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Lessons from the Ring
M. Ali Inspired Take-Aways from Sparring with our Collective Foe
Here we are again. Sparring with an impermeable beast, a quasi invisible behemoth. Skilled but not necessarily winning, trapped but somehow more, or less, free.
Over the past days. I have found myself in the same space as much of spring 2020, shadow boxing in my parents’ living room, surrounded by elegant oil landscapes and perfectly off-white upholstered European furniture, accompanied by a silent soundtrack from the matte grand piano in the corner. The silk curtains softly flutter as I slip back and forth across the mahogany floors, beadlets of sweat narrowly missing the persian carpets, while clay castles and snowflakes, relics of childhood 1980s art classes, stand side by side with a carefully curated collection of porcelain artifacts, front row onlookers for the evening’s match.
Alas, like today’s biggest opponent, the mark is always moving, and boxing, like life, is a multifaceted, full body experience. Shadow boxing with small dumbbells in hand is either quite the same, or an audition for a cuckoo’s nest, as my mother likes to say as she mimics my flailing arms and pseudo bobs & weaves when she walks by.
Which begs the question - what are the biggest lessons from this ethereal ring we find ourselves in yet again?
First, do not deflect - absorb. When it is coming at you, do not shy away from it or kick it down the line, instead prepare for it and use your acumen to take it in.
Second, protect your exposure. Be aware of what punches you may be leaving yourself open to and defend yourself from them a priori.
Third, if you do not want to commit to the punch then you better not punch at all.
Fourth, your range is bigger than you think.
And lastly, your biggest opponent is in your head. You can win, let someone else defeat you, or let your own mind take you down. Ultimately, it is your decision.
Almost a decade ago, I had the privilege of spending time with M. Ali over his 70th birthday weekend. Naive to the embedded wisdom in the sport, I remained distant, choosing to observe his demeanor as the swarms of butterflies and bees crowded his new ring, one arguably more challenging (and exhausting) than those he had become so famed for dominating.
Mr. Ali came to mind during today’s final round as my hands slipped on the neoprene weights, leaving me with one question - Is the ring a place to feel caged or a space to feel free?