I’m right-handed so my left punches tend to go loopy. I was working the heavy bag today, 1-2-1-2, 1-2-5-2 – the numbers represent punches. Jab, right hand, jab, right hand. Jab, right hand, left uppercut – that’s the loopy shot right there. I throw hard, which isn’t very hard, but it’s how you build strength so I throw as hard as I can. I didn’t bring my shoulder around correctly and ended up punching with my knuckles. Yeah, my hands were wrapped and gloved, but I still bruised them up pretty nicely.
I’ve never been much of a sporty person – my main form of exercise is putting on my Swissbeats and some Linkin Park and heading out for an hour long run, but lately my knees and ankles have been protesting the pounding. So I decided to take up boxing. I found a local gym run by some former military guys who enjoy yelling at us as we make our station rounds. And I have never enjoyed exercising to the point of almost puking and passing out so much. These guys push hard, and I love it! One of these days, I probably am gonna barf. I suspect it will have to do with burpees.
I normally go to the gym very early in the morning, but today I slept in and didn’t get there until after 9AM. And the gym was full of other women! I watched a few of them absolutely kill the speed bag, envious of their skill and the impressive rhythm they could generate. I’ll get there. Speed bags are tricky little suckers. Looking around, I saw a group of badass women, in great shape, beating the crap out of stuff and thoroughly enjoying it, and it suddenly seemed the most natural thing in the world for women to do. Of course women would love boxing! Boxing, long considered the realm of men, takes on a very different meaning when it’s women behind the gloves.
Here are six ways boxing makes me more, not less, feminine:
1. Boxing gives me more empathy
Empathy, or the ability to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, is often touted as a particularly feminine virtue. Women, it is said, show greater concern for other people than men do. When I punch people at the gym, they don’t punch me back, but part of the training is to prepare for that. I respond as if a punch will be returned, and there is no better motivation to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others than imagining a blistering right hook to your jaw. This is especially true when your opponent is bigger, faster and stronger than you are. Empathy, understanding how your opponent feels (angry? arrogant? distracted? bored?) is a critical fight skill. Boxing makes a woman more sensitive to how others feel.
2. Boxing shows me my limitations
Paradoxically, boxing makes a woman physically stronger and teaches her skills that make her a formidable opponent against any average person who might want to take a shot at her, but it does so by teaching her just how vulnerable she is. Vulnerability is recognizing your limitations, and being prepared to ask for help when needed, and this is a vital skill for boxers. Knowing where and how you are weak lets you know what you need to work on, and what areas you really need to defend. Knowing your weakness and when to tap out prevents a bit of bruising from turning into more serious injuries. Being vulnerable isn’t shameful, it’s smart!
3. Boxing teaches me humility
Humility is learning to serve something greater than yourself. Humility is not the same as humiliation, although boxing will deliver lots of that, too. Learning to use the speed bag, for example. Boxing teaches you to take a hit and not pity yourself afterwards. I’m not taking actual punches just yet, but the training itself is a hit. In the moment, it’s intense. Your heart rate skyrockets, you struggle to breathe, your muscles scream and if you push hard enough, you fail. You. Can. Not. Throw. One. More. Combo. But there’s no “woe is me, why is this happening to me, what did I do to deserve this” pity party. Boxing is a great way to remind yourself that there is more to life than just you. You box to get strong. Strong for what? That’s up to you, but boxing will remind you there’s always something worth fighting for.
4. Boxing makes me generous
Boxing is not a gentle journey, although lots of boxers consider it a very spiritual one. Ultimately, you need a blind determination to win. You need to get knocked down and get up again. There has to be real fight in your fight, and that means training is meant to take you to the edge of breaking. It never gets easier. You get faster, stronger, more powerful and you push yourself a bit further every day. That effort is made so much easier by the encouragement of other boxers and your coaches. Cheers and shouts from your fellow boxers helps you find the power to go that last 15 seconds. And you find yourself returning the favor. Even though you might be cheering on the person who is gonna make you cry in the ring tomorrow. Boxing makes you generous with praise, support and encouragement.
5. Boxing helps me find balance
I know, every time I step into the gym, that in an hour, I’m gonna be hurting. I don’t know where I will hurt until I read the workout boards, but there is a sense of calm in knowing that whatever else happens today, this will likely be the worst, and the best of it. “Winning and losing,” says amateur boxer Miranda Kamal, “are not that different from each other, they are just different ways the outside world sees you.” In training, you win when things get so hard you have to give up and lose when things are so easy you don’t break a sweat. That inversion of the natural order of things teaches you to question the natural order of things, and see things from a different, more balanced perspective.
Showing greater empathy, turning your vulnerabilities into strengths, working for a purpose greater than yourself, being generous to others and taking a balanced approach to everything in your life are all things that make women more feminine. Boxing delivers all these things. But wouldn’t all these things apply to men who box, too? Wouldn’t men also learn empathy, vulnerability, humility, generosity and balance? Well, yes. Perhaps there are no such things as “feminine” or “masculine” virtues. Perhaps there are only virtues, and men and women are equally capable of all human feelings and virtues, because they are human.