Living on your edge is one of Peter’s principles for living a remarkable life. In this episode, he explores an activity boxing that might help you do that. First, he talks to a Boulder-based boxing coach and gym owner, Kirsten Barry. They cover topics, such as why shadow boxing isn’t as stupid as it looks and the degree to which boxing is a solo sport. Then, for this week’s bonus material, Peter talks to LA-based boxing coach, Andrew Woods, who shares some special boxing wisdom and advice if you want to try a boxing class.
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Listen to Episode #9 here
One of my principles for living a remarkable life is to live on your edge. In this episode, I explore an activity that might help you do that. First, I speak to a Boulder-based boxing coach and gym owner. We cover topics such as why shadow boxing isn’t as stupid as it looks and the degree to which boxing is a solo sport. For this episode’s bonus material, I talked to an LA-based boxing coach who shares some special boxing wisdom and advice if you want to try a boxing class. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Our guest is Kirsten Barry. She is the 2016 Colorado State Golden Gloves champ. She’s a USA Weightlifting and USA Boxing Level 1 coach. We’re at the Corner Boxing Club in Boulder, Colorado where she’s the Head Coach and Cofounder. Welcome, Kirsten.
One of the things was I awkwardly got into the ring and I was like, “I’m sure I’m doing this wrong,” you said.
There’s no wrong way to get into a boxing ring.
Is there a better way?
It’s whatever your hip height is. That’s where you’re getting in. There are four ropes. I get in between the top two and the bottom two, that midline. The tall guys will go over the top. They push that top rope down and step over. It has a good intimidation factor.
In the movies, there’s always someone who opens up the ropes for you.
When it comes to an actual boxing match, your coach will open the ropes for you to present the ring to you. The coach will go up first, open the ropes and the athlete will come through.
Do you practice that?
You learn through getting in the ring and sparring. It might be a good idea to practice that. You get to practice from getting into the ring from sparring. Even then, you still might trip on your way in and you’ve got to recover.
[bctt tweet=”You learn through getting into the ring and sparring.” via=”no”]
I’ve been to the Corner before where I did an introductory course. A good friend of mine was a member. He’s now since moved away and he raved about this experience that he was having. He was talking about also not only it was a great experience in terms of the room and everything. He was like, “The people who run it are super interesting,” and so on. I’m preparing to move away. I’m going on a sabbatical. I’ve been doing a lot of tidying up. I’m channeling Marie Kondo and tidying up my office and everything and I came across your business card. I thought, “This is exactly the episode I want to do for the show.
The theme of this show is about living a remarkable life using time, energy and space to do things that are interesting that make you a better person, that stretch you and so on. I remember being stretched by that introductory class. There were different movements. I’m in decent shape. I’m a good athlete, but I felt like a big dumb guy. I was sore the next day and I remember it being this challenging but encouraging, lively atmosphere. I last-minute emailed you and said, “Can I get in here?” You kindly accepted. There are a lot of things I want to talk about, but let’s get to know you a little bit first. You are not solo and that’s fine. You don’t have to be solo to be a guest on this program but you offhandedly said, “I did enjoy my time when I was.”
I fancy myself one of those extrovert-introverts. I can turn it on, but I’m exhausted. I’m happy to get time to myself to not be entertaining people or be interesting. I prefer doing things alone. I get that solo life.
You’re an outstanding boxer.
You’re not the Colorado State Golden Gloves champ. What was your fighting weight?
It’s 141. For that year in Golden Gloves, I went up a weight class so that I wouldn’t have to fight my sparring partner.
Normally, you try to go down a weight class?
Generally, you want to cut weight and go out of the lower weight class because you’ll be theoretically fighting smaller people. I went up a weight class because my sparring partner was also competing in Golden Gloves and we didn’t want to compete with each other. We’re on the same team. I chose to go up a weight class because that would be easier. All you have to do is be one pound over your normal weight class. I fight at 141. I ate a Meatball Sub before weigh-ins. I weighed 143 and that was enough to kick me up to the 152-weight class.
Now, you’re at a disadvantage because you’re seemingly fighting someone who has more?
That’s what I thought. I thought I was going to be fighting girls who were my same fitness level but taller. It turns out they were heavier and smaller, both of them. I had a lot of fun. Match-ups are made based on your experience. You’re fighting someone with the same experience level, the same number of bouts as you. Someone who has ten bouts will never go against someone who has one. You are the same weight class, so you weighed the same. The third thing is that you’re in the same age range within ten years.
Most of what I know about boxing, I learned from watching Rocky, which is probably what most people have had that experience. I know a little bit else, but there are also differences in the size of gloves?
