8 Lessons I Learnt from 8 Minutes in the Ring

I’ll be honest with you straight up, I’m not even sure what possessed me to agree to an amateur boxing match. It certainly wasn’t my intention to fight when I signed up to the gym a year ago, I was actually just so bored running and cycling on my own for hours on end that I decided I wanted something a little more social (if joining a boxing club can be classed as social!). Another disclosure – I am prone to challenging myself in quite extreme ways and often things I consider highly entertaining and fun cause most of my friends to question my sanity. I guess this could be classed in the same category. So I started boxing last summer and I must say, it was excellent fitness and cross-training! Before long, my self-masochistic nature became obsessed with the physical and mental challenge of pushing myself beyond limits (I warned you!) and the satisfaction of surviving it. It was also great therapy, punching the hell out of a boxing bag (and not to mention infinitely cheaper). Perhaps it was this ‘outlet of emotion’ that piqued the coaches’ interest, as after about a month of training they began their campaign to get me in the ring to fight. Apparently I had ‘a lot of power for a girl’…or maybe just some anger issues….

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So the months of training progressed, I continued to vehemently reject the idea of ever stepping foot inside a boxing ring while the coaches stealthily prepared me for exactly that. And it worked. Another disclosure – I love learning and mastering new skills, in all aspects of life. So yes, of course the opportunity to learn and improve my technical ability in boxing appealed to me greatly. I started to see beyond the superficial aggression of boxing and was fascinated by the skill and athleticism of my more experienced training buddies. All factors combined, when my coach asked again at the end of the year when I was going to fight, I said “OK. What do I have to do?” And that was the beginning of one of the greatest personal challenges I’ve faced to date.

Of course, belting the stuffing out of a boxing bag and watching experienced boxers spar is a whole world away from actually getting in the ring and squaring off against another human. Ironically, I am still not comfortable punching another woman in the face and it remains to be my biggest mental challenge. Strangely enough, I didn’t have that problem with my male sparring partners… After years of triathlon and weights training, strength and fitness was taken care of. What I needed was technical and tactical training, which of course meant plenty of quality time sparring in the ring; I think it was this that made the next months of training so intense, both mentally and physically. The date was set – 11 June. I had a little over 3 months to prepare myself for combat, register with AIBA and become the newest Aussie member of Swiss Boxing. Two new sets of gloves (for bag work and sparring of course), head gear, new kit and my name on a billboard –  I was set. At least externally. The announcement of my fight date actually made me feel sick, and from that moment on began my mental battle with the fear of my first fight. At this point, you’re probably screaming at me to quit, to say no, to run for the hills and go back to training for fun. You all have reason and I briefly considered each; but I refer you back to that self-masochistic part of me that never backs down from a challenge once set (even if I set it myself), and the internal drive to conquer such an intimidating challenge. So of course you see, I couldn’t back out. And what followed were months of self-discovery, personal growth, development and the conquering of many mini-challenges that amounted to be an indescribable experience, one in which I learnt so many lessons that have a crossover and applicability in all aspects of life, which I’m going to share with you now. (I promise to include some pictures of the fight if you keep reading!). So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Humility. Or quite simply – leave your ego at the door. Stepping into the ring requires an open mentality, readiness to learn from your mistakes, and an acceptance of events and behaviours of others (i.e. you will be punched in the face, it will hurt, and it will feel like a personal affront). With practice though, it is possible to learn to engage in various ventures with an open mind, respond to the actions of others calmly and effectively, and without your ego driving the interaction. You can then walk away feeling satisfied with the outcome and with respect for your compatriot and yourself in tact.

2. Resilience. The best thing about a challenge is that it forces you to overcome adversity, in whatever form it manifests itself. In the process of achieving any goal, there will be setbacks, difficulties and personal challenges to overcome, but what determines your ability to succeed is how willing you are to pick yourself up, tighten your pony tail, and get back in there for another round.

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3. Acceptance. Before starting any kind of challenge or goal-achievement process, it is important to accept that there will be plenty of bad days mixed in with the good, and you won’t always be at the top of your game. Stepping out of the ring with a black eye and a swollen nose will allow you to appreciate the days when you are in form. The most important thing is to keep your eye on the bigger picture, accept the low points and keep a mindset focussed on progress.

4. Precision. You only have 2 minute bursts of time in the ring to do as much damage as possible, so you have to make every move count. It is the same professionally; usually we are given finite amounts of time to complete projects and work tasks, so what we do in that time must be done with accuracy and specificity. In both circumstances, lack of precision has its consequences…

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5. Intuition. For all the logical thinkers out there (ahem), this is an excellent time to start listening to that inner voice, gut instinct, sixth sense – whatever you want to call it. Learn to trust your instinct and act upon it, as it is our infinitely more wise higher self subconsciously telling us to duck and weave…or decline a dodgy business proposal. Whatever suits your situation.

6. Perspective. It is true that our perspective shifts after dealing with adversity and overcoming challenges, however big or small. The process of adapting and adjusting mentally to this new level of consciousness allows us to advance forth in a stronger position with a different outlook on the world. After overcoming the fear and anxiety of my first boxing match, I now think “what could be worse?” My perspective has certainly changed.

7. Mental toughness. Having the motivation to continue with a task that is challenging, difficult, sometimes unenjoyable and incites terror in your heart takes a certain level of mental toughness. But having the courage to persist, to give it your best shot regardless of how it makes you feel and to follow through on your goal provides the greatest satisfaction and reward that you can give yourself. Plus, like resilience, it toughens you up and teaches you not to give up on the goals most important to you. If you want it bad enough, you will do whatever it takes to achieve it.

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8. Trust the process. This is an effective method to quash those moments of panic, when you lose your marbles and fall into that downward spiral of self-doubt, self-pity and fear of failure (aka the fear response driven by your ego). Take stock of where you are, the resources at your disposal, the actions you are taking to ensure you will achieve your goal, and the support network surrounding you. Trusting in the process will lead you to your goal, no matter how many hits you take on the way or how bumpy the ride is.

Will I fight again? I’m not sure, but I certainly enjoyed the experience. What I do know is there will certainly be more exciting goals and challenges ahead of me, and more opportunities for growth and learning. If the girl who left the ring in tears of shock after her first sparring session can overcome the challenge of sparring with men for months in preparation for her first fight, then I have hope for the likelihood of overcoming future challenges. So what are you waiting for? Gather up your courage, don your gloves, and conquer that goal that you’ve been dreaming about – you won’t regret it! The experience, the personal growth, and of course the lessons learnt will remain forever. Besides, the battle scars gained from the experience will be a constant reminder of your achievement! Plus they make for great stories.

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