Posts Tagged ‘Homer

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.

10
Jul
15

The thing about being a girl

The thing about being a girl

age11.webatuck.1965

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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05
Aug
12

Olympic dreams all 36 of them!

Olympic dreams all 36 of them!

One of the great things about life is the capacity to surprise. Beyond surprises though are the hopes and dreams that inform all of our greatest achievements. Today marked one of those brilliant moments when the first of the thirty-six female boxing Olympians donned the gloves to make their mark on history.

The first women to step into the ring were two flyweights: Russia’s Elena Savelyeva in her bout against North Korea’s Hye Song Kim. The rounds were hard fought if not the most elegant of bouts, but it didn’t matter. Both women fought with heart, tenacity and gumption having both spent years in the ring perfecting their skills for that one moment. Savelyeva won the fight by a 12-9 decision after four rounds–and with her win, what had at one time seemed so impossible became something ordinary, women boxing at the Olympics as if they had always boxed at that vaulted contest whose history as a venue for boxing spans millennia.

And to my mind, watching it through the miracle of digital images transported across space, Teddy Atlas‘ voice speaking to the heart of what makes a champion, it was hard not to feel the pomp and circumstance of the Olympian spirit that permeates the Games in the best sense. I thought of old Nestor in The Iliad lamenting his age and its denial of his chance to sport once more in the ring of combat. It gave those moments a kind of “churchiness” as each young women resplendent in blue and red, their shiny new head-gear and gloves in place; gave it their all with skill and ring savvy and dreams of Olympic glory informing their pas de deux around the canvas.

I ached for Queen Underwood whose years of hard work came to a crashing halt–pushing through tears as she spoke so eloquently for the cameras about her 21-13 loss to Natasha Jonas. Queen fought with fire, each punch the culmination of thousands of hours of gym time as so many pathways of muscle memory. She said, “I took a big jump in my life to get here.”  And she did, but more than her jump, she jumped for all of us. Yes, she is terribly disappointed that she didn’t go on–but she should also know that she was a champion walking into the ring and no less a champion walking out.

Perhaps that’s the point. Each of the thirty-six athletes who will box over the course of the next few days has taken a big jump to get to the Olympics. They have endured countless years of hard labor at their craft and have overcome the personal trials and tribulations that inform a life to step up into the ring in the first place–not to mention enduring the “slings and arrows” if you will, of a wider public that has been somewhat unforgiving when it comes to supporting the sport of women’s boxing.

What I saw today, however, was a brilliant display of skill and temerity–pure and simple and as my husband put, “I keep forgetting that I’m watching women because they’re just great boxers!”  Would that all of us could embrace this wonderous sport with such ease.

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Today’s bout sheet results from AIBA!

Queen Underwood’s emotional post-fight interview from NBC.

17
Apr
12

Women have always fought!

Women have always fought!

Female Gladiators, Amazona and Achillia. Marble relief known as the Missio of Halicarnassus depicting two female gladiators. Copyright © The British Museum. Credit: Stephen Murray

Boxing has long been considered a hypermasculine sport harnessing masculine ideals of virility and aggression. It has resonated across millennia as an icon of sacred tradition that stretches as far back as the ancient Greeks with even earlier references to the sport in Mesopotamian cultures.

The earliest known literary reference to boxing is Homer’s depiction of the boxing match at the Funeral of Patroclus in The Illiad. Homer begins this section with the older Nestor’s talk with the Greek hero, Achilles:

My legs no longer firm, my friend, dead on my feet,

Nor do my arms go shooting from my shoulders—

the stunning punch, the left and right are gone.

Oh make me young again, and the strength inside me

steady as a rock! (Homer, The Iliad 579)

When thinking about martial contests, however, what might not be so readily apparent is that women have also enacted one or another form of martial ritual including boxing for just as long.

Accounts of Spartan educational regimens for young women in the same time period as The Iliad show that young female Spartans were trained for fighting in the same short tunic[1] as young men and competed against them during training on a regular basis. The Roman poet Propertius also wrote of women with their “arms [bound] with thongs for boxing.”

Other forms of Greco-Roman cultural representations include the marble relief sculpture depicting two female gladiators known as the Missio of Halicarnassus from the first or second century CE and the black-figured hydria of Atalanta and Peleus Wrestling from 550 BCE.

