Why do I love sparring so much, when a single round can feel like torture?
Last Saturday, I had an opportunity to spar with a girl from another gym who was visiting DBC with her trainer. “Wanna spar with her?” Terri asked me. My response, as always: “Yes!” I love sparring. Anytime, with anybody.
I geared up and headed into the ring. I was exhausted from the preceding week of parent-teacher conferences, but I felt confident that I could keep up my energy level for sparring. I was excited to work with someone new and to test myself against her abilities.
Well, that didn’t last long. Not even a minute into the first round, I felt like my body was made out of lead. Where was the energy I thought I had? I let this girl pummel me while I walked (yes, walked) around the ring, coming straight in to throw ineffective punches. What I meant to do was attempt my own offense. What I did was walk into hers. “Let me get right in front of you so that you can reach me better!”
What the heck? I have a lot more skill to show than that.
I thought I was physically and mentally done for after the first round, but my trainer had said to go for two rounds. I went back in for more of the same: being slow and getting hit. At the end of that second round, I was more discouraged than I’ve ever been after sparring. I teared up as I listened to Terri tell me everything I needed to hear and learn. Things that I “know” in my head. Things that seem simple enough… (Until someone knocks them out through your ears.)
Though I have so much to learn and cement, I do have a good foundation to work from. This girl I sparred with didn’t outclass me with experience or skill. In fact, I’d say we were pretty even. Nonetheless, I felt like the lowliest loser after those two rounds. I didn’t perform half as well as I could have. My whole face hurt and I was plain exhausted. If I thought I had nothing to give in the first minute of the first round, then I was in the negative after two full rounds. (Three minutes, people. It’s a long time.)
I thought I was done. Toast. As Terri and I watched another couple spar, she told me that “the next two rounds” would be about going in and controlling the pace by using my defense. For some reason, I thought these “next two rounds” she spoke of were metaphorical—like, “next time you spar” or “next time you feel overwhelmed by an opponent.” The idea of actually sparring another round was so foreign that it didn’t even cross my mind. It was plain to see, tears running down my face, that I was finished. Right?
Wrong. I’d taken off my headgear, gloves and everything when Terri called me back to the ring. I have often cried after sparring, but I had never sparred after crying. I didn’t know if I could handle it. I was afraid of embarrassing myself badly by being a big baby. (Ah, alliteration. Did you know I’m an English major?)
I did my darndest to focus on what my trainer told me to do. Defense. Stay outside. I willed my legs to move around a little faster. I was able to keep out of her reach better, and got in a couple of my own punches here and there. Don’t think that I suddenly started dominating, but at least I wasn’t getting bullied around like before. We sparred two more rounds, for a total of four.
Though I was sucking for air when the bell finally ended the fourth round, I was really proud of myself. I sparred two rounds of misery, where I let myself down. I was ready to chalk it up to a sucky day, but instead went back in for two more rounds—in which I still sucked, but much less.
Yes, I was proud of surviving, but still shaken. Why didn’t I do a better job?
Part of it was because I was already spent before walking into the gym that morning. On Thursday night, I stayed up late to finish progress reports and went to bed in time to catch two hours of sleep. On Friday, I had eight parent-teacher conferences, which meant I put in an 11-hour work day (again). The whole week was draining, so I had good reason to be tired on Saturday.
However, there’s more to it than that: I “got mental.” My boxing switch was switched off, and I couldn’t figure out how to flip it back on. This is going to be the key. How do I keep from freezing up (mind) and turning to lead (body) in certain circumstances?
Usually when I flub like this, I give up control and that’s it. It’s over. Saturday was the first time that I took back some of that control and attempted to salvage the situation. In my second two rounds, I was able to focus on my trainer’s instructions and mostly follow them. However, when she started yelling for more punches, I “couldn’t” do it. So I still have a ways to go—but I knew that already. I’m well aware of the fact that I have a lot to learn. Setting technical skill aside, what I really need to learn is how to believe in myself.