Amateur Boxing for Beginners: A How-to Guide Part II

by A Manly Guest Contributor on December 2, 2010 · 12 comments

in Health & Sports, Sports

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Martin Schatz.

Last time, we discussed what to look for when selecting a place to train.  We went through some of the positive and negative attributes of the common gym type.  Today in Part II, we will look at the training environment and explore the etiquette and common courtesies expected in a typical boxing gym.

Training & Gym Etiquette

Boxing gyms are intimidating, no getting around that.  Almost without exception, they are located in the worst parts of town.  Inside, they are hot, crowded, and very loud.  That being said, some of the nicest people you would want to meet are training and sweating in these damp little boxes.  Sam Sheridan mentioned this in his podcast interview with the Art of Manliness awhile back, but the guys who know what they are doing, the ones who have been-there and done-that, don’t have any need for posturing or bullying.  I am sure that there are exceptions to this rule, but I just haven’t met any.

Whether you are a rank beginner or are transferring into the sport from another martial art, there are things you can do to ease your transition into the family.

Talk less and work more – As a general rule, this is a good one.  There is not a coach or serious athlete anywhere that won’t respect a guy, especially a new guy, for his willingness to work hard without making a scene.

Don’t ask too many questions - This one goes against common wisdom a bit.  The fact is that all of the fundamentals of boxing are very unnatural acts.  The boxing stance–eyes and hands up, chin down, elbows tucked, lead shoulder pointing at your opponent–can feel very uncomfortable when you’re starting out.  Don’t waste your coach’s (or your own) time by getting into a bunch of blibbety-blap about the why’s or check with him all the time to see if you are “doing it right.”  He will tell you when you are doing it right.  Like a lot of things, repetition is the only thing that will make you comfortable and relaxed in what is basically an uncomfortable and tense posture.  Just keep the fundamentals in mind and keep showing up.  Which reminds me…

Show up – Boxing is not bodybuilding.  You don’t need 24 hours to “rest the muscles that you worked yesterday.”  Boxing training is repetitive, strenuous, and very hard on certain parts of your body.  You will do almost the same thing every single day.  If your goal is to compete, and compete with a chance of success, three days a week is not enough.  Your opponent is training five days a week, with roadwork as well, so take from that what is necessary.

Don’t make excuses – This one actually seems most common from guys who are coming to boxing from other martial arts.  After a particularly brutal sparring session where a guy gets countered non-stop with straight right hands after being lazy about bringing his jab back, you might hear, “Yeah, in taekwondo (or whatever), we keep our hands down.”  That is a wonderful and exciting bit of trivia, but in boxing, you are going to get knocked cold for that kind of habit. Other, more obvious excuses include the common ones, revolving around being tired, being injured, being sick, not getting enough sleep, etc.  Nobody anywhere likes listening to this kind of stuff, so help yourself out and avoid it.

Sparring Etiquette

Sparring is the most important part of your training.  People who are new to the sport may be surprised by the frequency and intensity of sparring in a boxing gym.  When you first get started, you will almost always be working with someone with a lot more experience than you.  This is actually a good thing, as he will let you throw punches, work mostly on defense, and just “keep you honest” by tagging you with jabs and light shots to remind you that the other guy is throwing punches too.

As you progress, sparring becomes more and more intense.  Mismatches are often amended with a handicap, where a bigger fighter will take a bit off of his punches, or a more experienced fighter will let his opponent dictate the pace.  More even match-ups, with both guys of similar weight and experience, will resemble a full-contact fight.  There are some notable differences of course, such as the larger gloves.  Also, if a guy gets noticeably rocked by a hard shot or barrage of punches, etiquette usually demands avoiding going in for the kill, unlike in an actual fight.

A few other points:

  • Sparring partners touch gloves at the beginning of the round and at the end of the round. Don’t touch gloves with your opponent and then immediately throw a haymaker while he is distracted.  Even the hardest and most intense sparring session is still sparring.
  • Your coach will be yelling for you to do certain things.  Don’t stop and listen.  Maintain the sparring session and try to put into practice his instructions as you go.
  • At the end of the sparring session, thank both your partner and his coach for the work.  Be gracious, regardless of how the rounds went.  Sometimes you will be giving a beating and sometimes you will be taking one, but always thank both men for the work and for the opportunity.
  • An almost immediate affinity is fostered between two athletes who have just gone through a hard sparring session together, even if they didn’t know each other beforehand.  It is customary to chat for a few minutes about how it went, what each other did well, and to ask about each fighter’s respective experience in the sport.  This is not always immediately possible if your coach has you go right to your bag work, but I will always try to get one last small conversation in with the guy before leaving the gym.  Even just a last “thanks again for the help today” as you are walking out the door will keep up foreign relations and help ensure you have a sparring partner in the future.

Got any more tips on boxing gym etiquette? Have a question about how you should act in one? Drop a line in the comments.

Amateur Boxing for Beginners: A How To Guide Part 1Part 2Part 3 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tim December 3, 2010 at 12:38 am

Just started taking boxing classes here in a dark corner of central Africa. Haven’t done any sparring yet, but I confess to using the ‘I need 24 hrs to rest’ line. I could barely move after my last workout- it’s hard work.