Atalanta wrestling Peleus, Chalcidian black-figure
hydria C6th B.C., Antikensammlungen, Munich, Credit: http://www.theoi.com

Based on the myth of Atalanta, the hydria depicts her defeat of Peleus in a wrestling match at the funeral games of King Pelias. Given the importance of Funeral Games as “symbolic conflict” that both stand in for actual combat (the physical clashing of the bodies) and as a contest of honor, wherein the vanquished is raised up by the victor, the inclusion of female figures in such representations is certainly provocative.

Diana of Versailles, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, Credit: http://www.theoi.com

However, given that Atalanta is also depicted as a particular favorite of Artemis, Goddess of both the hunt and maidenhood, we can begin to tease out a notion of gender identity in Greco-Roman culture which allows for a “third way” if you will: that of the maiden huntress/warrioress that also links to the myth of the Amazons.

The warrior women, variously described as a tribe of gyno-centric warrior females were quoted by Herodotus as saying “We would find it impossible to live with [other] women, because our practices are completely different from theirs. We haven’t learnt women’s work. We shoot arrows, wild javelins, ride horses—things which your women never have anything to do with.”

It can be argued that such depictions are liminal, based on a time between girlhood and motherhood. In this in-between space these young women are depicted as small breasted and virginal, thus creating an otherness between maleness and femaleness, on the order of Goddess Artemis and Diana. The status of these figures makes them free to hunt and even pursue martial enactments of maleness, however, the price of doing so is to remain pre-sexual.

Statue of a wounded Amazon, 1st–2nd century A.D.
Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue, ca. 450–425 B.C.
Marble. Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The myth of Atalanta is a perfect embodiment of this ideal. Atalanta enacts warriorness side-by-side with her shipmates Jason and the Argonauts, but can only do so as long as she remains a virgin. The depiction of the mythic women also inevitably shows them in short tunics rather than in long ankle length skirts – thus clearly mimicking the dress of Artemis and Diana. And in some cases, representing a depiction of actual cross-dressing: wearing a short tunic skirt instead of a long skirt.  It should be noted that there are figures of Artemis in a long gown, however, those skirts typically open and show that she is free to run.

To my way of thinking, these are important threads in considering the significant place of female fighting figures historically.


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[1] Spartan training of young girls was also under the influence of the Goddess Artemis who was often depicted in a short tunic. Throughout Greece, girls participated in formal Games (though not the Olympics) primarily in foot races with aspects of religious ritual associated with such participation.

Work Cited

Boddy, Kasia. Boxing: A Cultural History. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. 2008. Print.

Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. Fifth Impression Edition. Eds. Robert B. Strassler. Trans. Andrea L. Purvis. New York: Pantheon (2007). Print.

Homer. The Iliad. Deluxe Edition. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.

Murray, Stephen. “Female Gladiators of the Ancient Roman World.” Journal of Combative Sport. July 2003. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

Papadopoulos, Maria. “The Women in Ancient Sparta: The Dialogue between the Divine and the Human.” SPARTA 6.2 (2010): 5-10. Print.

Plutarch, The Parallel Lives. Loeb Classic Library Edition. N.P. 1914. Uchicago.edu Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

23
Nov
10

Dark at 6:00 AM

Dark at 6:00 AM

Not that I want to complain or anything, but if you live in Brooklyn, NY and wake-up at 6:00 AM, you’re waking up in the dark.  Okay, true, most northern cities around the planet experience this as a regular feature of the winter months, but it doesn’t make it any more palatable.

So why am I up?  Well work for one, but more so to find the time for sit-ups and crunches, shadowing boxing, sun salutations, and in general gaining some moments before the rush of the day.  That it’s all in the dark gives this time a bit of mystery.  As if I were an acolyte of Nyx, the Greek Goddess of Night, reveling in the time before Helios makes his way across the sky in his golden chariot.

Waking up in the dark also seems to push one’s sense of purpose; as if in wrenching oneself from what otherwise feels so natural, one has made a bold statement of the importance of the time before morning.  Sure, it is morning by the clock, but the body remains in revolt, at least mine does.  And even as I make my moves around the living room, I keep looking out the window in the hopes of connecting myself with the first rays of morning light — recognizing that I will only find myself tune with the a natural order of things at that moment when I spy Homer’s “rosy fingered dawn.”




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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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