Harrison where we met, or any particular reminiscence, though he did recall that I’d gone there with two of my oldest friends. Still, it remains wistful. Speaking of another place and time where our senses had felt so heightened and together.

His birthday comes up next … which will also be low key no doubt. Yes to family cake and a visit from Izzi, plus a few presents, but it doesn’t really register, except as a big surprise each time I bring it up.

As for the rest … well, Hanukkah has come and gone, along with a wonderful visit from Jed’s oldest friend. And after Jed’s birthday, we’ll have Christmas, and maybe even a small tree because he seems to associate it, and then lovely chocolate truffles and a split of champaign for New Year’s Eve.

The lesson of it all to myself is to remain in the moment.Boxing at Gleason's Gym

To stay calm.

To give myself the self care I need to feel contained whether that means ensuring I get to Gleason’s Gym to box or to take an hour to sit in the cafe across the street tarrying over a cappuccino as I write in my journal.

And yes, I’m making the events as special as I can, without overtaxing myself or attaching to the idea that it will remain as “that time at Christmas when …” because, the fact is he won’t particularly remember.

The best I can ask for is see to his sense of happiness from moment to moment. And really, what better gift is there than that.

And please, if you are caring for a loved one … know that you are not alone and can always, always reach out.

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.

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)

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!

Stamina

I’ve noticed it all summer long—small minute observations of not being on my game. Whether it’s slowing down in the ring as the rounds add up or the feeling that I’m going to run out of breath when I walk from home to my writing room or from my office at work towards the subway.

These are things I take for granted: having the pep and vigor to work hard through my 16 rounds of training at Gleason’s or walking at my fast pace wherever I go, in fact hating when I amble as some sort of flaw in the process of how I move through space

And yep, it’s been hot and humid, even at 6:15 in the morning. And as for Gleason’s – well it’s a boxing gym! Air conditioning is for the winter when cold air barrels through because there’s very little heat—and summer, well, the heat and mugginess is just part of the “allure,” not to mention a sure fired way to loosen up tight muscles.

In contemplating why my stamina is off, and why there have been times this summer when I’ve had to stop in the middle of running pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, sit for a while under one of the overhead fans with a wet towel on my head before picking it up again on the double-end bag or the speed bag, I’ve wondered if it’s just the heat, or something else.

Is it turning 64? Is it the process of the body inevitably slowing down even when one does the same thing repetitively? Is it mental? A sense of not being in the moment, my thoughts wandering off somewhere, stealing glances at CNN’s early morning news show as I shadow box around the ring—feeling my guts tighten and cringe at whatever the latest outrage is about children being separated from their parents or yet more cuts to things like food stamps and healthcare?

In thinking about stamina—that ability to work at something long and hard whether it’s something physical or mental or both for that matter—I’ve been thinking through the processes that gives one the feeling of invincibility as one works through the problem, whether it’s running five miles in a set amount of time, boxing a set number of rounds, or putting in the hours to write a book; efforts that require focus, attention, and a sense of being present with what one is trying to accomplish.

I’m hoping that my being “off” in the gym—is some combination of heat and mental focus, and in thinking it through even further I do have to own up to the fact that I’ve not been resting as I should and have been letting the day-to-day stuff we all live with “get” to me.

And so in trying to tease out stamina—I can see it as a “trifecta” of sorts: one part being in shape, one part being focused, and one part being present enough to let it all happen. And sure, it can be physical too—but the truth is, I just don’t buy, at least not yet, and so off I’ll go on Monday to work it out on the bag again.

A few things I know

Sometimes speaking in platitudes is a way of getting at the truth of things. One of them that I’ve been mulling over lately is about not cheating at solitaire. That might seem fairly straightforward—I mean really, how silly is that—but ultimately it is something we do all the time. That old game takes many guises, but mostly has to do with not leveling with oneself about what one is truly doing.

In the game of boxing, as in life, getting the fundamentals right, and building upon them through repetition—those 10,000 hours of repetition to gain mastery—is the best way I know of to approach the process. In life, that can be translated into owning up to who and what we are, including those pesky faults we carry along with us as so much extra baggage we inevitably pay for as if we’d checked it in for a long haul flight.

