Posts Tagged ‘Gleason’s Gym

26
Feb
17

Boxing as lifeline

Gleason’s Gym has been a real lifeline for me of late.

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The surety of going through my paces so to speak, the shadow boxing, pad work, heavy bag, double-ended bag, speed bag, abdominals, stretching and combinations thereof are a balm.

img_7389Even the early mornings offer solace. Up a 5:30 AM, off to the gym by 6:30 AM, in the ring by 7:00 AM out by 8:00 AM, showering and dressing, and off to the subway by 8:20 AM or so—two to three mornings a week. Then the long Saturday morning, where I can tarry and work extra rounds, and feel embraced by the easy camaraderie of people who push themselves to their physical limits.

What I also know is that I am a little sad and a little scared and a lot angered by a myriad of issues that are whirling around me. Unpacking them is complicated by a reticence to really face up to the deeper veins of truths that I would rather not face suffice to say they always come out anyway so sooner or later the reckoning will happen.

Gym life, and boxing gym life in particular, offers a microcosm of the range and power of emotion. Just the act of putting on a pair of gloves offers up so many different strands. For one, the gloves symbolize boxing itself. On an immediate basis one can think of such things as power, ability, courage, bravery, and skill. Gleason’s Gym itself calls out those concepts on the wall of the gym and on the back of every T-shirt:

“Now, whoever has courage, and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.” Virgil, Book 5, Aeneid

And yet there are other emotions. With puff pillows for hands one cannot “do” for oneself in any meaningful way. Sure, one learns to hold on to a water bottle between two gloved hands, but one cannot drink from it unless someone has unscrewed the cap. One also finds oneself being ministered to in such intimate ways. A trainer will towel off the sweat from ones face, apply vaseline, adjust ones clothing, tie a boot, wipe one’s nose. There’s a real “giving over” to allow all of that—a trust that one puts on to others.

img_7438For me the act of putting on the gloves swirls in the duality of empowering myself and giving myself over. At once I seek a kind of perfection of movement and strength, while also allowing myself those helpless feelings: That sense that I cannot always take care of everything whether that means throwing a perfectly executed one-two combination or asking my trainer to dab the sweat out of my eyes.

It’s also how I know that I cannot magically and in any immediate way change the political nightmare I feel we are living through—except that I know that my voice can count among the many and on that basis push through, just as rising three mornings a week in the predawn light and heading to the gym is a sort of metaphor for becoming something better and stronger.

Yes. I’m in the midst of a stew—as many of us are on any given day in the cycle of life, but waking up and feeling the power of the leather hitting a heavy bag goes a long, long way towards making it all a who lot better.

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.

26
Nov
16

77 Front Street

77 Front Street

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Gleason’s Gym, 77 Front Street, Brooklyn, November 26, 2016, Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

I first entered Gleason’s Gym at 77 Front Street in January 1997. It was a late morning, during the week, and I’d been working up the courage to cross the divide into a “real” boxing gym for some time.

Entering the second floor boxing emporium was like stepping into history. It fit every image of a boxing gym I’d ever had. It was somewhat dark, even with the light streaming through the wall of south-facing windows. It was cavernous and peopled inside and outside of the three rings with mostly men, but at least one women punching a heavy bag—who I later learned was Jo, wife of gym owner Bruce Silverglade.

The gym also had a smell to it of old sweat and new sweat, and steam heat and wringing wet gym clothes, that was in strong counterpoint to the almost antiseptic feel of every other gym I’d ever been in—health clubs really, which had been where I’d started my first rudimentary foray into the sweet science.

Standing in Gleason’s for the first time, taking in it all, with Bruce touring me around, I felt a mixture of awe and more awe and a dose of anxiety, watching real boxers spar and train, and finally a sense of triumph for having placed myself among the acolytes of a sport that had been contested since Homer had written about it in the 7th century BC.

It was then I came across the quote from Virgil that so lovingly adorns the wall at Gleason’s:

Now, whoever has courage, and a strong collected spirit to his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.