2 Ryan Tyler December 3, 2010 at 8:12 am

I know a lot of people liken boxing, Muay Thai, and MMA to gladiator death matches, but I find this a superficial assessment. From what I’ve observed

“An almost immediate affinity is fostered between two athletes who have just gone through a hard sparring session together, even if they didn’t know each other beforehand”

is true.

3 Sarge December 3, 2010 at 10:06 am

Thank you! All this is great advice for life in general: No whining, no excuses, be stoic, work hard & consistently, be kind and cool to others: in other words be a Class A man. The only other sport that comes close is high school / collegiate wrestling, I was never able to box as a kid (I wrestled) but boxing as an adult is a thrilling experience and an affirmation of those old wrestling principles.

4 Charlie Kondek December 3, 2010 at 11:42 am

Another excellent entry in an excellent series!

5 Bryan December 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

You nailed gym etiquette on the head. Great post Martin.

6 Peter Gilmore December 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Much of this is the same at a good BJJ/MMA gym (such as BJ Penn’s in Hawaii).

7 RJ December 3, 2010 at 10:48 pm

The only thing I’d add is: Don’t use your sparring gloves for bag work. Your sparring partner doesn’t want to get hit with old, shredded, dried up leather.

And while it is only sparring (aka practice), don’t be pansy about it. Go as hard as you can while making sure your partner is still getting good work. A brutal mismatch doesn’t do anyone any good, but neither does playing patty cake in the ring.

8 Drew December 7, 2010 at 7:25 pm

In sparring you will take some hard shots that leave you winded or a bit dazed. The article discusses that good sparring partners will hold back and not “go in for the kill”. While this is true, a good partner will still come at you and keep you honest. In a fight, there is no “time-out” so practice as you play.

Even if you take a big shot and feel like you need to stop, suck it up and keep your hands up. Dont turn your back and walk away, remember there is a difference between hurt and injured. I cant tell you how many guys lost respect in the eyes of trainers/other sparring partners because they stop mid-round and are fine a minute later.

Additionally, if you are at the disadvantage and a better/more experienced guy is dictating the pace, there will still be times when you land a good shot on them. It is pretty common that you will get hit back as hard you hit. So if you do see a chance and land a big shot, expect it back and maybe a little more to keep you in your place.

Lastly, guys that get angry and lose control during a sparring session typically aren’t the guys in there every day and don’t have the respect of the trainers. Ive seen novices get beat down by bully types but the second the rounds over, a trainer usually hops in for the next one and restores order.

9 Barnes December 15, 2010 at 8:23 am

Good points all around.
As I have been the only English speaker at my gym here in Tokyo that knows anything about Kickboxing, I have had to work with and translate for nobodies and for famous fighters. I have heard every single one of those excuses and everytime I cringe.
Maybe it was wrestling in high school, maybe it was things in the Marines, I have no idea. But stopping in the middle of a round of mitts because “I didn’t eat well today” is unacceptable. Also frankly, training with women has been tough. There is almost always an excuse and disappointingly, tears.
The Taekwondo thing, I have literally heard those exact words said to me by someone that had tried to pass himself off as the next John Wayne Parr.

If I could humbly add one addition that could easily fall under excuses…

-Keep your shit together. If you have asthma, bring your damned inhaler. Do not show up for conditioning sprints and a Monster Mash and say “oh yeah, my inhalers out so I am having trouble. Think I will take a break.” Really? And you want to FIGHT? In the ring? THAT one THERE?

Be on time. Do not keep your coach and training partners waiting.

Finally- Its prize fighting, not a social circle. Talk about “that girls titts” or your “asshole boss” etc some other time.

Keep this going.
I like it.

10 David December 17, 2010 at 4:43 pm

In my personal experience with boxing in the Washington DC area, this is a damn fine article reflecting the social rules of a boxing gym. There’s always that one guy who saunters into the gym with a chip on his shoulder and talking a bunch of smack. A good boxing gym with a good coach won’t put him into sparring anytime soon. If they stick around long enough to earn that right by showing the work ethic and skills to learn, then that attitude is usually ground out of them before they step into the ring. Those few who do have it beaten out of them with a few rounds of sharp counter jabs — no power punches required. I’ve yet to be to a real boxing gym that wasn’t hot, dirty, and loud, and when I first walked in it was intimidating as hell, a marked difference to the antiseptic fitness gyms with boxing programs claiming to teach the Sweet Science. Of the two gyms I trained at in the last six years, one was in the basement of a grocery store with the only entrance a backdoor at the loading dock, and the other was in a warehouse in the industrial area of town near the train tracks. For all you newbies out there, keep in mind — if the gym fits the description of this article, then you’re in the right place.

11 Andrew December 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for the article. I started boxing about a month ago, and even though I learned most of these by the time I read this article, it is well done. And like the guys who posted before me, my gym is hot, crowded, loud, and in the city (not in the nice downtown, but in the, well, you get the picture). And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

12 Ravi Gupta December 29, 2010 at 12:47 am

I started boxing a while ago before I hurt my shoulder and it’s a great workout and a great way to meet new people. As Andrew pointed out it’s an activity that is priceless, one that shouldn’t be traded in.

-Ravi Gutpa

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