I sit across the desk from Gavin (gym founder and former Australian middleweight champion) as he tells me what a journey I’m in for over the next 10 weeks…
He says there’ll be times where I’ll question myself and want to quit- yet how often guys come back again after Fight Night because of the transformation they experience along the way…
He speaks glowingly of Fight Night- about how it’ll be “One of the best things I’ve ever done”…
I figure he’s giving the whole Fight Like A Pro experience “the big sell”- and why wouldn’t he?
So I go out, shoot a quick video for my YouTube channel with Gavin to announce what I’ve just signed up for, and later that evening come back for the group photo…
It’s always worth doing for the t-shirt…
I have fighting experience already (being a 7th Kyu red belt in Goju Kai Karate) and while the idea of learning boxing appeals to me, I’m not entirely sold on Gavin’s vision of what the coming 10 weeks will be like for me. I’m just keen to learn a new form of physical combat and get my fitness levels up. You see, my year to date has been a difficult one- like an endless trek up a mountain, with no time to stop and rest. That hasn’t pushed me to the point of quitting, neither did any challenge I faced in karate training and so I doubt this is going to be any different…
But as I’ll discover soon enough, I was wrong…over the next 2 and a half months, there are some big lessons and personal revelations to come…
#1. “Did I Get Better?”
So, how did I find the first few weeks of training?
Not too bad.
Learning the techniques to stance, jabbing and and punching all required a bit of adjustment from the karate techniques I was grounded in- but aside from that, I saw all this new training and information as just more of the lessons and challenges I’d gone through all year to date. Why would I want to quit? You’d have to be hopelessly out of shape or of weak character to think about quitting.
But then came the time for sparring…
Gloves on, head guard strapped up tight, mouthguard in, stepping into the ring to spar face to face with an opponent. The real challenge came when I was pitted against the experienced guys- before I could think about throwing a punch, they’d land several with lightning fast blows-
Gloves pounded into both sides of my head and my stomach. They backed me into the corner of the ring with nowhere to retreat. I got belted with nothing in return.
Soon enough, time was up. I sucked in deep breaths, heart pounding, sweat burning.
I thought of Fight Night…
I thought of how guilty I’d feel if people I knew gave up their Saturday night and paid money to come and watch me go out with a whimper. To get beaten here was one thing- but to get my arse handed to me with people watching- people who cared about me?
Who am I kidding? Why am I bothering with this? Stuff boxing, I don’t need to do this…I thought in that moment. What was the point? I was so far off that Fight Night would be a complete anti-climax. Surely even my opponent would feel disappointed that I was such weak opposition for him!
All of this went through my mind in less than a minute, with the idea of being competent at fighting (let alone good) like a mountain peak beyond my reach…
I’d still manage to finish the session. Headgear off, unfasten the gloves, pull the mouthguard out. As I stood there and unwound the wrapping from my knuckles, it sunk in: even if I felt like a human punching bag right now, in some small way I was better than when I began that evenings’ session:
Either my stance had improved, or my jabs and hooks had more power behind them, or I’d be quicker at ducking or slipping my opponents’ punches and hitting him with the counter. It was like this after every training session, without fail. That’s why I kept coming back: the idea that Hey, I might still be far off but I just got better at this. Let’s keep going and see where this leads?
This would lead all the way to Fight Night: 3 rounds and 6 minutes to show everybody how much I’d improved since the day I first stepped into the Fight Like A Pro gym.
I’ll get to that big night soon enough. But first? There were other lessons to come:
#2. “Could I Have Done More?”
I trained 4 times a week: Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday and Thursday evenings- and also at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings.
At 5:10 my alarm woke me. I’d throw on my trainers, shorts, singlet and zip up my jacket, get into the car and drive down in the Winter darkness to our 5:30am rendezvous at Currumbin.
We’d all stretch as the sun peeped up over the horizon, do a light jog for a few k’s and then return for the big slog: 20 minute circuits up and down the steps of Currumbin Alley. Even for someone who represented my school and won medals in Highschool Cross Country, this was an uphill battle in more than one sense of the word:
When you’re expected to jog for 20 minutes straight and every step- going up or down- jars your knees, hips and ankles- you quickly begin to question why you should keep going? I’d think Stuff this, I don’t have to bother with this! How will it make any difference?
