The Fighter Still Remains!

26.08.05 - By Nick Porter: In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade And he carries the reminders Of ev’ry glove that laid him down. And cut him till he cried out In his anger and his shame,“I am leaving, I am leaving” But the fighter still remains…

This quote comes from what has long been one of my favorite songs. Most people either pay it little notice or merely interpret this stanza as a metaphor for the hardships faced by the narrator of the song. However, sometimes literal interpretations work best. There are some things in this world that ultimately cannot be expressed in words, but there are also things that, while they can be expressed verbally, cannot truly be understood or appreciated until they have been experienced. This verse, and by proxy the sport of boxing, are prime examples..

I began boxing in March of 2005. Since I began, of all the interaction I’ve had with people concerning my new hobby, the foremost question that I have been asked is “Why?” Why, of all the things I could get involved in, would I submit myself to an activity where I will get into a small, roped-off area with another person who wants to rip my head off? Why would I, a self-proclaimed pacifist who has never been in a fight in his life, want to try and do the same to him? These concerns have come not from superfluous critics, but from people that legitimately care about me. For me, it was never a question—this was something that I enjoyed and something that I hoped to become good at. However, in light of the lingering concerns of those who are better at looking out for my own self-interest than I am, and to gain a better understanding for myself as to why I have chosen to take up “The Sweet Science”, I will attempt to delineate my reasons why this success at this particular sport has become so important to me, asking only that any critical readers temporarily place aside any bias for the sport.

I have never been much of an athlete. Though always mildly interested in sports, I never really showed any particular aptitude for physical activity, always relegating myself to more mental and spiritual aspirations and goals. However, as I have grown older, I have found that I very much enjoy the pure physicality found in most sports—that it is enjoyable in its own right and also a perfect counterbalance to sitting at a computer or reading a book all day. Team sports could never hold my interest (I was the child that “didn’t play well with others”), and my aforementioned lack of physical aptitude precluded any individual activity. How then could I reconcile my perceived mental aptitude with my blatant physical ineptitude?

My junction lay in the classical Japanese martial arts, which I have studied in some form or capacity, off and on since I was 4 and then more intensively starting at the age of 13. To be a successful martial artist in the true, traditional sense of the word, one has to be adept not only physically but also mentally and even spiritually. I found that by putting myself through the harshest physical training I could withstand, I also grew as a person. I saw karate and subsequently aikido as the most difficult undertaking I could possibly embark upon, and that only made it more attractive.

Every physical activity tends to have a few centralized elements that must be cultivated for success in that particular activity. Tennis players must have keen eyes and finesse in coordinating their different shots, football players must be quick on their feet and able to perform despite taking grueling hits from their opposition, and basketball players must be agile and have good reflexes, with impeccable hand-eye coordination. A successful boxer must encompass all of these traits and talents. With no teammates to blame a loss upon, the burden of conditioning and being ready for a bout is, ultimately, his responsibility alone. As such, boxing is arguably the most grueling physical regimen for a sport available, and like with karate and aikido, I find the physical challenge of it to be tantalizing.

Boxing is a very unique activity. Though I have called it a “sport” and a “hobby” throughout this essay, for the true exponent, it ultimately transcends such neat labels. While a sport is something you play and a hobby is something you do, boxing is something you live, and a boxer is something that you must become. For me, boxing has become a unique sort of challenge. The physical aspect can be overcome easily enough with determination and practice; what entices me are the mental and the spiritual facets. As a college student and liberal arts major, I have a pretty incredible amount of uncertainty in my life; inevitably, however, my worries move quickly past the fiscal and filial, and promptly to the personal. Just what kind of person am I? Do I really have what it takes to achieve my dreams? Do I, as I have often liked to imagine, have the heart and the willpower to go up against insufferable odds, with no certainty that I will be victorious?

Honestly, at this point in my life, I have no idea. However, I do know a place where I can find my answers; a nondescript building, down a little gravel road, just off of the connector. As I enter, I can see the same questions, the same doubt, and the same determination on the faces and in the actions of the trainers and the fighters I have come to respect so highly. Every workout, every sparring session, every bout hopefully brings each fighter closer to his own answers, a short step closer to finding whatever it is he is looking for. Each time I enter the gym, I am reminded of the words of Theodore Roosevelt (who was, coincidentally, also a boxer):

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again… if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I box because it is something I have grown to love. I box because it is proof that I am able to toil beyond what I had previously believed possible, to have the heart to voluntarily put myself into a dangerous situation where I pit myself against someone who has endured the same hell that I have to reach that final point of conflict, and to come out the victor. I fully recognize the possibility that all of my toil will be in vain, that I could be hurt, that I will humiliate myself and fail utterly in this endeavor; but if I fail, then the failure is my own, and I can grow from it: if I fail, at least I fail while daring greatly, which, in my mind, is scarcely a failure at all.

Article posted on 26.08.2005

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