Lessons from the Boxing Gym

Last night, I was visiting a Kajukenbo teacher from Oakland named Sifu Barry Evans–one of those very old school, street-hardened martial artists they just don’t make anymore these days–who was home, sick with the flu. (He is a reader of this blog, I am proud to say) Sifu Evans is a student of Sifu Bill Owens, who is a student of Grandmaster Al Dacascos–a proud FMA guy as well as a Kajukenbo Master. By the way, I don’t know if I’d mentioned the importance of knowing one’s lineage as well as being a part of a great lineage. Many so-called modern day martial artists will ridicule ideas such as lineage, but that is only an indicator that one has no lineage when you hear stuff like that. If you do not have knowledge of your own lineage, then it is very important to document your own lineage for your students… but that is another article. And I digress. Anyway, Sifu Barry is one of those men we read about but rarely meet. You can just shake hands with him, and know that this ain’t you’re average shopping center Dojo Black Belter. This man is scared of no one.

So, on the subject of teaching the martial arts, he mentions that before he was a martial artist, he was a boxer, and that he had “habits” he needed to rid himself of when undertaking the art. I understand his point–that he had to “rid” himself of some of those habits in order to learn Kajukenbo–but I feel that his boxing background actually enhanced his martial arts learning to make him the man that he is today. I would like to share those things with you.

  1. Boxers play for keeps. The point of boxing in competition is to win matches. You can do so several ways. The first way is to knock your opponent out. There is no arguing about who won the match. If this was the street your loss would be even more devastating, because your opponent won’t be sent to the neutral corner. It is the most decisive “win” and it “translates” to an ass-kicking. The second way is to outscore your opponent and win a decision. You can either win by a small margin, or a unanimous decision. There may be argument about whether the decision was a good valid one, or not. You may even argue that in the streets you would have won–thus “losing the match but winning the fight”. Martial artists, with all their semantics, would have a field day with this. And they do. Finally, you can win by default. Meaning, you can win if the opponent has fouled or disqualified himself by breaking the rules, or some other way. I’m not even going to address this… Anyway, when a boxer fights and trains, he is going for the first way. No matter what your strategy is for winning a fight, every boxer is being trained to knock his opponent out–or beat him up so that the decision is obvious to all who the superior fighter was. My point is this:  Sparring in the dojo best serves the student when they are not just “trying out techniques”, but when the goal of sparring is to dominate one’s opponent. Training your students to think this way and accept it will better prepare them for dealing with adversity on the street. If we keep the emotional state of the classroom floor too lighthearted, tranquil, peaceful and friendly, then the student will not be ready to handle the stress and rage of a street confrontation. Teach them to dominate each other, and then teach them to stand their ground–even with a superior opponent. That’s what they are paying you for.
  2. Boxing training is monotonous and rigorous. It is not entertaining. We try to entertain our students so much these days, to prevent quitting due to boredom. But our students are more mature than we give them credit for. Can you imagine a boxer going to his trainer and saying, “When do I get to learn some advanced stuff? When do I finish my training and become a coach too?” He will slap you in the head and tell you to get back in front of the mirror to finish your 4 rounds of shadow boxing. He doesn’t give a hoot that you’re bored. If you’re bored, then you aren’t cut out for boxing. If you feel like you’re ready to move up to the pros, he will put you in the ring with someone to show you where you stand. Boxers are patient, they are diligent, and they listen. Why? Because they all know they can get better by training harder, working harder and that there are other fighters out there who are better than they are. So they keep working–to strive to get to that higher skill level. They don’t care that they aren’t doing what Sly Stallone does in the movie “Rocky”. They aren’t trying to get one of those cool headache bags like Mike Tyson uses in the HBO special. They are in no rush to become a trainer because no one is promising the crash course to becoming a pro. But the martial artist? Huh….
  3. Boxers know where they stand because they have it proven to them every time they step in a ring. Even when they are the best fighter in the gym, the coach will network with another gym to bring over fighters who are superior to that fighter because every fighter needs the better fighter to develop his skills on. No one but the best can improve on inferior fighters. So the great fighters are used to develop the good fighters. The good fighters are used to develop the emerging fighters. And they will bring in greater fighters to develop their “great” fighters. Trainers do not fear their guys getting beat, because getting beat is how fighters learn their lessons. Martial arts teachers shelter their students from pain and humiliation and defeat. Why? Because their ads promised good grades, self-esteem and fun. So, as long as the student thinks he’s good, and thinks he’s learning, and is having fun, his parents will pay tuition next month.

I have more, but I have to take little man to the park and feed the ducks (he’s 4 years old and he’s tugging at my leg). So, look out for part II of this article. Thanks for visiting my blog!



Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Boxing Gym”

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