The blog post below tells the story of the author’s first boxing experience. I have a similar story about a boxing match that I fought as a teenager. I’d like to tell it again here in this space and share my interpretation of that event.
In my early teens, I had been racially taunted by a small gang of thugs in my home town. There were many wonderful people in that town who treated me and my family with respect and decency. But this one gang of kids was different. They were mean, threatening, and sometimes violent. Fortunately, one day a friendly physical education teacher at the school we were attending happened to overhear the taunts. He intervened and proposed a boxing match between me and one of my tormentors. The consequence of refusing would have been a trip to the principal’s office, which was unattractive to all of us. Plus, for my tormentors, whoever amongst them was chosen to fight me was obviously going to win because they were clearly bigger, stronger, and tougher than me.
I was scared. But I had no options. I had to fight if I was going to have any chance of escaping the seemingly endless threats that had come to dominate my mind and my imagination. But I did have some support. The PE teacher had taken me aside after he had intervened and told me that he thought I could win this boxing match because I was a better athlete than any of the thugs who might be matched against me. Just as in the blog post below, he told me to not give up if I got hit, keep moving, and keep punching. I had a lot of respect and admiration for this teacher at that time, so I did my best to use his words to guide me as I entered the match.
The “ring”, as it were, was just a rope on the ground that marked the area where we were to box. There were only a few kids there; just me and one friend and three of the gang members (by “gang”, I don’t mean a formal gang like those that exist today. They were just a gang of about 5 or 6 kids who were always hanging out together as they went around threatening, beating up, and stealing money from other kids). The PE teacher was the referee and sole judge. We had agreed that this fight would determine once and for all who was tougher and that if there was any more taunting after the fight, that that would be cause for a visit to the principal’s office.
The gloves that we wore for the fight were more like small pillows than real boxing gloves. I’m sure that that was because they were designed to minimize any injuries. The match consisted of three, two-minute rounds. The first two rounds were very similar. My opponent was the biggest of the three gang members. He took advantage of this fact from the very outset and moved forward throwing wild punches with a lot of force behind them. I was consistently backing up, moving quickly side to side to evade his punches. Occasionally, I would counter with a punch of my own. My punches were more precise but they were thrown with more control and less force than my opponent’s. I hit him a few times, which seemed to aggravate, maybe even embarrass him. I don’t recall being hit by any of his punches. The fact that he didn’t hit me seemed to increasingly infuriate him. As we waited for the final round to begin, he yelled at me that he was going to kill me. His friends yelled similar things as well.
Throughout the preceding few months, these were the words that they had used as they followed me home after school or cornered me in the restroom or passed me in the hallways. I had boxed defensively out of caution and fear of the bigger guy, just as I had been fearful of the gang. I reminded myself of what the PE teacher had said to me. At that moment, a flash of inspiration came upon me. It was not unlike the scene in the movie “Star Wars” when Luke Skywalker was desparately flying his fighter jet towards the Death Star aiming his assault weapon in a final effort to somehow, against all odds, fire a rocket that would hit the target and destroy the enemy.
In a momentary flash, I thought of my mother and grandparents who had been incarcerated in internment camps during World War II, even though they were U.S. citizens. As a result of their experiences, they had always seemed to me to be afraid of what others could do to them, although I didn’t fully realize that at that time. I thought of my father who had fought and been wounded as an American soldier in Europe during that War. He had suffered from what we now know as post traumatic stress syndrome, refusing to even talk about fighting and always advising me to avoid fights. I didn’t know it then but I carried those fears and anxieties with me into that boxing match.
The round began and my opponent nearly ran towards me in a state of apparent rage. He had no fear of what I could do to hurt him, so he moved swiftly and aggressively towards me. He took one wild swing at me as I stepped backwards. He missed me. Then in one singular, defining moment, I forgot about my fears, planted my back foot, and swung my right hand with every fiber of my being in my opponent’s direction.
I hit him squarely on his jaw.
His forward momentum had carried him directly into the path my punch. The force of my punch carried my fist beyond the point of contact, causing my opponent’s head to twist and recoil from the impact. He collapsed and fell forward, landing in a heap, face down at my side. For a few moments he lay motionless. Then he started to move slightly, eventually rolling over on to his back.
Those moments were surreal. I was stunned and stood motionless and speechless just looking at one of my long-time tormentors lying on the ground. I don’t remember too much after that. The PE teacher had already begun counting and he had reached “5” before I even realized that he was counting aloud. When he reach “10”, I think he said “you’re out” and raised my hand as the winner of the match. All I can remember about that instant is the silence that followed and the look of disbelief on the faces of the remaining gang members.
I don’t remember how my opponent got up and whether or not he said anything to me then. I do know that he and his gang left me alone after that. Part of our agreement was to not talk about the fight with outsiders and to just go about our activities as if it never happened. In sharing this story now, what I have learned is that as individuals, we can choose to meet and overcome what we fear and what we, our families, and our ancestors have believed is true but doesn’t serve us in the world we live in today. It also helps to pay attention when a wise teacher enters into your life unexpectedly.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Billy Coffey. Four years ago… It started the way most good stories do, over lunch with a friend. This parti
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