Boxing is the sport of kings, the ultimate physical chess match observing the Marquess of Queensberry rules, mostly unchanged since 1867, but really not popular since the days of Tyson. Mcgregor vs. Mayweather temporarily brought it back, but team sports have really tightened their grip on the American imagination, and probably won’t relinquish it any time soon. Here’s why you should forget going to a pickup game down at the park and go to your local boxing gym instead.
When I was a teenager, it felt like I wasn’t scared of anything. In fact, as men, other than the innate fear of sharks or heights or mothers-in-law, I think fear is mainly a learned reaction, to failure or embarrassment or shame; it’s the voice in your head that says “ABORT, this didn’t work out so well last time”. And so little by little, failure by failure, I found myself in my late twenties scared to approach women, scared of confrontation, and nervous as hell whenever any altercation broke out at the basketball court. This may be overselling it- I wasn’t a coward, and often disagreements started because of a fair bit of trash talking on my end. But it felt like at every turn I had to contend with instincts that wanted to drag me away from facing fears, fears that hid all the best life had to offer. Jack Canfield famously said “Everything you’ve ever wanted lies on the other side of fear.” It’s a beautiful quote, but quotes alone don’t do much but fill you with a can-do attitude for about fifteen minutes until you’ve forgotten them in the face of life’s next battle. So what do you do? Like anything, it takes practice, and for me, boxing has been a God-send.
There’s a time and a place for fighting, and that time is almost never, the place almost always nowhere. But on occasion, as a man you need to step up to a challenge, and combat sports really help prepare you for that. We can argue all day about what the best martial art is for a street fight, but they all help you mentally. The fact that you’ve been in this situation before and handled it takes some of the shock out of the confrontation. Because make no mistake, the fact that your trainer is watching and you have gloves and headgear on doesn’t alter the fact that it’s an honest to God fight. Getting punched in the face is a fantastic experience, a great way to test yourself, and altogether rare in today’s kinder, gentler world. And while I would certainly never talk someone out of studying other arts like Brazilian Jujitsu, as effective a martial art as it is, even there you’re not getting punches thrown at your head.
In my experience, boxers are some of the nicest dudes in the world, which I was surprised to learn. Why? Because they have nothing to prove. They regularly spar and test themselves in the ring, and when you do that, a funny thing happens: you’re LESS likely to want confrontation outside the gym. If you’re anything like me, when you find yourself in a conflict deciding whether to escalate, the rational voice in your head telling you to walk away gets questioned- am I willing to avoid a fight because it’s the smart thing, or am I really just scared and looking for an excuse? When you’ve already tested yourself, this self-doubt tends to fade. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, most importantly yourself, because you’ve done that in the ring, over and over. On top of that, regular training will leave you so exhausted you may find it difficult to summon the will to do so much as exchange harsh words with anyone.
Here’s the thing: every single time I drive to the gym knowing I’m going to spar, I get absurdly nervous. Every. Single. Time. Dry mouth, shaky, the works. I mean, can you think of a better allegory for life than boxing? Knowing you’re going to get in a ring and test your skills and toughness against another man, with no one to rely on but yourself, but still heading toward the challenge anyway? Do that a few times and the interview you’ve got scheduled will seem 89 percent less daunting. I’ve had terrible sparring sessions, where I’ve looked like an outclassed rookie, and times where I’ve felt smoother than Floyd, but in the end, the feeling I get afterwards, in addition to the endorphin high of the toughest workout on the planet, is as positive as the feeling before sparring is negative. Because win or lose, facing your fears head on IS a win. When people say failure is really just a successful discovery of what doesn’t work, it doesn’t really set in until you’ve sparred three rounds, gotten your ass whooped, and still feel a sense of accomplishment.
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is perhaps the most powerful ability we as men can develop. It enables you to push at the boundaries of life, because anything worth doing is going to take us far outside our comfort zones. It doesn’t really matter how you hone this skill, but if you’re struggling with stagnancy and need a push, boxing can be absolutely game changing.