Posts Tagged ‘Boxing

27
Oct
19

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.”

18
Aug
18

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.

08
Jun
18

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.

 

29
Apr
18

When the spirit moves you

I’m off at the beach for a week on a writer’s retreat.

So far, I’ve managed a few timed writes, a lovely two and a half hour nap, lots of good eating, and some research on a fighter for a pal, but now comes the hard part. Sorting through the processes that make up what writing is all about and what it means.

When I box, it’s fairly simple. I either throw the dang jab with authority or not. It either sinks in properly or needs fine tuning–such as making certain that I’m throwing straight out from the shoulder to give it pop rather than trying to crash it through with my back leg raised and my full body way over-committed. But maybe that is the trick with writing. Use your nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs with precision–but play with the rules of intention to make the plot points move along the trajectory one needs.

What I’m realizing amongst the august gathering of extraordinary women that make up this group is I am in way over my head–as if I were at a master class of champion boxers sparring with feints and levels of punches galore not to mention the artistry of say an Alicia Ashley deftly dodging a bullet.

Perhaps someday it’ll all makes sense, but meanwhile, I’m writing on with what ever spirit I can gather to make it all work.

 

17
Feb
18

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

 

 

03
Feb
18

Our daily truth

“We are meant to put an end to sexual assault.” Sterling Reithman from her statement to the court at Dr. Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

 

Each day seems to bring more and more to the fore of the truths women and girls live with day after day.

And yet to read it in print, on social media, or watch it all unfold in a myriad of visual images whether in news accounts, the meaning of the colors women wear to events, in video clips from the courtroom—it would seem as if this is the first time we ever knew about it. I liken it to Captain Renault’s line in Casablanca when ordering the closure of Rick’s Place: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling’s going on in here.”

 

 

My first encounter with the fact of life all women live with was when I was seven. There was hole in wall in the bedroom my brother and I shared. A plasterer came to our house to fix it early one morning. My mother went back to bed. My brother and I played in the living room, but after a while, I went into the bedroom to watch the plasterer work. The man was fairly short and stockily built with dark, slicked back hair that fell into his eyes and a swarthy complexion. I was standing there for some time when he turned around quite suddenly. In doing so, he whipped out his penis and started to jerk off. I stood stunned for some time before I could even consider reacting—when I did it was to run out of the room. I stood at the threshold of my mother’s tiny bedroom, but saw she was sleeping. I was loathe to wake her up and frankly frightened because she had admonished me to “let the man work in peace.” I was also not certain what I would even tell her, and so I remained frozen in inaction. Shortly thereafter the plasterer left.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Season 15, Detective Benson and a serial rapist

In the scheme of things, I guess I was lucky. He didn’t sexually assault me or physically molest me—so what was a mere “jerk off” complete with grunts and licking lips. Besides, assault and molestation are usually the provenance of trusted figures in young girls (and frankly young boys) lives: parents, step parents, family members, trusted friends, teachers, coaches, Boy Scout troop leaders, babysitters, priests, pastors and rabbis, doctors, and on and on. It’s usually only later that we become fair game to the sexual predators in the outside world who manipulate, cajole, blackmail and betray their positions of trust to get in our pants one way or another—and that’s only the people we know. Then there are the rapists who grab, molest, rape, abduct, torture, murder and everything in between.  It is so much a fact of our daily lives it is the fodder of our nightly doses of police procedurals on television–and yet we remain shocked and surprised.

My particular litany of woe that includes a myriad of events from childhood well into adulthood is inordinately important to me. Those experiences perpetrated on me by people close to me as well as strangers shaped my life and my choices, my sense of self and my being, and has informed my sense of safety across a lifetime. This latter is of particular import because it defines my womanness as much as anything else. Just as the choices I’ve made to overcome those experiences informs who I have become today.

The point is, yes, absolutely #MeToo, but this is also so much bigger—and we stand at a pivotal point in the conversation where victimization by male sexual aggression and the pass they seem to get from the dominate culture is perhaps, finally being called out for what it truly is: a crime. However, while there are and have been many laws on the books, if women are not believed, their victimizers will not be prosecuted. Nor will these experiences suddenly stop–because they will not. They are perpetrated daily in large ways and small ways and until the culture changes to understand the concept of “no,” this will continue unabated.

When I was researching for A History Of Women’s Boxing, I teased out an interesting phenomenon in the early 1900s. At that time it became acceptable for women to practice boxing and other martial sports. When figuring out the strands in popular culture that would allow this sea change, I discovered in some instances it was to allow women the opportunity to learn self-defense. So there we have it–a problem identified, and a means of resolving it by allowing a variance in the strict gender binary. Would it were so simple.

Ask yourselves this: How is it that a 12-year-old girl complaining about a doctor sticking his fingers into her vagina is not believed?

If our lives are informed by our choices, our lives are also informed by the experiences heaped upon us of which some we control and some we do not. Next time you see me in the gym working out a 7:00 AM, understand that while I am there for many positive reasons such as a love of boxing and a desire to remain fit, I am also there because ensuring I can defend myself is the only way I know of to make myself feel safe: protect yourself at all times.

 

10
Jan
17

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.




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