Having just come back from ten days in Paris with my daughter, I’ve reminded myself about what it means to travel light—aside from bypassing baggage claim, where I admit to having some of my epic hissy fits across a lifetime, traveling light can also mean getting to the heart of things. When it came to my luggage—actually only half filled—I got down to the basics of bringing along only what I truly loved, including I’ll add a pair of hand wraps, just in case, and even then, I could have pared further.

Finding a convenient Laundromat, meant an hour and a half foray into the life of an average Parisian without a washing machine in their apartment, which in and of itself was a fun excursion, but it also meant that the clothes I wore were ones I felt most comfortable in—plus the bonus of maybe a little capricious shopping for something that tickled my fancy with plenty of room left over.

Okay, I get it, the clothing analogy in a suitcase is not necessarily what I’m after when I talk about cheating at solitaire, but the point of it is, we do carry a load of crap about who and what we are, and what our relationships mean, that bogs us down and sometimes keeps us from getting to the essential meaning of our lives.

In a boxing context that can mean going through an awful lots of motions without getting back to the fundamentals that brought us there in the first place—or saw us to begin to develop the skills necessary for ring survival and mastery. The training is the thing in terms of stripping down because it is that mastery that brings us the room for artistry. And while my half empty suitcase may not be the exact analogy to drive home the point—those shoes I bought were pure poetry, and having the room for them has certainly brought a spring to my steps as I walk about my beloved Brooklyn.

 

The gym is closed today

My ritual of morning is out of kilter.

With the gym closed today there’s no need to push myself out of bed at 5:30 to begin the process of readying for the gym. Gone is the symmetry of my every other weekday morning boxing workout with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore.  Of the silent walk to the gym, and brief chitter-chatter with the coffee guys in front of the court-house in downtown Brooklyn.

On different mornings, I have different looks and feelings. Mostly I’m reassured by the discipline of making it to Gleason’s Gym pretty much without fail. I arrive, wave to the early morning denizens and making my way to the locker room, transform myself into my boxer self.

It is in the locker room where I set out my tools–my well-worn rival sparring gloves, my hand wraps and my shoes, my water bottle and towel, while hanging up my work clothes for the quick shower and change after my workout.

Ready for battle, I enter the ring to begin the rounds of shadow boxing, working on my footwork and my mix of combinations, careful to always snap my jab with my right hand up.

The rounds with Lennox — four to six depending on how much energy we have.

The four rounds on the double-ended bag, or the heavy bag.

The four rounds on the slip bag or the speed bag.

Sometimes an added bit of something, sometimes not.

Each has a place in my ritual of morning.

Mostly it is all about the sweat and pushing myself and staying positive during those times when I am anything but. This past year has had its difficulties. I still mourn my father’s death in June, finding strength in my memories of him performing his 300 crunches while hooked up to the oxygen that was his mainstay as he bravely battled COPD.  And perhaps it is that memory that pushes me to haul myself out of bed, even when I’ve only managed to get to sleep at 1:00 AM. Other mornings it is the concept that #ageisjustanumber or that the pursuit of one’s passions keep one young and vibrant and vital.

With the gym closed, I find myself up anyway at 5:29, a full hour ahead of my reset alarm clock. Up and wondering what I shall do. Go back to sleep? Scroll through posts on social media? Worry about the latest headlines in the news? The offer I saw on Facebook for an opponent to fight a former world champion for the ridiculous,  insulting and ultimately dangerous fee to the life and safety of the woman who will feel compelled to accept $2,000?

Instead, I find myself here at the dining table. Up and writing, thankful that I’ve given myself the chance to pivot and turn towards my other source of solace and sanity in a crazy world.

 

 

Sometimes what we need is the sublime

I watched the Heather “The Heat” Hardy versus Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton Bellator 194 “cage” fight last night. The bout was the first of their two-fight series–the second to be fought in the boxing ring at a date to be specified. Watching it, I was reminded that it always comes down to the work we put into things.

I’ve been seeing Heather three mornings a week at Gleason’s Gym since before the move to Water Street. We generally roll into the gym about the same time–between 6:30 and 7:00 AM, her to a roster of clients of varying skills and abilities she trains in the sweet science, and me to my work with trainer Lennox Blackmoore.  By 9:00 AM, Heather has usually started her own training and if she’s readying for a fight adds yet more hours for “camp” while still keeping up with her clients well into the evening, and her obligations to her daughter–not to mention selling tickets to her fights, giving interviews, meeting with sponsors and potential sponsors, and so on.

