So if you follow me on twitter or facebook you already know that I've been into boxing lately. For the last 4-5 months I've been going to a boxing gym in my neighborhood 2-3 times a week for a couple hours at a time. I wrap my hands, put on gloves and hit a heavy bag for a while, take part in group calisthenics, and do drills or exercises afterwards.
I started because I wanted to get into better shape - particularly aerobic shape. That's definitely happening. The first time I went I nearly passed out during the calisthenics (literally - I stood up turned pale, and had to bend over. Ice cold water on the neck brought me right round) and now I'm able to lead a class and talk while we do a few hundred jumps, a few hundred crunch variations and squats and pushups. I'm sticking with it for the exercise alone and I'm going to be in the best shape of my life by the time the year is out.
Strangely though, I'm also finding the actual boxing side of things... interesting. In fact one of my annual resolutions this year is to work my fitness and skill level up to be able to take part in full speed sparring. This despite, maybe because, I really don't like getting punched so far.
This is also despite the fact that I'm a pacifist. I don't actually like the term but that's what people would call the practical outcome of my beliefs - as a Christian I believe I am called to renounce violence. I reject violence personally as a way of accomplishing things and I cannot participate in the various forms of state violence - the military or law enforcement for example - that are widely seen as moral or ethical.
So what the heck am I doing in a boxing gym contemplating participation in a sport that is - let us not kid ourselves - basically organized violence? How can I justify punching and taking a punch as a regular activity and still say that I reject violence in any meaningful way?
Breaking with my tradition of writing single long posts I'd like to instead write several posts answering those questions. For a hint at some answers, however, you might read Chuck Klosterman's tribute to Norman Mailer.
...his central pugilistic theory, which originally ran in Esquire in October 1993: "[Boxing] arouses two of the deepest anxieties we contain. There is not only the fear of getting hurt, which is profound in more men than will admit to it, but there is the opposite panic, equally unadmitted, of hurting others." This was the inevitable thesis for all of the Hemingway-influenced boxing writers. What made the sport transcendent was its relationship with the base qualities of being alive. There is nothing contextual about hitting another man, and there is nothing metaphysical about getting punched in the face. For most of the twentieth century, people who wanted to write about primordial reality wrote about fighting. But not anymore. It seems we have finally reached the point where modern Americans have no relationship with primordial reality whatsoever.
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