Shanghai Fight Diaries: Float Like A Butterfly While You Ride A Mechanical Bull

Every week or so, Tim Muse will update you on what it's like to train for an amateur boxing fight in China. This week? Learning to relax while someone is ordering you to relax, and someone else is trying to punch you in the face. Hooray training!

This week? Learning to relax while someone is ordering you to relax, and someone else is trying to punch you in the face. Hooray training! Every week or so in Shanghai Fight Diaries, my friend Tim Muse will update you on his training while trying to give you an idea of what it’s like to live in China. Think of it like 24/7, minus the inspiring music but with a lot more talk about dumplings. You can read past entries here.

One of the nice things about living abroad in China is that you get a whole new set of holidays to celebrate. Even better, because you’ve never observed these holidays and have only a basic understanding of what they’re commemorating, you’re free to celebrate as you please. 

So, a week off from work with zero guilt for not coming home: awesome. 

Not so awesome: The time you take off is expected to be repaid right away so a 5 day weekend is followed by a 7 day work week. Yay Communism! This is all a roundabout way of explaining where Shanghai Fight Diaries has been the last two weeks and also serves as a nice segue into this week’s topic: relaxation.

China is not a relaxing place. The pace of Shanghai is somewhere between "frenzied" and "holy shit, slow down!"  That said, most Chinese people have the unique ability to relax under the most stressful of circumstances.  Walk around a crowded Chinese cities during the middle of the day and you’re likely to come across at least one person fast asleep in some completely unlikely spot.

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Just today, I saw sleepers at a bench in the subway on the way to work, a table at a packed restaurant during lunch, and, somewhat disconcertingly, the driver seat of a bus stopped at a red-light as I crossed the street.

This ability to relax is not just manifested in the ability to fall asleep in public places but also public displays of relaxation techniques such as tai chi in completely incongruous locations. For example, every morning, the Bund (the strip of land along the Huang Pu that faces the Pudong skyline which you’d recognize from any number of frantic news reports about the Chinese marketplace) is full of completely relaxed people practicing tai chi. 

If I want to succeed in boxing, I’m going to have to learn something about relaxing in a less-than-tranquil environment.

As I have hinted at before, I am not the most naturally gifted athlete. In high school I had the classic small man’s complex where I tried to make up for my size by trying really hard.

This overcompensation worked in wrestling where a certain amount of effort could keep me off my back. But not so much in baseball where stiffening my grip at the plate only made me more likely to strike out. Given how they’re both combat sports, you would probably expect boxing to be more like wrestling. You would be wrong. 

Since punches are designed to act like the end of a whip, the more rigid the puncher is, the less power they’ll have.  Also, winding yourself into a ball of tension is a perfect way burn much needed energy in a sport that requires you to pick your moments. In that way, boxing's not really different from any other job. You have to pace yourself, lest you go insane.

Here's how pretty much every practice has gone so far:

"Relax, slow down, do it again."

[/Pauses, watches me throw a combination]

"Relax, slow down, do it again."

[/Repeat 5 times almost every practice] 

This is my head coach Shane doing his best Paul Rudd-as-surf-instructor routine.

So... Yep, that's pretty much how training has gone thus far: Trying to relax and thrive while I process five different things at once, sort of failing miserably, and then trying to do a little better the next time.

The only thing less relaxing than being told to relax is trying to avoid being punched in the face. Between the stress of trying to keep footwork and combinations straight, while avoiding punches and trying not to tense up during competition, it's not actually that surprising that so many boxers wind up going crazy outside the ring. 

As for me, I promise we're not foreshadowing some sort of domestic battery charge later on in this series. But it's just a commentary on where we are with training right now. It's less "float like a butterfly", and more "jerk like a mechanical bull". And yes, there's a chance this is all just a metaphor for life and a clueless 24 year-old's ability to master it.

Until next week...

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