Many years ago when I was in high school and boxing in a nearby town I was hit quite hard in the head.
I guess it was 1980 and I wanted to finally learn to box after hitting a stuffed mail bag in my basement for a few years. I had been interested in boxing since seeing the movie 'Rocky', watching Muhammad Ali beat Leon Spinks and to find a way to be as I grew into a teenager. There was no boxing in my hometown so I wrote a letter to the Police Athletic League of a neighboring town and asked if I could take a bus to their gym and box there. They not only said yes, but welcomed me with open arms. Eventually my trainer would pick me up and drive me.
I loved boxing back then for the art of it. On the walls of my room were cut out photographs from Sports Illustrated of fighters landing punches. The fast motion camera would capture the spray from head that would halo the skull in a perfect imitation of a dandelion gone to seed. The bodies were lean and the angles were striking.
I also drew boxers and learned some anatomy doing this in a way that is perhaps similar to how many kids now draw from comics and graphic novels.
I tried several sports but always preferred those where I could be alone. I liked track for that reason and speculated that boxing was even more isolated. It was.
The first thing I learned upon entering the gym was that the best boxers were mostly internal types. The good ones looked at the floor and even avoided eye contact. The first time I got into a ring I moved around it imitating Ali, pulling my head back and gliding on my feet. I was comfortable and could see everything that was happening. The fighter I was in with was nervous and tentative. He provided me a gift of a soft jab that I parried and I landed a really hard right. The kid I did not know went down like his strings were cut. I might have been horrified but wasn't. I loved it. This was going to be fun and perhaps easy.
Very quickly I was put into the ring with a kid I speculated I might kill. He was very skinny with long hair that was flat to his head. Though scrawny I could see he knew how to box and seemed to have a snap to his punches when he shadow boxed. Hmmm?
As I was being laced up I looked over to him and suddenly he looked bigger as someone tied his gloves on. He was a bit taller, though I could see ribs in his chest. The kid was a lightweight and I was a welterweight. My trainer said to keep my hands up and take it easy.
The bell rang and we touched gloves. He moved in and out touching me with a jab. I tried to land a jab but could not. I tried to move in and he was moving around me. He was not there. Suddenly at an angle I was hit hard.
Boxing and how to do it was demonstrated on me that afternoon. You can box someone without getting into a fight. I was not part of this exercise, he was. Sure I landed some punches in close but he was schooling me. I finally countered his jab with my own right but BAM, I was hit quickly with an uppercut. I lurched forward onto his shoulder. My brain worked quickly and these things all occurred to me in this order; he was way older than I was, had stubble on his chin, he never looked at me but looked at my collar bone and I was tasting spaghetti.
I was hit by an uppercut that I didn't see and it made my brain taste a spaghetti dinner.
I was a more respectful boxer after that and much better. I approach life the same way. I look at everyone as formidable and keep that guard high.
I thought about all of this when a few days ago SooJin Buzelli contacted me to do an illustration for PlanSponsor's April issue. The title of the illustration is 'Uppercut' which was about the failure of Lehman Brothers and how that hit the securities lending industry like an uppercut.
If I was ever going to get to paint this memory it was going to likely be for SooJin.
There are a lot of formidable fighters in her gym, I'm just glad to be one of them.