Tag Archives: Boxing

Katie, Amanda, Lady Tyger, and Me

Author, Malissa Smith with Hall of Fame, women’s boxing trailblazer, Marian “Lady Tyger” Trimiar, Madison Square Garden, Taylor/Serrano Main Event, April 30, 2022.

It’s already May. The boxing ring dismantled, the people who filled the Madison Square Garden arena already home or having taken a few extra days in New York City readying to go.

And yet, the enormity of being surrounded by and among a sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 people; on their feet, cheering, crying, and cheering some more for Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano both, reverberates. A crowd so loud the veteran Canadian referee, Michael Griffin, couldn’t hear the bell at the end of a couple of the rounds, and a few days later said he’d “never felt that kind of electricity.”

Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano fought the fight of their lives.

They fought for themselves, for boxing, for women, for little girls and little boys, for their families, for history, for the record setting, 1.5 million eyes who viewed it on the DAZN streaming platform, and all of us who could make it to that arena.

And we felt it.

I felt it.

Jolted through with the special juice that is an event that transcends its time and place. Becomes already immortal. Engrained in our consciousness. Where we view over and over the special magic of the tender smile that passed between Katie and Amanda just before they fought. Taking in the enormity of what they were about to achieve. A history making main event prize fight between two of the best boxers in the world–who because they happened to be girls meant the special sauce of a well-matched contest, was also infused with all the opportunities that had been denied in the past. With fights relegated to the unstreamed portions of fight cards, for little money, and far, far less than equal treatment.

In a world where gender defines and sets rules for how we live and what our agency is as women, boxing has proved itself to be the perfect medium for amplifying those inequities.

Sitting in the stands with the great trailblazing, International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, Marian “Lady Tyger” Trimiar, it was not lost on me that her achievements and fights for equity were not unlike those of the fictional character, Don Quixote, jousting with windmills.

Her hunger strike in 1987 to protest the inequities towards women in boxing, a grand and beautiful stand for something, caused a ripple or two, but was largely forgotten.

A life time later, sitting in a majestic box above the Madison Square arena festooned with green light, she smiled, and with a wistful tone to her voice, said, “One million dollars for each fighter. I never earned much more than a thousand dollars, and that was for a title fight.”

If we measure equity in dollars and cents, women essentially earn the equivalent of a nightly bar bill of the Mayweather’s of the world.

Even the Taylor/Serrano fight, which passed the crucible of a minimum of a million for each fighter, an absolute first, still seems paltry in the scheme of things. Think about it. Two top-three pound-for-pound fighters duking it out in the ring together, what should that be worth?

Having had the honor to write about the women who’ve donned the gloves to contest in a sport that breaks their heart, watching Katie and Amanda fight with every ounce of their beings was among the most compelling evenings of my life. Here were two warriors of heart and spirit, meeting their moment of greatness, with power, with fortitude, and with grace.

Would that each of us could achieve an equivalent transcendent magnificence.

[Note: a version of this article was published in the Women’s Fight News eZine, April 2022 edition]

In the pocket …

Between Covid, cold weather, and the vicissitudes of life, I admit to a rather scattered boxing training schedule since the beginning of the year. Last week, though, I was determined to get back to two days a week with a view towards three as soon as I feel able.

Unstructured training has its place I guess, but for me it’s meant a backward slide when it comes to stamina with a capital “S.”  The twinges in my right shoulder by about my 10th round also reminded me that such breaks can effect muscles and tendons as well. And in case you were wondering, nope, I didn’t pay particular attention to stretching either!

Hmm. Note to self. STRETCH!

Still, tiredness and heavy breathing aside, it felt great to dance around the ring when I shadowboxed, and by the third round on the pads with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore, I felt in the pocket.

“Good job,” he said with a laugh and a mock wince, when I executed a straight right, as directed to his body, followed by a left.

He also had me working on my up-jab, overhand right combinations, with a sneaky left hook or upper cut thrown in at the end.

On the double-end bag, twinges to the right shoulder aside, I worked on feints and combinations, and the accompanying foot work that had me taking steps first one way and then the other, before executing right hand leads or doubled up jabs followed by the straight right.

Saving the best for last, I completed four rounds on the speed bag for the first time in a couple of months.

Always, my favorite way to finish training, it felt as if I was back hanging with an old friend, alternating my standard da-da-da-da-da-da speed bag drills with thirty second spurts of shots to the bag in combinations.

Given where we are in the world, I also felt humbled by being in the gym at all, as if I were a stand-in for all the people whose circumstance precludes such luxuries.

I was in my home away from home. Practicing what I love. Being in the moment with it. Feeling so much that just by being there I was doing honor to my boxing brothers and sisters in harm’s way in Ukraine. And I felt a gathering in. A welling of love and support as if the energy itself would heal the parts of my body in pain and in turn across the world. Magical thinking to be sure, but there’s a part of me that wants to believe.

 

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.

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)

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!

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/ 

 

 

 

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.

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.”

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.

 

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.