Then at last Kevvie, (one of the trainers) would be at the landing, calling out “Come on guys, finish up strong!” in his Kiwi accent. One final blast (especially once in view of the trainers below) and then pull up on the grass, sucking in deep breaths, hands on hips, sweating in the cool morning air.
What a relief it was to be over!
But then something happened-
5 minutes later while stretching down, I’d think of how I could’ve done more. How I could’ve gone harder. Despite how much I resented every step and silently cursed the trainers every time they’d call out for us to “Push harder!” I regretted knowing I could’ve done more. That feeling like I’d conserved something, not pushed myself just a couple of percentage points further?
It felt like a wasted opportunity.
After that realisation, I always gave everything during those morning sessions. Whether it was running those 20 minute cycles or doing sprints, burpees and crawls down on the beach, I kept asking Is this the best I can do? Because I knew that stronger than the will to back off, would be the feeling of regret afterwards if I had something left over and could’ve done more…
#3. “What’s The Most Important Thing Right Now?”
At last- it was Fight Night…
Gavin brought us all together in the ring before our friends, family and guests arrived. He spoke for about 10 minutes and at one point he said that if we stepped into the ring tonight and didn’t feel scared and wonder What am I doing here? then there was something wrong with us!
As it turned out, I was drawn to fight second. Before the opening bout of the night had begun, I was already away in the dressing room with my cornerman Tony and my other trainers, warming up. Soon enough, the time came to go down the corridor, out towards the packed auditorium and await my big entrance. Standing behind the stage, out of view of the crowd, I got last-minute reminders:
“Keep moving, go in and throw a few quick jabs then back out again.”
“You’ve got the reach- use it to your advantage!”
“Remember to back away, don’t be afraid to back away and catch your breath then go in again. If you stay in close range he’ll get to you- make him come to you and wear him out, let him use up his energy coming towards you.”
I was tuned out to everything except what they told me. I felt completely indifferent about the fight I was about to walk into. No emotion, no anticipation. Nothing except committing every instruction given by Tony and my trainers to memory, adding it to my training so far.
Then I got the tap on the shoulder. It was time to go. The announcer introduced me, fighting in the red corner. I hopped up the steps onto the stage, into the blinding lights and camera flashes. I struck a pose and shadow boxed as ‘The Touch’ by Stan Bush blasted through the auditorium- just as I’d requested.
You got the touch! You got the poweeeeeeeeeer- yeah! After all is said and done, you’ve never walked, you’ve never run- you’re a winner…
I moved to the beat as I strode out through the crowd, ducked under the ropes and stepped into the ring.
I paced back and forth.
No gripping fear.
No wondering what I was doing here, with an auditorium full of people about to watch me slog it out for 3 rounds against my opponent, Glenn. I’d sparred him a few times already. I knew he’d be a difficult fighter because no matter how red-faced he got, no matter how gassed he was, he’d go hard right to the end…
Then- he made his entrance, as Bon Scott’s voice boomed through the sound system to snarling guitar riffs:
Jaaaaail-break! And I’m lookin’ towards the sky….Gonna make a jaaaaaaaail-break! And I wish that I could fly…
But I zoomed right back in to the task at hand. In that moment, it was the only thing that existed in my conscious mind.
Headgear on, gloves strapped tight. The referee brought us together and made the rules clear. Then we returned to our opposite corners. A pause.
There was the bell. This was it.
I recall what followed only in small flashes: the dark void outside the ring. Sizing up Glenn. Someone’s voice from my corner going “Ben- double jab cross!” or “Ben- move away, move away!” Somebody would land a few hits and the cheering would surge.
Then the bell sounded. Back to my corner to sit down and listen to Tony. Just one minute ceasefire until the fight resumed. For that minute, nothing existed in my world except:
a) Getting my breath back and,
b) Every word Tony said
I barely drank from a water bottle held at my mouth, because even that posed a distraction to me.
I felt no emotion- positive or negative. For me, there was only the will to listen. Then the bell rang- up to my feet again.
