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'The Open Palm' Podcast is available on Anchor, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Can you recall being told that you were good at something by strangers? Perhaps you showed promise in a particular skill? There are many things that we could be good at in life. Maybe even great! The question I would like to pose is: Should we?
While in Texas, I used to regularly attend a boxing gym called "Boxing Kings." Early on the coaches there thought I showed promise. I expressed to them that I loved the sport and the workout, but I was earnestly pursuing a degree in Theatre and had no ambitions to be a pro fighter. "I'm an Actor!" I said. Still, after watching me train vigorously, the coaches coaxed me into believing I had something. Surely their assumptions were farfetched and I was not cut out for this. Yet the bug had been planted. Somehow I started to think I might just have a chance.
There is an event that would happen at the start of every year called "Golden Gloves" in which fighters would compete against each other for recognition. By fate, I was entered into the competition and began training. As I did, the coaches continued to hype me up. "Your punches are really solid!" they'd say. "You have great stamina and conditioning." They began to herald me as a rising star among my gym mates. Two of my friends in college also attended the gym and entered into the event as well. Things were starting to heat up until that fateful day in January. I stood on the scale at the weigh-in and was given the green light. All that was left was to perform on match day.
I remember feeling very anxious as my coach was wrapping my hands. We were waiting on my turn while occasionally watching the other fighters. Only one of my gym mates managed to make it to the last fight in the tournament. At last, it was my turn, the moment of truth. My opponent was a tall Hispanic kickboxer from Austin, Texas. We were the same height but he was much bigger in size and muscle. Since there had been no one in my weight class (Light Heavyweight) in sub-novice, I had been bumped up to a higher league. I don't know how many fights my opponent had been in, but he was clearly experienced. The pressure of the crowd never seemed to faze him.
I faintly the remember the referee laying out the ground rules and telling us to touch gloves. After the announcements, the fight was on and the bell rang. Showtime! The next moments still haunt me but not to the point of nightmares. It is a reminder of what can happen when you are out of your depth. Our approach was the calm before the storm. At my gym in San Marcos, I was used to sparring shorter fighters. I was used to receiving punishment and usually kept a high guard on the side of my headgear for hooks. I was NOT used to a boxer who was not interested in sparring. Who wanted to knock me out and would use my own tactics against me.
As we stepped toward each other slowly, a punch came. I don't recall it being that fast and yet I couldn't match the timing. I didn't realize my muscle memory was no longer serving me. I was trying to guard hooks and getting hit with straight punches. "So that's what this feels like!" I thought. My head was snapped back several times in the first round. So much so that the referee asked the doctor to take a look at me. After the first three punches, my nose began bleeding. Looking back, they should have examined my eyes. I had already started to see double. The doctor gave me the okay and the fight resumed. I got two standing eight counts in the first round. Saved by the bell, I wobbled over to my corner.
I can remember my coaches giving me instructions. None of it was registering. I just nodded and said that I could continue. Even though my vision was shot, I knew I could not quit. Not after one round. Not after all this training. No way! In the second round, the crowd was actually chanting for me. "Come on, Red! Come on, Red!" (I was in the red corner) And I really started to feel the odds stack. As each punch rocked me back, my world got darker and darker. The sounds outside of the ring became muted, but I can still hear the coach on the other side of the ropes. "Finish him! We ain't got time. FINISH HIM!" I was knocked down once more and that was it. The referee had seen enough and waved me off. The fight was over. All that sweat and training summed up in one moment. A lesson I'll never forget.
In the coming days, there was a light in my eye that didn't leave until two months later. I may have even been slightly concussed. But what really lingered was the knowledge that there are some things we are good at and some things we aren't. Not everyone who says you should pursue a path is right. Sometimes you have to listen to your heart and your gut. The difference between me and my opponent was a simple one. I was doing this for fun while he was doing this for life. I treated Boxing like it was a hobby. While he was Boxing as a career and a profession.
They say that there are three ways through which we acquire wisdom. The first way is imitation. The second is reflection. The third is experience. Experience, by far, will always be the harshest teacher. It is the only one that gives you the lesson after it gives you the test. In life, you will be tested many times. Especially if you are going after greatness. Make sure that it is something you truly desire. Always think twice if you find yourself chasing other people's dreams rather than chasing your own.
By Jerome Shaw. Find me on Twitter and Instagram: @jromeshaw