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What I realized on that morning, was that was going to be me. I was going to face my fear. Face a lifetime of not having understood that I could always have crossed the divide of a boxing gym to box—even though I was a girl, it just took doing it to make it happen.

Back when Gleason’s Gym first opened in 1937 in the South Bronx at 149th Street and Westchester Avenue, it was the largest gym in New York City—no mean feat given the popularly of the sport in a town that had been associated with boxing since it first crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England in the 1820s. There were many, many gyms packed into every corner of the City back then, but Gleason’s became synonymous with boxing in the 1940s and 1950s when such champions as Jake LaMotta, Phil Terranova, and Jimmy Carter, called the gym home. Visiting boxers such as Mohammad Ali continued to give Gleason’s even greater cachet when they came up to the Bronx to train ahead of important fights at boxing’s Mecca, Madison Square Garden. The occasional woman boxed there too—including Jackie Tonawanda who trained there shortly before the gym relocated to West 30th Street in 1974.

Gleason’s continued to maintain its legendary status at its new location for the next 11 years before getting the boot when the building they were in turned co-op and they moved out of Manhattan to 77 Front Street in Brooklyn in 1985. Back then, before DUMBO was even a name, the industrial area was a pretty scary place. Bruce said, at the time, anyone coming to the gym was told to “get off in Brooklyn Heights at Clark Street on the 2 or 3 train and walk down along Henry Street.” He told them to walk the long way around rather than risking the walk through Cadman Park from the High Street A and C station or the route from the F train at York and Jay Streets.

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Bruce Silverglade, owner, Gleason’s Gym, November 26, 2016, Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

The new home while out of the way had everything a great boxing gym needed: space and lots of it, a new owner in Bruce Silverglade who having become a full-time partner with Ira Becker brought the enthusiasm needed to keep the sport going at a time when it was waning in the imagination of the public. Bruce also brought the foresight to commit to having women in the gym and at his insistence built a locker room for women and well as men so that women always felt welcome in the gym.

img_5623As place, however, Gleason’s has always meant more, at least to me. It’s the place where I came into my own physically. I learned to overcome fear not of the ordinary kind, but the fear of my own power. Of being able to release my full physical being onto a boxing bag, and eventually in the ring against a person. It’s also where I learned the generosity of boxers. Of the myriad of tips and tricks my fellow boxers offered, and of hearing the ubiquitous “hi ya’ champ,” from one person or another every time I walked through the gym.

Morning, noon, or night, weekdays or weekends, there’s always someone to offer encouragement–even as they may be breaking one’s “chops” so to speak. And if I happen to get something right in the ring, I’ll hear someone sing out about it.

These days, Gleason’s sports six female boxing champions: Alicia Ashley, Heather Hardy, Ronica Jeffries, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher “Fire” McLeod, and Melissa St. Vil.  And if there’s one thing the gym has brought is a feeling of comfort for women from 6 to 60, and beyond.

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Gleason’s Gym trainers Lennox Blackmoore and Hector Roca, November 26, 2016. Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

When I first stepped into Gleason’s I was 42. These days, at 62, having boxed at Gleason’s on and off for 20 years, I feel it’s my home. As home, however, it’s come to have many meanings: For one, it’s the place where I can feel truly ageless.

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It’s where I’ve penned my Girlboxing blog, and due to the true support and generosity of Bruce Silverglade, it’s where I wrote parts of my book, A History Of Women’s Boxing. More than anything, however, even more than boxing, Gleason’s Gym is where I came into my own as a writer.

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Today, November 26, 2016, marked the last full day of Gleason’s 31 year history at 77 Front Street.

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Come Monday, November 28th, the gym will begin its next incarnation around the corner at 130 Water Street. As Bruce put it, the gym in its fourth iteration is “starting a new chapter.”

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For those of us on the early Saturday morning crew who rattled around this morning, embracing each other and otherwise reminiscing, there was a feeling of camaraderie, awe, and for sure a twinge of sadness. Gleason’s is after all, our collective home, but as Heather Hardy said, “it’s exciting that we are all going over there. And this right here, it won’t be any different from today to Monday.”

