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Brawling in Busan

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You hear a fire alarm going off in the distance, and blackness flashes before your eyes. Your neck jerks back, and you can hear and feel a series of cracks from the base of your neck down between your shoulder blades. The blisters on the tips of your big toes have popped, making you feel as though they are being pierced by an electrified needle. Knowing that if you quit bouncing around you quit living, you retreat backwards a few steps and pepper him with a few jabs, followed by a cross to his chin. As a reply the tall, broad-shoulder, muscular and baby-faced guy throws an uppercut into your stomach, making you bite down on your mouth guard as a wounded soldier would onto a lead bullet.

Only a few of your shots land on target, and he easily evades your slow but powerful hooks to the body. There’s a popping feeling as your nose is hit full on. You can almost imagine your coach yelling “Keep your guard up!” Soon the skirmish turns into an all out brawl, never mind that your opponent is at least four years older, has 11 months of experience on you, outweighs you by forty pounds, and is taller by six inches. Funnily enough, you both aren’t good at dodging each other’s punches- you take them as they come. You hunker down and shuffle your feet towards him, knowing that his size is his weakness. If you get one good hook on his side you can follow with a cross to the cheek (the last guy who drew blood from your pretty face recommended that you punch him where it hurts: the chin)

Boxing is the toughest and loneliest sport in the world- Frank Bruno

You fire off a rapid combo of jabs, crosses, and prime your hook to the body. He deflects the jabs, takes the cross, and dodges the hook, and gives you the classic one-two to the forehead before you even fully raise your upper body. Ding. You’re both sweating heavily, and retreat to your respective corners. The only people watching this spectacular match between the German shepherd (him) and the rabid pit bull (me) are the heavy bags and two fat teenage girls trying to lose weight by sending text messages. Oh yeah, and the coach is watching TV in his office. Ding.

More cautious, you bob and weave your way to your opponent. In the back of your head you feel proud of yourself because you managed to take three or four direct shots to the torso and didn’t go down. Sure, it didn’t feel too pretty but you didn’t go down. Your opponent is nice enough, and doesn’t break any ribs or your nose. That’s good. Before when you started your heart was burning, ready to take on the world. You got your lip split and your pride died. Now you can dodge better, hit better, and take hits better than before. The last round is not too exciting- the second round was a cockfight, a beer hall brawl, depending on where you’ve been- but the last round is just about your punches skidding off your opponents arms like rain off a tin roof, while he throws hooks to your head. Ding.

You have a small period of time when you can perfect your career and become good at it. A lot of guys get distracted, which only hurts them. You must stay focused and work very hard at boxing. –Gene Tunney

With your nose feeling as though it’s been stung by a bee (not a butterfly) you grin as best you can with a piece of plastic in your mouth and hug him. It’s quite something for people to want to kill each other and then have to hug each other three seconds later. The coach is waiting for you outside the ring. He’s probably killing time during a commercial for the TV show he’s watching on fishing. “Good game?” he asks your opponent. He nods, and rips his gloves off. The coach turns to me. “You handled it alright?” You spit the mouthguard out of your mouth and answer “yes, sir!” “Now go hit the goddamn bags. Ask your opponent for advice on how not to get hit.”

The lesson of the day is not that hunkering down and setting up body shots is predictable, takes more time and effort than it’s worth, but that once you’re beaten you should parley with your opponent for a while. Humility and friendliness at the boxing gym will take you farther than two hundred pushups and five hundred sit ups (which do really help) and your opponent is more than willing to share with you his hard-earned wisdom. You know that you did the right thing today, by coming to the gym, going three rounds with a veteran, because the important thing is you never backed down.

“A champion is someone who gets up, even when he can’t”- Jack Dempsey




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