Given this is Heather’s profession–it is no wonder she puts in the time and effort, but given that her main profession has been as a boxer, those extra hours generally don’t amount to the kind of money that can guarantee her any sort of financial stability. Realizing that, Heather made the jump to MMA where women are treated more equitably when it comes to the purse at the end of a fight–not to mention a chance for exposure on television and a decent spot on the card so fans can actually see the contest. This in contrast to boxing where even though Heather sells tens of thousands of dollars in tickets, she’ll still end up the second fight on the card with no one in the stands.

I’ll leave it to the critics and trolls on Twitter to discuss whether the fight was really “boring” or not.

What I saw was the work.

Heather, at age 36, has trained with intensity and it showed. She used her newly gained grappling skills to effect and demonstrated how seriously she’s taking the switch over to the MMA world–no less seriously than Ana Julaton who also eschewed a boxing/kicking contest for the ground game and the perimeters of the cage.

More to the point, I was struck my Heather’s patience and acceptance of  what was coming at her as the fight played out. That spoke to a maturity in how she was approaching the fight–and gave truth to her insistence that she was working on adding “tools” to her arsenal of options in the cage.

Thinking about it later, it put in mind that we all need to take time with the things we are doing. That the fast pace of our American post-modern existence and its reliance on speed, the 24-hour rush of experience, and quick judgements that change from minute to minute, means that we lose out on the opportunity to be where we are when we are in it.

Aside from the will to win, the thing the best fighters bring to their bouts is the calm of being truly present. Surely that is a way towards finding our own moments of the sublime.

 

From the classic Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1949 at Carnegie Hall: Roy Eldridge (t); Tommy Turk (tb); Lester Young, Flip Phillips (ts); Charlie Parker (as); Hank Jones (p); Ray Brown (b); Buddy Rich (d). Recorded September 18, 1949 at Carnegie Hall, New York City. Original LP issue: Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 13 Clef MG Vol 13

 

 

Stamina

stamina

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I’ve been hitting Gleason’s Gym three days a week since the beginning of September.  The usual schedule has been to get to the gym before seven—two mornings a week, putting in around 16 rounds plus 100 sit-ups before the rush to get to the office. On Saturday mornings, I put in a longish workout to net out about 20 rounds of work plus sit-ups (150 this past Saturday), including sparring with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore.  I also take time to stretch and get in a fair amount of schmoozing.

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Len and I having been sparring for a couple of years with some regularity, but bits of minor health issues on both sides have pushed us off the mark for the last couple of months.  We’ll certainly pick it up again, but the return to more consistent pad work, plus extra rounds on the heavy bag have given me new insights into the sweet science.

14212050_10208382068522073_5102702498388978962_nThe regular training is also a barometer on all the other aspects of health—mental and otherwise, and given that my weight’s been creeping up over the last six months (seeing the doctor on that one given that I eat and exercise about the same), it’s been interesting to measure its effect on the illusive construct of stamina.

What Len will say is stamina is a matter of mind—and there’s nothing like a hard workout at 7:00 AM to test the theory because, let’s face it, some mornings have just been awful, or have had bits of awful that flower as a chrysalis into “oh what a beautiful morning,” great.

This morning’s boxing was a case in point.  Having gotten up at 5:30—after a less than great sleep—I managed to find my way through my morning “ablutions.”  By 6:30 I was bundled against the 19 degree temperature, slowly making my way through Cadman Plaza to walk to Gleason’s, but not before stopping a minute to take a picture of the buildings and the small park set against the pre-dawn sky.

By the time I walked through the door of the gym, I was resolved to push through the tiredness I felt—but there was nothing doing, when it came to my first couple of rounds shadowing boxing.  In fact, we are talking, an “Oy, are you kidding me?” kind of creakiness as my knees crackled, my neck stiffened and barely turning from side to side, and with my supposed stamina nowhere to be found.  By the time round one with Len started, I could barely crank my arms to limply hit the pads—especially the right which earned me a cranky “wake-up, wake-up, straighten out your arm and turn your hip.”

I just nodded, wishing that I could find some pithy retort, other than to give it another go.

