Becoming a Boxer: Honing My Hits

Credit: Sarah Blesener

“No, it should sound like ‘BAP-BOP!’” said Baruc Martinez, head coach of Martinez Boxing who took me on as one of his fighters, as he swung his hand pads in the air. “One right after another. Quick! Bap-BOP!”

When I first asked Baruc if he would train me to fight, I knew I had a long way to go. After assessing my base-level abilities during week one of training together, I realized how much of an understatement that was. I had no sense of what a left hook should look or feel like, and it showed. It took weeks to get me to learn how to recruit my whole body for a punch so that my hips, trunk, shoulders, and fists worked all together to deliver punches as solid as my 140-pound frame could throw. The first time I overheard Baruc telling someone else in the gym that I have “some pop in my punches,” I felt like I had made it to the top of some imaginary training podium.

But learning how to correctly throw a punch just gets you to the starting line in boxing. Everything after that is a step in the right direction to a finish line that doesn’t end in mastery, just a decision to be done with the sport. Bleak, but it’s the same sentiment that di Vinci shared when he said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Regardless, I’ve been working tirelessly on my craft — especially after a small breakdown made me falter. You always get that bounce-back surge after suffering a setback, and I’m trying to take full advantage of feeling purposeful and energetic during my workouts.

I can finally run again for the first time in seven weeks, so incorporating the much-needed cardio (carefully, since I don’t need any more broken feet) has changed my workouts. The regime now looks something like this: run two miles on the treadmill, four rounds of jump rope, six rounds of shadowbox, four rounds of pad work, six rounds on the heavy bag, two rounds of head movement and defense, 100 push-ups, 200 ab exercises, and two more miles on the treadmill.

And just because the quantity is up doesn’t mean that the quality of my workout has gone down. All of my miles on the treadmill have to be a sub 8-minute mile pace, I have to add weights to half of my ab reps, and Baruc has been cracking down on my pad work. Having some “pop” in my punches wasn’t enough anymore. To win a fight you have to be stronger, faster, and smarter than your opponent. Now, instead of learning foundational combinations on pads (jab-jab-straight or jab-straight-hook), Baruc is teaching me the subtleties that you can add to punch combos. It’s like picking the mix-ins for an ice cream sundae — they all have the same vanilla base, but you get to choose your flavor.

There are fakes, where you come at your opponent like you’re going to throw a punch, wait until they flinch out of position, and then throw the punch when their guard is down. There are awkward punches, where you wind up for a punch loaded up on one side and then lunge forward to hit your opponent with the hand that wasn’t in position to throw. Then there’s my personal favorite, the teaser, where you purposefully let your guard down — stick your head out looking like an easy target to get them to swing — then you quickly duck their punch and counter back with a fully loaded hook or straight right to the face. The thing about each of these tricks is that they require perfect timing. If you’re off by even half a second, it’s not going to work. At best you’re going to miss and at worst you’re going to get hit — hard.

Just like with most drills, I can make my fakes, awkward punches, and teasers look great in practice — but they aren’t so crisp during sparring rounds. And so I practice, learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to get that sweet timing just right (without taking a hammer to the chin).

Finding my flavor and fine-tuning the fundamentals has brought the zest and fire back into my training. Sure, I still feel like I got hit by a Mack truck at the end of most days. But I’m starting to feel strong enough to hit back.