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If place is location–then yeah, things will be different, but if place is a state of being then 77 Front Street, will live on for all of us that have called this iteration of Gleason’s Gym home. And sure the paint won’t be peeling in the new place, and it’ll be C-L-E-A-N clean, we all figure after a few weeks that special Gleason’s odor will start to permeate the space, and before we know it the paint will start to peel there too.

02
Nov
15

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:

23
Oct
15

Alicia Ashley in the ring to win back her WBC Title on 10/29/2015

Alicia Ashley in the ring to win back her WBC Title on 10/29/2015

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Alicia “Slick” Ashley remains one of the most compelling fighters in women’s boxing not only for her longevity in the sport (she fought in the first ever U.S. nationals as an amateur in the late 1990s), but in her ability to perform at the top of her game as a virtuoso of the art of boxing. And no wonder too, Ashley started her career as a dancer before embracing kickboxing and eventually the sweet science.

11911347_1020705724628826_6601443186204025369_nAt 48, (yes that’s a story too), Ashley will be heading back into the ring on October 29th at Aviator Sports & Events Center in New York City  (a complex located on the famed Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn) with a view towards reclaiming the WBC Female Super Bantamweight Title belt she lost, some would say controversally so, to Jackie Nava thirteen months ago in Mexico. Ashley will battle against Ireland’s Christina McMahon (7-0), a 40-year-old latercomer to the professional side of the sport who holds the current interim WBC Female Bantamweight Title.  The co-main event is on a Brooklyn Brawl card promoted by Dimitry Salita.

Ashley’s career has  tracked alongside the near-on tragic highs and lows of women’s boxing in the panoply of American sports television with its boom-bust cycle of support, promotion, paydays and opportunities for the talented working professionals who grace the boxing gyms of the U.S. across the country with their remarkable work ethic and love of a game that at best ignores them and at worst actively seeks to keep them off the air–and thereby out of the running for the opportunity to earn a living.

That tide of lows *may* be on a slight uptick given that CBS Sports (cable) aired the four-round Amanda Serrano v.  Fatima Zarika fight on 5/29/2015 (the first such fight on the network since the late 1970s) and the very public statements by Shane Mosely castigating the boxing industry for keeping women’s boxing off the air. To prove that it wasn’t just all “mouth,” he went on to put the Maureen Shea v. Luna Avila IBF World Female Super Bantamweight ten round title fight on his Pay Per View card on 8/29/2015 with the promise that there will be more to come–although there has been little to no discussion about it since.

WBC Headshot Alicia Ashley. Photo curtesy of Alicia Ashley

For Ashley, long an advocate for equity in the sport, the potential uptick–which those of us in the game who truly advocate for women’s boxing watch as avidly as the Dow Jones–this may mean the opportunity for slightly higher pay days, but given that she is a champion four times over, she’s far from being known as Alicia “Money” Ashley, and can only earn a decent payday in places like Mexico (likely the equivalent of “Money” Mayweather‘s tips after a  night out in Las Vegas). And by a slightly higher pay-day, I mean the chance to take a vacation or upgrade the equipment she uses as a boxing trainer at Gleason’s Gym where she works from early in the morning till late in the day, six days a week.

This is the life of a female boxing champion–our Bernard Hopkins, if you will, whose dancer-like poise, defensive genius and ring savvy thrills each and every time she steps into the ring.

Ahead of her championship title match, Ashley continues to labor at Gleason’s Gym where “camp” means adding in an extra couple of hours a day to spar and train in addition to working with her clients.  This is not an unknown as other female boxing champions/trainers such as Heather Hardy, Shelito Vincent and Keisher “Fire” McLeod must do the same to earn enough money to compete. On the “bright side,” being a trainer means pretty much staying in condition, if not in boxing “game day” shape. Hmmm….