“Push it, push it, see.”

This from throwing the right with too much elbow sticking out from the inside.

“And turn your hip!”

“Yep, got it,” I replied, not really having got it, but figuring if I kept hitting it that way it would eventually find it’s mark.

Catching a glimpse of the clock between rounds, I did an inner groan at seeing it was only 7:35, but gamely turned to keep going at it.

By round three, it did start to make sense; it also brought me to an epiphany about stamina.  I was so busy trying to work through the task of throwing a straight right from the inside that I was starting to forget that I was tired and achy and less than enthused.  The previous workout I’d had, had been my best in weeks. I’d been peppy as I shadow-boxed for four rounds, and even peppier when Len and I went a full six rounds on the pads in the ring. Having it to ourselves meant that we really worked the corners and when it was done, I went on to the small water bag for four rounds, the doubled-ended bag for four rounds, and finished with four rounds on the speed bag before 150 sit-ups and a lot of stretching.

15107443_10208943471316792_3935173821081775570_nThe determinate in that case had been a decent night’s sleep—but for the workout at hand, something else was kicking in. Not exactly an extra gear so much as finding the space to just be. In other words, I was getting out of my own way and in doing so; tiredness, creaky bones and all of the other obstacles that had seemed fairly insurmountable began to peel away.

By the end of the fourth round I was ready to keep going—but having caught another glimpse at the clock I realized I didn’t have too much time left before I had to get going for work. Still, I remained in that moment, so to speak, as I practiced the straight right on the double-ended bag, and posed problems to myself from different angles and in different combinations from different sides.

And yes, my stamina was there. I could have kept going for many more rounds despite less than ideal sleep, and all of the other impediments that had felt like lead weights around my ankles.

I’ll be getting to the gym again tomorrow morning. With some luck, I’ll be able to pull the focus trick that’ll lead me to feeling bouncy and fit as I gyrate around the ring. And maybe if that happens enough times it’ll be more of a habit of mind than thinking that it’s only a manifestation of my physical condition—time will tell.

Melissa St. Vil – Ready to Rumble

Melissa St. Vil – Ready to Rumble

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Boxer Melissa St. Vill by the “wall” at Brooklyn’s world famous Gleason’s Gym. Photo credit: Malissa Smith

Melissa St. Vil is a boxer with plans.

Her first plan is to win the UBF World Female Super Featherweight title on November 12th at Martin’s Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, MD. With her 6-1-3 record, she’ll be fighting the more experienced Jennifer Salinas (17-3-0, 4-KOs), in her backyard, but that doesn’t seem to worry St. Vil. With just seven fights to her credit, she defeated Sarah Kuhn to win the International Women’s Boxing Federation (IWBF) World Welterweight title in August of 2013. And while St. Vil has only had two fights since them (in 2014), she feels confident that she has what it takes to win.

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The Royal Six boxers, Ronica Jeffrey (l) and Melissa St. Vil at the recent Breast Cancer event at Gleason’s Gym. Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

As a member of The Royal Six, a group of New York based female boxing champions (Alicia Ashley, Ronica Jeffrey, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher “Fire” Mcleod, and Alicia Napoleon), she is actively engaged in promoting the sport, raising money for charity and helping to put together an all female boxing card in the spring.

Winning world championships and promoting female boxing arent’s her only plans. She also wants to give back. To make a place of safety and sanctuary for girls and women to overcome violence and to find a place for themselves in the world. With her infectious laugh, it is hard to imagine that St. Vil would have ever known pain or violence–but she did. As with many of us the world over, it’s the fighting back to take possession of one’s own life that is the biggest challenge.

Melissa was kind enough to take time from her training with Leon “Cat” Taylor and Juan Guzman to speak with Girlboxing readers about her upcoming fight. We didn’t touch upon the dark stuff at all–just talked about boxing, moving on in life and her passion for the sport.

Here’s what she had to say:

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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A Thousand Strikes

A Thousand Strikes

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Having been nursing a miserable cold over the last week that has left me a sniffling, sneezing, foggy-headed wreck, I’d almost lost sight of the looming New Year. Sure, I’ve been aware of it—and have even felt myself in an interregnum of sorts eschewing anything particularly new, or when it comes to writing, even engaging in anything more rigorous than pithy “all my best wishes of the season” notes on holiday cards.

