It's universally accepted that getting punched in the face is not fun. Yet that's precisely what boxers deal with every time they step into a ring. For them, a bad day at the office means being on the receiving end of a fist flying towards them at high velocity.
So I kept telling myself, even before I wound on my hand wraps for my introduction to boxing, that it was reasonable to be filled with a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. I've always been curious about boxing (hence the excitement part) but have always been petrified of getting a shiner (hence the anxiety).
In combat sports, you constantly hear that safety is of the utmost importance. But, as I arrived at DEF Boxing gym for my session with head trainer Jay Lau Chi-yuen, that thought did little to take the edge off any jitters. Let's face it, boxing is not for everyone - especially not the sissies.
Coach Lau got me started by fitting me with a pair of 16oz (about 450 grams) gloves. Olympic hopefuls will compete with 10oz gloves. Heavier gloves provide more padding for the puncher (less impact on the hand) and the punched (less impact on the face and body). Although my gloves looked colossal - almost like small cushions - they felt lighter than they appeared, and were quite easy to manoeuvre. Midway through the session, though, they felt like mini-dumbbells.
Before a boxing bout, a referee will invite both fighters to the centre of the ring, where he will tell them the number one rule in boxing: protect yourself at all times. The most common way to protect oneself in boxing is to keep your hands up. In the basic fighting stance, both hands are raised up around the chin area, with the elbows tucked tightly into the body. People commonly believe boxers possess massive arms for generating powerful punches. Coach Lau says arms are more for defence - they function like a shield. The larger the arms, the greater the area protected.
Punches are thrown directly from the fighting stance with little to no "wind-up". Wind-up makes you telegraph your punches, giving your opponent more time to react.
A common misconception is that punching power comes from the arms. In fact, punching power comes from the entire body, and much of it comes from your base - the legs and hip rotation. After throwing some jabs, uppercuts and hooks at a punching bag, my entire body felt exhausted. Most of all, my legs were burning.
The jab is the most basic, and most-used punch, in boxing. It is a measuring stick to gauge distance and timing, to keep your opponent at bay and to score points. It's typically thrown with the lead hand - the hand closest to your opponent - in a straight line directed to the opponent's face.
The hook, which comes from the side, was the most difficult punch for me. There's something strange about entering at such an angle and my hand would often glide off the bag. I needed to make my punches stick, striking the bag with all four knuckles, so the bulk of the force was spread among them all. This provides more impact per punch and reduces the chance of breaking a hand.
An uppercut comes from an upward movement aimed at an opponent's chin. This was also a lot more difficult than I had expected.
After doing some bag and pad work, I progressed to the speed bag, a ball-shaped object dangling from a wooden board. Coach Dave Lam Tsing told me the speed ball is meant to improve timing - helping rhythm trump brute power. It looked really simple, but catching the ball on the rebound and striking it at the same speed and position each time proved to be immensely difficult.
By this time I was basically running on empty. Although I'd thought my gloves felt relatively light, by the end, my arms felt like jelly, and just keeping them up was a major task in itself. My cardio strength is not quite up to par and I knew it was time to throw in the towel.
There's a lot more to boxing than brutish combatants throwing hand grenades at each other. After completing one session, you realise it's not so much a fight as an un-choreographed dance. There's a primal rush you get from boxing that can't be replicated with any other Olympic sport.
Barry does pad work with Dave Lam.
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