For those of you that know me a little bit, get ready to have a chuckle. For those of you know me best, you’ll get this!
I have taken up……. BOXING!!
Why, I hear you ask? Three reasons, I want to get fit (hate going to the gym by myself), I prefer to learn a sport than just go to the gym and finally, I have become completely fascinated by the boxing world due to an amazing podcast called Pound for Pound. It is hosted by ex-pro boxer, Spencer Oliver and actor, dancer and all round good egg, Jake Wood.
So, I plucked up the courage and went along to my first boxing session last Thursday. I researched all options in my area and went for Hands of Stone Boxing Gym in Montrose. I chose this gym because it looked the most raw (don’t like fancy). I have heard Spencer & Jake talk a lot about the camaraderie within boxing gyms and the lack of hierarchy appealed to me. In short, it meant I could be shit and not be so worried about it.
I don’t mind saying, I was absolutely bricking it before I went in. I almost didn’t go in. I sat in the car, watched everyone going in and thought to myself ‘what the hell am I doing here’. Then I thought, whats the worst that could happen, cardiac arrest while punching a bag. If you’re gonna go it may as well be while trying to look like a manly man. So, I went in.
I walked in and, almost apologetically, started to say how I was a complete beginner and I would need to be shown the ropes (no pun intended). The guy looked at me and said ‘let’s get the most important part out of the way first…….. £3.00 please). This made me relax as he was essentially saying ‘chill out buddy’.
The session was nothing like I anticipated. For some reason, I envisaged it being like a circuit class with a boxing vibe. However, after the run round the block warm up, within minutes my hands were being strapped and gloves were on.
Mark, one of the three owners of the gym, was kind enough to show me the basics of stance, jab, hooks etc. The best part of this was, from the first second, he was relating it to actually fighting. Without Mark realising it, he had done exactly the right thing for me. I do not like technique for technique’s sake and I couldn’t think of a more powerful analogy than ‘if you do this you will open yourself up to being knocked out’.
Literally everything that Mark told me in those first 5-7 minutes he related to a real boxing match.
From there he just threw me into the class and I copied what everyone else was doing. Occasionally I caught the glimpse of the instructor smirking at me as I was, inevitably, wailing on the bag with zero technique. I was becoming frustrated that everyone around me seemed to be 1,000 times faster and more powerful than me but their bags seemed to remain almost stationary. My bag, however was close to swinging off its bloody rafter. At one point, it almost knocked me out on the way back.
It turns out there is a lot more to boxing technique than I had ever imagined. Challenge on, ensure speed back off the bag is equal to speed into bag, make punches snappy and, for fucks sake, get your bloody guard back up.
As I relaxed into this new environment, I started to take in what was going on around me. It was only then I truly appreciated how great a learning environment this was. We had a mix of ages, from around 14-50, a huge range of abilities and everyone was there helping each other. As much as there was the odd laugh at how wild I must have looked, the majority of the time the people around me were helping and encouraging me.
We did around 40 minutes of bag work and then went for a wee run down to a hill and did hill sprints…….. HATE HILL SPRINTS!!!
Once the class had finished I spoke with Mark about how he raises money to keep the gym going as it struck me the equipment was top notch and £3.00 per class wasn’t coming close to covering even the equipment costs. He mentioned the three of them who run the gym all have their own businesses and they throw some money in. They also have a small monthly membership option and the rest is raised by an annual fundraising show they put on at the town hall in Montrose.
It struck me that these guys essentially did this out of the goodness of their hearts. Mark relayed brilliant stories of kids he’d introduced to boxing then going on to represent Scotland at Commonwealth games, turning pro and now boxing as a career. However, it was when he talked about the kids he’d helped who were disadvantaged or needed a bit of guidance or discipline, that his face really lit up. He was doing this for the most genuine and authentic of reasons.
After this chat, I wandered over to the wall and saw the rules for sparring. I absolutely loved these and I believe they should absolutely be considered for the tennis world. My favourite rule was:
“At Hands of Stone it is important we progress everyone as a boxer therefore sparring will be under conditions which can progress you”.
Imagine if everyone in tennis practiced with this mentality. There is way too much concern about how well players perform in practice. They don’t want to practice, they still want to win. Players, very rarely, start a practice by telling their ‘sparring’ partner what they want to work on and vice versa. Imagine how much more productive each practice would be if the players worked together to help each other get better. Instead they probably do what I did with the punching bag, wail on it with no clear intention other than to punch it hard!
My least favourite rule was about coaches must be present for sparring but I know why they have this rule, safety first. Tennis could do without this rule.
The next day I ached in muscles I didn’t even know I had but I felt great. I’d had an all over workout, mind and body. I’d met new people, felt welcomed from the second I walked in, learned a ton of new things and left knowing I would definitely be back. I was invited to the annual fund-raising show on 6th October….
Take that in for a second, by the end of my first ever boxing session I was invited to their annual event. Now think about how long a typical tennis member has to be in a club before they would be invited to be part of the social scene. Perhaps, I am being overly cynical here but I fear I am not.
I absolutely loved my first boxing experience and I will be taking this sport up for sure. I believe tennis could learn a huge amount from the sport of boxing and I’d urge you try it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Thank you to everyone at Hands of Stone Boxing Gym for making me feel so welcome.
If you live in or around Montrose, support their annual fundraiser as it may be someone you know that benefits from their gym.
Oh, and if you are into podcasts then you must check out Pound for Pound on https://audioboom.com/channel/pound-for-pound-with-jake-wood-and-spencer-oliver
How they are without a sponsor is beyond me, no.1 in the iTunes charts on countless occasions. Check them out, you never know, you might find yourself wailing on a punchbag in the near future.