Now that the first day of 2015 has arrived, I can certainly say that I have been busy for a good portion of it taking care of chores (laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, and attending to social media), making New Year’s Hoppin’ John (the vegetarian version—an anathema, I’m sure, to the memory of my mother-in-law, and anyone with southern roots for that matter, who’d have surely had a fair amount of fat back added to it), continuing to nurse my cold (finally, seemingly, on the mend, though I’m still pretty foggy), and even catching a bit of a bowl game with my husband.

With all of that done, along with a few naps, it’s time to tackle the real part of my day—which is to ponder the boldness that a new year can bring to one’s life, along with the grand gestures that can punctuate one’s entry into them.

A Thousand Bokken Strikes on Rockaway Beach 01012015Whether it’s a thousand word blog post, a thousand strikes with a Japanese wooden bokken on Rockaway Beach, a thousand folded paper cranes to commemorate peace, a thousand jabs to start off a trip back to the boxing gym, or a thousand crisp cramp rolls on a tap dancing board, embracing the things one loves, by doing it to the count of one thousand is a brilliant way to begin or reaffirm one’s commitment to it.

Let’s face it, our lives get away from us and with rare exception most of us are at least tripled up with commitments at any given moment—not to mention our feelings of disappointment, angst, grief, anger and guilt at our inability to put the time in to the things that we consider are at the heart of what’s important to us.

Given the year I’ve just had, which was nothing short of miraculous when I consider that I published a book on the sport of women’s boxing, not to mention having reengaged in my own boxing pretty much every week all year—oh, and taken up tap dancing too—there were still the bits that I hadn’t done, such as blog regularly, work consistently on my next book and ensure that my family is taken care of in the way they should be.

With the New Year though, I have the opportunity to sort through those things that have meaning and the things that can be jettisoned, and having distilled it down—my thousand “somethings” are the thousand words of this post which constitute my way of saying writing’s the thing.

Blog posts about women’s boxing and whatever else catches my fancy, poems, essays, diatribes, and yep, “the book” are the purview of my reaffirmation to wordsmithing. And not just writing, but also finding the fun in writing and dare I say it, the joy of writing because, yes, it is a joy. A tremendous I-can-say-anything-I-want, action of plucking goodness knows what out of my thought processes and having it translated onto the page through fingers that dance and clickety-clack over the keys of my laptop.

Yes, JOY damn it! Writing can be joy—not a chore, not working to a deadline, not what the editor says or wants—but writing for the sake of it, because one can, because words can bring out ideas one never knew one had, because words have a magic and are, in my estimation as potent as anything an alchemist can conjure up. And importantly, because this year I am sixty, and if I can’t embrace the go-where-my-mind-wants-to-take-me journey that writing can be now—then when?

And, at least for me—and perhaps for all of us—that is the point, isn’t it? If not now, then when, whatever one’s passion, be it pottery, politics, winning a world championship belt (the way Sonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis did this past year) or being the best-damned cramp roller in the world.

All of these things amount to wonderful journeys—akin in some ways to the great pilgrimages. One sets out on a journey from point A to point B and through that process one can experience each point along the arc of A to B as transformative. Perform a jab a thousand times, and one begins to feel what it is like to really throw a jab. One will also have the chance to notice that jab number 10 will be different than jab number 860—tiredness aside, one will have a fluidity of action, an ease, a sense of accomplishment and the momentum to carry on forward to one’s goal.

For each one thousand “somethings,” one can journey on to the next one thousand or to whatever constituent sets one decides upon, but one will have already made one’s start, one’s leap into the thing that gives energy and joy and a myriad of other emotions and feelings that commitment can bring.

One can also find how those things tie in together. For me while writing is the thing, boxing and tap dancing are the physical embodiments of letting words unfold on the keyboard. By learning to maneuver in the ring with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore, or by learning new tap dance sequences and steps from Michaela Marino-Lerman, I’m enacting ways to trust my instincts and my ability to do so with fluidity—all of a piece when I think about it, because for me writing is an exercise in being bold, brave and fearless without which, the writing process ends up being a lot like cheating at solitaire.

If I can offer anything, it is to say that if one possibly can, do attempt to embrace the things that have meaning, and then do it a thousand times!