Tag Archives: Gleason’s Gym

Getting it wrong to get it right

December Roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

December roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

I’ve been having that sort of week.

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

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

Last night was so ridiculous.

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

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

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

Holidays?

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

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

Jed’s forgetting who Izzi was last week?

Cheng Man-ching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boxing Saturdays

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

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

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

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

It was a lot of fun.

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

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

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

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

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

Caregiving and the holidays …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To stay calm.

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

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

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

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

Telling the truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then truth works.

Makes sense.

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

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

Reflecting the positive

Gleason’s Gym, September 23, 2021


I admit it. Not every day is stellar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s always tomorrow.

 

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

forgiveness ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will close with this:

To those I have wronged, I ask for forgiveness.

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

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

To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you …

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

Cantor Josef Rosenblatt singing Kol Nidre from a 1930 recording.

Last rounds of the year …

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the easy path of cheating at solitaire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year – Shanah Tovah!

Stamina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If not now, when

I set my alarm to wake up at 5:15 AM today.

Now up and making my way through our quiet apartment, I am aware that it is dark again. A quick check shows the sunrise today will be at 6:07 AM, a sign, even in mid-August, that the sun is well into its descent from the northern latitudes towards its winter digs. If I measure life as a cycle of comings and goings from sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise, it’s also a reminder that it all keeps moving whether we are conscious of it or not.

Where did the brightness of the morning go at 5:15 AM? Wasn’t it just there when I woke up ahead of the alarm to make my way to the gym?

Writing this, I am aware that it’s the very consciousness of things that is beginning to concern me.

Where does the time “go”?

I ask having spent a lovely couple of hours yesterday evening with my daughter wandering through the Ikea in Red Hook as we grabbed stuff for her college dorm room. Could it really be that she goes back to college in a week and a half? Or that it is her second year?

That collapse of time, accompanied by the sense of its moving on without being aware of it is why I set my alarm for 5:15 AM today. Yes, it’s a weekday, so I have to go to work, but no, it’s not a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, so my day will not start with my hour’s workout at Gleason’s Gym. This hour will have another purpose—it marks a beginning of sorts; a reminder that each day should bring its daily something; some moment where I take the time to remind myself to smell the roses.

Today’s moment is this: It is the act of waking up early and becoming conscious that the sun hasn’t risen yet—and then contemplating why I didn’t notice it yesterday or the day before or the day before that.

It’s when I ask myself if not now, when in a life that is otherwise fast-paced and so punctuated by a constant bombardment of information that it’s no wonder I haven’t looked out the window to be conscious of the darkness of the sky—or of how as I have written these words the pre-dawn light has begun to glow with a grayish blue tinged by pink and little bits of yellow.

A few things I know

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The gym is closed today

My ritual of morning is out of kilter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes an added bit of something, sometimes not.

Each has a place in my ritual of morning.

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

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

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

 

 

Sometimes what we need is the sublime

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

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

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

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

What I saw was the work.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Truth and lies

Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990. He went on to be inaugurated President of South Africa on May 10, 1994.

At the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in 1994, one of the most brilliant decisions made early on was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was based on an act passed in 1995 (Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act) on the belief that “a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.” It was an opportunity for victims and perpetrators to tell their stories and seek assistance in some cases and amnesty in others–and for the men and women of South Africa to rebuild their nation freed of the burdens of the apartheid era.

I know that I am simplifying a complex process that continues to the this day–but the lessons learned are instructive and cautionary as we continue to grapple with truth and lies in our body politic and in our personal lives.

No, it is never okay to abuse someone–whether physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally. Just as it is never okay to perpetrate abuses against classes of persons whether they be ethnic, religious, sexual or otherwise. More to the point in what feels like a veritable war on sanity and justice–perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to confront our own truths and lies and an adage I take to heart, which is that cheating at solitaire serves no purpose, except perhaps to “kick the can” down the road as sooner or later truth wins out.

In the case of Rob Porter the current poster child for cheating at solitaire–here we have by all reports a brilliant person, who just happens to be an abusive sod. His behavior was abhorrent in not one, but two marriages, all known and discussed, ad infinitum it would seem, to include discussions with clergy and others as it was all playing out, not once, but twice. Fast forward lots of years and here he is begging his wives to downplay his abusive behavior so that he can get his FBI clearance–with nary a thought to what would happen to them if they perjured themselves. Not to mention the current President of the United States whose twitter rants read like alternative fiction when it comes to taking responsibility for ones actions.

I’ve lived long enough to observe and experience the ebb and flow of progressive politics, gender wars, civil rights fights and the inevitable backlash. I’ve also seen the lip service paid to affording people “equal” rights–while hearing damnable prejudice, sexism and everything else one can think of flung about quite openly.

In a recent conversation at Gleason’s Gym, someone was speaking of his Jewish grandmother who’d left Poland in the early 1900s. He had asked her one day if she’d ever go back and she said, “Never. I have no good memories there. My brother and my cousin were both killed for nothing. Why would I go back?”

We mulled that over for a minute or two, and then he said, “Can you imagine that? That’s why America was like gold to her and her generation.”

After a moment I said, “For her perhaps, but that was life for Black folks: people killed for nothing. Was it gold for them?”

And that, I believe is the crux of things for us. We refuse to see our own truths for what they are: we ignore the truths of our lives as victims and as perpetrators, and in so doing we perpetuate these actions as normative. Think of the parent who insists they are setting their kid straight when language spews out that belittles and diminishes their child, or think of the actions of a President who calls out an entire ethnic group as rapists and criminals.

It really is up to us to say enough as enough, and if not in the formal setting of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission–at the very least in the conduct of our daily lives and in how we hold our elected leaders accountable.

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.

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.