One of the first boxers I ever saw was Roy Jones Jr., who was and is the most impressive fighter I’ve ever seen – and yes, that includes Ali and Floyd Mayweather. He was the perfect combination of speed, power, bravado and tenacity. Unrivaled athleticism. He often humiliated world class opponents. Jones Jr. once famously put both hands behind his back, dared his opponent (Glenn Kelly) to hit him, and after slipping two punches, countered Kelly with a hook that knocked him out.
I was hooked.
Boxing became a passion. I still watch every fight I can get in front of the TV for. I’ve traveled all around the country to watch matches. I had a YouTube show with two of my friends dedicated to the sport, and I’ve made friends all over the world through boxing. And as is the case with most sports that boys find themselves interested in, I wanted to learn to box too. But it wasn’t until I was 24 that I was able to find a boxing gym near me, and that I could afford.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very good. My technique, like many first-timers, wasn’t particularly controlled. I was mostly interested in hitting the bag as hard and fast as I could. But I was “boxing.” In the years since, I’ve bounced around boxing gyms. I’ve taken countless one-on-one sessions with boxing coaches, some of whom have even trained world champions.
I’ve gotten better. I’ve sparred pro fighters. But nearly nine years later and on the doorstep of 33, I’m not good. Sure, I could do some damage on a guy off the stree, but that was never my aspiration. I wanted to be a good boxer. I have bad habits that are hard to break and I get inside my head when I repeat the same ones for the hundredth time. I’ll do well with one one thing at a time, but when it comes time to put it all together, the pieces fall apart. I beat myself up over the mistakes, which leads to more mistakes, and the frustration mounts.
Yesterday, I gassed out after three rounds of mitt work. My technique had crumbled. My coach, normally supportive, couldn’t muster up the words to rationalize why I had again tired so quickly.
I came home dejected; more than usual. I wanted there to be a lesson in what I was feeling, but none was immediately obvious. In life, we’re taught that if we work hard at something, we can achieve it. But I’m nearly nine years in. I will never be a good boxer, never mind a great one.
Is there a deeper, existential lesson in that? Or is the lesson an obvious one – “David, you’re good at other things, and you should dedicate more effort to those things instead.”
It’s both. I love boxing and I always will. I feel more connected to it when I’m in there stretching, sweating over a jump rope and throwing punches in the ring. But we all have to be honest with ourselves, and in this moment, I have to recognize boxing for what it is in my life. Entertainment. Exercise. A diversion.
And a valuable one. It’s valuable because it’s meaningful to me. There’s nothing in life that says our passions have to align with our perfections. Rewards can be intrinsic. I’m thankful for steady income during the day, and for entertainment that brings me joy outside of those hours.
But – we have our shortcomings for a reason. They keep us in check. It’s a taboo to tell someone they’re fat, inadequate or incapable, but when it’s true, which is worse – believing a falsehood, or refusing to embrace a truth that could allow you to refocus your efforts for good?
Boxing is a passion of mine. But it is not the passion in my life. It would be misguided for me to treat it that way. Our limitations aren’t a death sentence, they’re a guide.
Boxing will always have a place in my life – for better or worse. And I’m okay with that.