Photo curtesy of Alicia Ashley

In between her busy schedule, Ashley took the time to respond to a Girlboxing Q & A. Here’s what she had to say:

1.  You’ve got an upcoming WBC Female Superbantamweight fight on 10/29/2015 at Aviator Sports in Brooklyn, NY for the vacant title against Irish boxer Christina McMahon. Although at 41 years of age she’s only 7-0, she does have the interim WBC World Bantamweight title. What can you tell us about her and how this bout came together?
I actually don’t know that much about Christina other than her going into someone else’s back yard and winning the title. There isn’t that much video on her and I feel her record doesn’t fully speak to her experience. She, like I, joined the sport after fighting as a kickboxing champion and that in itself means she’s not new to the game. Every opponent is dangerous no matter their experience.
2. You lost the title a year ago to Jackie Nava, a fight some observers felt you may have won or at the very least fought to a draw (as one judge saw it)–with the loss coming because of how your style (you are called “Slick” for a reason) is one that the Mexican judges may not have felt showed enough to score rounds in your favor. Even with that loss, you had a TKO win over Grecia Nova two months later in Haiti–where you continued to fight in your cool “slick” manner.  As you prepare to fight McMahon — what are you focusing on to ensure that the judges will see the fight your way if it goes the distance?
I can only ‘fight’ my fight. Yes, I am a slick boxer and although the desire is to never leave it in the hands of the judges, sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. I’m not known as a knockout artist but I think my style of boxing will definitely be appreciated more here in the US. It’s not just about being a hard puncher, it’s about being effective.
3. We’ve talked before about the state of women’s boxing, the frustration of finding promoters to put women’s bouts on cards, the frustration of seeing cards put together only to fall apart (as happened with this fight originally scheduled for September), the intense battle for pay equity (a losing one for certain right now), along with the continued absence of female bouts on television in America with very few exceptions.  Given that Amanda Serrano appeared on CBS in late May, and Maureen Shea on Shane Mosely’s PPV card at the end of August, along with two female bouts on PBC cards on 9/11/ & 9/12 respectively, if not on television–in your view, is there any reason for optimism?
I should hope that there’s always reason for optimism, but its disappointing that in this day and age the amount of female fights broadcast can be counted on one hand. I’ve been in this business over 14yrs and am still shocked that I’m more well known in other countries. That they are more inclined to showcase female fighters than we are. This I feel is the main reason we continue to get astronomically low wages. In fact, 10 years ago when I fought for my first title I earned more than they are offering women now. How can we continue to accept way less than we are worth and then expect it to get better? This battle cannot just be fought by a few women.
Photo credit: Hitomi Mochizukii. Curtesy of Alicia Ashley.
4.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have observed you take a wide range of male and female boxers to school sparring at Gleason’s Gym, not to mention having seen a few of your fights in person over the last few years. At 48, you are continuing not only to fight competitively, but seemingly to remain at the top of your game. Win, lose or draw on the 29th, are you of a mind to continue boxing competitively for the foreseeable future?
I continue to fight not only because I love the sport but because I do remain competitive. I can honestly say that I leave my fights and sparring without any serious damage. That is the main reason I have longevity in this sport, the ability to not get hit. Other than people being shocked at my age, which is not noticeable in or out of the ring, I’m not battle weary in any way.
5. You are an inspiration to female boxers and have developed into a phenomenal trainer and coach. Do you see yourself pushing on that front to start seeking out professional women to train and take into that aspect of the sport–or will you continue to focus on women new to the sport or pushing their way into the amateurs?
Thank you. I feel its important to pass on any knowledge that I have and am very honored at the women, amateurs or professionals, who seek me out and are accepting of it. The one thing that I’ve been working on is doing a female fight seminar. This is more about being able to break down fighting styles, picking up the nuances of a technique and being able to adjust accordingly. Quite a few females that I’ve sparred, especially in round robin, are surprised at how well I can adjust to the different styles and I believe experience with seeing the ‘bigger picture’ is an important tool to the trade. Anything that I can do to elevate women’s boxing, I will.
6. What do you tell your young female fighters who may want to enter the sport professionally? Or put another way, is there a future for them to seek out?
I’m hoping that with each new generation of female fighters that there is some kind of progress in the right direction. I try to be realistic with my fighters and they are not clueless. Most, if not all the female fighters, have a full time job and don’t expect to break the bank as a professional. What we are hoping is to at least be able to live comfortably and at this point very, very few women can attest to that.
7. You always talked about boxing as performance–if you do decide to wind down the competitive aspects of your career in the sport do you see other avenues for expressing art in the public realm?
It’s very hard for me to look past boxing right now. It was the same with dance. I had no other avenues mapped out before I was injured and its the same now. I’m currently teaching the sport so I essentially I already am in that new chapter.
8. I look upon you in awe sometimes as a professional fighter, body artist–because to tell you the truth that how it appears in your case–and talent when it comes to coaching and mentoring. What does it all feel like as you perform in those roles and as you look to embark on yet another performance on the 29th?  In other words, what is that is motivating you to express yourself so strongly and with such power in the ring?
I’m in awe myself when people express such respect or inform me that I’m an inspiration to them. As you know, I always equate my boxing as a performance and its my duty to entertain and captivate the audience for 20 minutes. Attention span is so short nowadays that its a challenge in itself to keep people mesmerized and that is all the motivation I need.

