Of Boxing & Living

In 2017, I had a senior in my MBA program at IRMA who thought it was a good idea to teach me how to punch a boxing bag. We had one boxing bag in the college gymnasium and I distinctly remember wanting to come back and try a few punches out after the first time. It rarely ever happened that I was able to land more than 3 punches on the bag before getting tired. Boxing was a demanding sport; I was told by my senior. The desire to box stayed dormant until October of 2019. That was when I’d shifted to HSR Layout in Bangalore. On the way home from work until the pandemic started in 2020, I’d often go by a boxing gym called “Rox Boxing Gym”. All the dormant desire to come back and learn rushed back into my head. And like any story, this one’s got its own challenge too. I couldn’t afford the fees then, so it remained just a dream for me to get to the gym one day.

In October of 2020, through the lockdown and due to staying at home, I’d put on weight. Enough that my breathing sounded like I was struggling, and for anyone to notice that I wasn’t doing well. Of course, being the idiot that I was, I was in denial because I looked okay to myself. After a long-drawn-out fight with my parents, we’d agreed that I’d have to get a blood test done to check for my health indicators. And so, we went to the diagnostic centre the next morning. When the results had come, it was truly eye opening. My health was on a downward slide before it slipped off the cliff. Pre-diabetic, borderline cholesterol & if these were added up, very prone to a fatal cardiac arrest later on in life. Feeling okay has nothing to do with being okay in medical terms. Huge lesson learnt.

And as I got back to Bangalore after that incident, there was just one goal. I had to get healthier. With some struggle for about 2 months, there was some movement on the health front but nothing significant. As January approached, I got promoted at work and with that came a pay raise. For some reason, I called up the boxing gym near my house & went for a trial. The head coach at the gym, Captain (Retd) Rakesh Srivastava, told me that boxing wasn’t for everyone and that only motivated me to come back. I hated boxing training but when was a good thing easy to achieve? Boxing training was everything I ever ignored in a gym. Cardiovascular workouts, leg workouts & actual physical work as opposed to lifting weights or working on machines. Despite it being everything that can turn away an average person, this time I was determined. I had to get healthier. And so began boxing training.

As days went by, my love for the sport only went higher as it gave me better sleep at night & generally improved my mood. But then there were life lessons that my coach gave me through the sport. One day he explained how everyone has advantages & disadvantages depending on how one approached the situation. I am a fairly well-built person, standing at just over 6 feet tall. Coach put on the boxing pads and made me throw around 50 punches, with a 1-2 combination. That would be a jab & a cross punch, two straight & basic punches. After the round, he said “Aniruddh, you’re tall & heavy. Use your weight & the length of your arms. You will not be as fast as someone shorter than you. Your advantage is your weight if you punch hard, disadvantage is that you can’t be as fast.” Pure wisdom in these words. Everyone has abilities that can be leveraged either as strengths or could become disadvantages too. Of course, given my poor health at the time I’d started boxing, I was also getting tired easily. Coach told me something else this time. A fighter isn’t someone who charged and never got hurt. It was the person who always got back up and stood strong in the face of a challenge. In short, he told me to keep doing something and never be idle when I was tired. Or, in better words, never give up.

By April, my health had significantly improved. But life had other plans. I had contracted a fairly moderate level of covid infection. I’d written about this previously. Through the tough times that the virus put me through, only one man’s words resonated loudly in my head. I didn’t give up no matter what. Somehow, he’d managed to instil that attitude in me.

In the 14 days, I’d lost nearly all my muscle weight & with that, about 20 kg of my weight. The doctor who came to check on me every day in the quarantine facility asked me one day if I was doing some physical activity before the infection. The answer was obvious, I was boxing. And then the words he said after that changed me for good. To paraphrase what he said, it was something to the effect of “The person who infected you is most likely dead. But you’re alive today because you were boxing”. In a second, it went from being a sport to being my meditative activity I wanted to take up & get back to. Boxing saved my life in every possible way imaginable. Since my infection was severe, I was instructed to stop any physical activity for 3 months after the quarantine got over.

Over these 3 months, however, I’d learn the drastic aftershocks that covid left me with. I’d suddenly breathe in loudly every once in a while, and my ankle joints developed a bad case of arthritis. My collagen levels had depleted to the point that some of my idle joints were now paining like a thousand needles pricking me every single time I moved. But worrying and giving up wasn’t an option. I had to fight back. And so, I did. Few changes to the diet & mild workouts until I could walk 5 km in a go. Day by day I felt my health improve & I saw myself come back to boxing again.

One thing I hated in the gym was “shadow boxing”. A boxer would imagine there’s an opponent on the other side & throw punches and anticipate what the other person would react like. This needed immense focus & attention while tiring the body out. I did it as a joke in the gym, merely flailing my hands until we were allowed to work the punching bags. But now, I take my shadow boxing rather seriously. Coach had some other words too on boxing, unsurprisingly. Something to the effect of punching with legs through arms. A punch wasn’t just the arms extending. The power was generated in the legs. And it would transmit through the body up the legs, waist, shoulder & finally the arms. That’s why boxing has more leg workouts than arm workouts. To a boxer, the arms are merely the tools to land punches; not the parts to generate power. And with that, the discipline & technique of a punch become visible.

I had a flash of genius the other day on how this worked. Why leg movements were necessary became glaringly obvious to me. With the legs, one applies downforce on the ground & the third law of motion states that the ground would apply an equal & opposite force on the legs. This was the force that transmitted upwards. Suddenly his comment on using my weight made a lot more sense. That fleeting decision to box in 2017 has come a long way today. And the “Rox Boxing Gym” is something very close to me today; why else, it saved my life from a fatal attack.

This essay is dedicated to Capt (Retd) Rakesh Srivastava, Dipan Rai, Shubham Das & my boxing mates who made my 3 months in the gym the most memorable of my stay in Bangalore.

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