Image credit: Cody Kern.
Getting punched in the face isn’t a regular occurrence for most people. Even adolescent men, who tend to fight more than most, pumped up as they are on testosterone and bullshit macho posturing, generally avoid hitting each other in the face.
When we signed up for Brawl on the Bund, myself and my fellow competitors were repeatedly warned that boxing, no matter how much how keen we were to begin with, might turn out not to be our cup of tea. Simply put: boxing involves getting punched in the face, and getting punched in the face really sucks.
If boxing were just about being able to withstand being punched, it would be a far easier sport. Pretty much anyone can take a punch from someone of roughly the same size and weight as them. It won’t be pleasant, but it’s probably not going to do you permanent harm. The real skill boxers have is in being able to take a punch and not lose their temper:
A common perception therefore is that boxers need to psyche themselves up into a frenzied state, fuelled by anger with the intention of causing injury. However, for those who have worked in boxing, this perception could not be further from the truth.
There’s a key difference between being angry and being pumped up, as Dr Randy Borum at Combat Sport Psychology explains:
When you can selectively summon and carefully control your anger, you can use it as an energising resource. But when anger is prompted by an opponent, it may signal to your brain that you are in trouble making it worry that you don’t have enough resources to cope.
Dr Borum argues that when you react with anger you sacrifice self-control. Angry fighters become more focused on hurting their opponent than winning the fight. Angry fighters throw punches wildly. Angry fighters fail to protect themselves. Angry fighters lose.
I remember countless occasions as a kid when play fights would become real ones without anyone openly acknowledging it. One minute you’d be mock wrestling with each other and next something inside you would flip, and what you’re doing wouldn’t feel like a game anymore.
You can see this even with adults in the boxing gym. In any exercise which involves hitting each other, no matter how lightly, the anger comes through. What starts off as light taps become proper punches. No one mentions what is happening, but expressions become more steely, the exercise suddenly feels more real. Then the round stops. The anger leaves you, and the gym is all smiles again. But everyone has had a little preview of how easy it is to lose your temper in the ring, and why that’s the last thing you want to do.
Billion Yuan Baby is a regular column by Shanghaiist editor James Griffiths, focusing on his experiences and those of his fellow competitors’ training for Brawl on the Bund.
The next Brawl on the Bund takes place on June 15, 2013 at Hyatt on the Bund. The event is in support of Leo’s Foundation, which cares for newborn infants with respiratory problems.