Alicia Ashley versus Jackie Nava … you be the judge.

 

05
Sep
15

We only have each other … women’s boxing

We only have each other … women’s boxing

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Six Women’s Boxing Champions at Gleason’s Gym: (l to r) Melissa St. Vil, Fire McLeod, Heather Hardy, Ronica Jeffries, Susie Ramadan, Alicia Ashley. Photo credit: Hosking Promotions

Women’s boxing has garnered a fair amount of press in the United States of late from the split-draw IBF Female Super Bantamweight title fight between Maureen “The Real Million Dollar Baby” Shea (24-2-1) and Luna “La Cobrita” Avila (12-2-1) on Shane Mosely’s Pay Per View extravaganza, to the announcement that Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (33-2-3) will fight UFC’s reigning WMMA champion Ronda Rousey in November on the UFC193 card in Melbourne, Australia.

Action will also be heating up in September with a series of bouts featuring East Coast professional female boxers including the return of Alicia “Slick” Ashley (22-10-1) in a WBC Female Superbantamweight title fight on September 15th, Shelito Vincent (14-0) in an 8-rounder at Foxwoods Casino on September 12th (with the top of the card broadcast on NBC), Ronica Jeffrey (13-1) in a 6-rounder on September 11th, and Amanda Serrano in a 6-rounder on September 10th.

Added to that mix will be Australian boxer “Shotgun” Shannon O’Connell (11-3)  making her North American boxing debut in Toronto against Canadian fighter Sandy “Lil Tyson” Tsagouris. The two will battle in an 8-rounder on the undercard of a PBC/Spike TV card headed by the Adonis Stevenson v. Tommy Karpency WBC World light heavyweight title fight.

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(l to r) Susie Ramadan, Alicia Ashley, Shannon O’Connell, Photo Credit: Hosking Promotions

Ahead of her fight, Shannon O’Connell along with two-time world champion Susie Q. Ramadan (23-3) have embarked on a tour of the U.S. with their trainers, promoter Lynden Hosking of Hosking Promotions and U.S. advisor, Eddie Montalvo. The tour has led the two fighters to New York City, and the world-famous Gleason’s Gym where both women had the opportunity to meet with the likes of Keisher “Fire” McLeod, Ronica Jeffries, Melissa St. Vil, Alicia Ashley, and Heather Hardy–a veritable who’s who of women’s boxing champions.

Girlboxing had a chance to meet and talk with O’Connell, Ramadan, promoter Hosking and Heather Hardy who sparred Ramadan for three tough hard-fought rounds.  While the interviews were brief, the sentiment expressed was one of optimism for the sport over all and most importantly of the need for connection and support among the fighters as they battle for recognition and opportunities to practice their art.

Here’s what everyone had to say:

10
Jul
15

The thing about being a girl

The thing about being a girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iman James, amateur boxer, Brooklyn, NY

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

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

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

“Even when you fight?” I asked.

“I always wear makeup,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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May 2017
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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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