Saturday, September 1, 2007

Understanding My Love of Boxing

Chances are that if you are reading this you have probably never had to use your fists to survive. While violence is ever present in the news, music, movies and arguably our minds, most of us by education, circumstance, hard work, privilege, perseverance, or economic class - while maybe outraged daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly – do not live under the constant threat of death. Perhaps it is that distance from daily violence and overt human suffering, which keeps most of us safe, yet apathetic and somewhat out of touch with what it really means to survive.

It has taken me a long time to understand why I am attracted to the violence of boxing, while abhorring violence in the world. What I respect is the discipline of the fighter who puts his life on the line for our entertainment, and for his survival. Most fighters whether they grew up dirt poor in the Philippines, Mexico, Eastern Europe, Cambodia, Uganda, England, Argentina or the United States, have had to fight to eat since they were small children. Boxing for them served as a refuge from the greater violence that would have claimed their lives outside of the gym. In boxing, they found that no matter how tough or weak they were they could only succeed by a strict training regimen, and discipline akin to that of the Samurai. To be that disciplined at anything simply commands respect, for mistakes in the ring, as those outside of the ring can cost a boxer their life.

There is something beautiful to see those most oppressed by vicious governmental and corporate forces throughout the world rise through nothing other than sheer courage, bravery, and discipline. This is not some romanticized notion either – this is real pain from which the fighter is spawned. Take perennial junior and middleweight contender and former champion Kassim Ouma. Ouma, originally from war-torn Uganda was forced to fight as a child soldier at the age of five. In a recent interview Ouma said, “They told me "shut up". Then they showed me how to shoot a gun in case anything happened so you could shoot a bad guy. Once I started being in the war, I was like "this is my side. If you're on that side I'm shooting."

Happy to have a gifted boxer representing the army, Ouma was allowed to hone his craft in the ring. When Ouma got the opportunity, he bolted from Uganda. Because of his choice, Ouma’s father was beaten to death on the streets he used to patrol. By the time he had momentarily escaped the horrors of his childhood, 9 of his 13 brothers and sisters had been slain.

Yet even more striking in some ways was the fact that after surviving years of armed conflict it was not until Ouma reached the good old States that he was pumped with two bullets in the stomach on the streets of Florida. Nothing poetic about it just sheer brutality. Somehow, someway he made it back to the ring to rise again and become a champion of the world. And that kind of resilience, courage, bravery is something most of us are simply not made of – yet can at the very least respect if not admire.

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