By the third round, I yearned for that final bell to come and finish it all. It was now a grim, exhausting slog. I was more agile than Glenn and could throw quicker punches- but he had fists like mallets and if I let my guard down even a moment, he’d be in my face throwing sledgehammer punches. He was tiring quicker, but he wouldn’t let up. As a result, neither could I. Sweat pored from Glenn’s bright red face. I felt myself tuning out to anything but Tony’s voice or the announcer counting down the minutes or seconds left. Meanwhile, the crowd cheered and yelled out incoherently. I felt a brief flash of resentment for them, watching us like trained circus animals. So few of them had a clue what we were going through. I wanted it to stop and I knew Glenn wanted it to stop- but neither of us could do a thing about it. So we had to keep going…
At last! It was over!
The next 45 seconds was the worst feeling of the entire 10 weeks. I staggered to the corner and slumped over the ropes. My legs felt like pipe cleaners. One of the trainers peeled off my gloves, someone patted me on the back and someone else poured the contents of a water bottle into my mouth. Somewhere in the background, ‘What Do You Mean?’ by Justin Bieber played (and that was not my choice). I was rigid on the spot. I didn’t want to breathe, move a muscle or do anything…
Some energy slowly returned to me in the following minute, however. The referee brought Glenn and I together, either side of him in the middle of the ring. Glenn had got a few solid shots on me right at the end and barged me up against the ropes- but I’d given him good measure over the whole three rounds.
Then the referee took my right arm and held it aloft.
I was handed the trophy, but it felt like nothing more than a formality. In every bout, somebody wins. Tonight, the win was mine. The announcer came over to me with the mic and asked for my thoughts. I couldn’t manage a lot more than saying how tough it was to fight Glenn and how buggered I was.
That was it. I made brief chatter with Glenn and patted his young son (who he was now cradling) on the head. Then I stepped down from the ring, trophy in hand. My only feeling was relief, nothing more.
But then, Tony and my cornermen came over full of praise for me- because I’d gone and done exactly what they’d told me to do.
At that moment, a great rush of pride surged through me. Like I said, I felt no emotions going into the fight, focusing only on what I needed to do to win, on saving my best fight for when it counted. Despite the overwhelming fatigue- I’d gone and done exactly that. I’d been given a plan to follow in order to stand my best chance of winning- and followed it every step of the way.
For me- that was the real victory.
Leading into that fight- and throughout it- I’d felt on a different level of focus. The intensity was crazy. The crowd, the occasion, how I might feel about stepping into the ring? I’d shut it all out, shut out everything except for the key objectives of the fight.
If I could tap into that level of focus in other areas of my life- working, writing, meditation- what new level of results could I unlock?
In the following months, Gavin called me back. I was happy to return and resume training amongst familiar faces. I began sparring a new guy there, named Rory. I took him aside one evening and gave him some pointers on his technique, with no idea that (in the end) I would be the one drawn to step into the ring on Fight Night and face off against him…
On the night itself, utilising what he’d learned, Rory saved his best fight for when it counted- and got the win. In every bout, somebody wins. This time, the win was his.
But to the point- my Fight Like A Pro experience gave me some valuable lessons:
I learned that even in getting knocked around and feeling as if we failed, the question that really matters is: Did we do better this time?
I realised that as tiring or frustrating as a task might be, making that extra 1 or 2 percent effort is worth it to reach the other side and know there was nothing more we could’ve done…
And I discovered the power of tapping into a new level of focus- where nothing exists apart from the task at hand and what I need to do to reach its’ desired outcome. I discovered that zooming in completely on an objective- where everything else ceases to exist- is where you cast off emotions or distractions that would otherwise hold you back from reaching your peak.
On that note?
I want to say thanks to Tony. Thanks to my trainers. Thanks Glenn. Thanks to everybody who helped me on my way to that one night in September.
And thanks also to you, Gavin-
You were right after all! (And I’m still waiting for my DVD from Fight Night #34- you bet I’m keen to watch it back)…
- If you want to find out more about the Fight Like A Pro Experience, you can get all the info right here: Fight Like A Pro