It’s the difference in ounces is how they break them down. For the competition, depending on how much you weigh and how old you are, that’ll affect the ounces. Like me, I would be using ten-ounce gloves where you will probably be using twelves. That reason is that it’s a safety thing. You don’t want big dudes using little gloves. Unlike pro boxing, which is what Rocky was centered about, amateur boxing is more about the safety of the athletes rather than the entertainment of the audience.
When you were fighting at Golden Gloves, you win by scoring punches rather than knocking someone out?
It’s because of the parameters that are set up, the same weight, the same experience level and relatively the same age. It minimizes the risk of a knockout greatly because you’re not going to have someone who weighs way more or that weight discrepancy. Plus, the headgear and the mouth guards, it lowers that risk. Not to say that it doesn’t happen, it’s way less likely to happen in amateur boxing than pro boxing.
I suspect the more evenly matched two people are, the less likely that is to happen.
It doesn’t nullify it or completely writes it off, but it significantly lowers the chance of it happening. We do try to win on using technique and skill rather than going for that one big punch.
There are not many Butterbeans in the Golden Gloves?
When it gets to the bigger guys, some of them get a little fluffier. One thing I’ve learned about this is that you can’t make a judgment on someone based on their physique necessarily. Between the guy who’s built like a cloud, those big bodybuilder guys and the skinny fat dude, I’m going to bet on the skinny fat dude because he’s got more mobility than Mr. Cloudman who can’t itch his nose with the big muscles. It slows you down. You don’t necessarily want to do too much weightlifting with this sport.
You said you’re this introverted-extrovert or an extroverted-introvert?
[bctt tweet=”There really is no conditioning like conditioning for boxing matches.” via=”no”]
It’s the latter.
What seems to be interesting to me is it seems boxing is a good introverted sport and coaching and co-founding a gym is an extroverted activity. Let’s talk about how you got into boxing and how you transitioned into this world. I assume you’re still boxing.
I was debating getting another match in June, but it takes effort and time.
Are you running a business now?
I’m running a business. I was before, but I don’t know. I’m also a volunteer firefighter now, so I’ve got that going on and it’s hard to dedicate the time to that. Owning a business does require me to bring out that extroverted side.
Is it like holding a mic and going on podcasts?
That’s less intensive. That’s a requirement of the job. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I feel like being extroverted. You do what you have to do to get it done and turn it on. I have to make people want to kill themselves. Do you want to do another round on this heavy bag? Do you want to get back in that ring? Encouraging people to do this sport takes a little more oomph than your average coaching because of the added risk and because of how much it takes mentally, physically and emotionally.
I want to digress a little bit. I did the session here. I had done some combat stuff when I was in college. For the average person who hasn’t, they fail to realize how incredibly taxing it is to box.
They say there’s no conditioning like boxing conditioning.
A round is how long?
It depends, 2 to 3 minutes.
How long is the break typically between?
In a match, it’s a minute. In our classes, we do 30 seconds.
In many ways, it’s the original high-intensity training. High-intensity training is all the rage these days and boxing is the original high-intensity training.
It’s that high-intensity interval training where you’re 2 minutes on, 1 minute off and it’s all out. You’ve got to be able to bring your heart rate down in between that rest time.
One of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you about this is the theme is this notion of people stretching themselves. As a boxer, you’re constantly stretching yourself. With regard to training, learning new techniques and having to fight someone has to be something that creates some mixed emotions. You’d have to be a little bit of a psychopath to not have mixed emotions about boxing someone else. Is that fair?
I would say so and that fear diminishes over time. It’s people’s number one fear when they step in this door, “I don’t want to get hit in the face.” I was like, “Neither do I. That’s why I moved my head out of the way.” It’s something that we joke about in the intro class. You’re not going to get hit, number one, that costs extra. Number two, you’re not good enough. You started. You don’t even know where to put your feet or your hands, let alone how to slip a punch. Some gyms will throw people into that, but I would say 90% of our gym population, they come for stress relief from hitting something that’s not going to get you to put in jail. The conditioning, it’s more fun of a workout. I love lifting weights, but some people walk into a gym and they get bored with the dumbbells. This is more fun than going for a run or anything else.
Let’s cover this a little more. You say stress relief and fitness clearly. Are people coming in to feel more confident, more comfortable knowing that if I’m walking down the street at night and something happens, I can better take care of myself?
You carry yourself a little bit differently when you know how to throw a punch. Not to say that we’re training people to go be streetfighters. We’re training people for the sport of boxing. That’s it. We’re training you in here in the ring and not necessarily for defending yourself in an alley, but there is a way that you carry yourself when you do know how to throw a punch and that seems to prevent any interactions. I personally have never been in a fight outside of a boxing ring. That’s one, how I carry myself. I’m confident. I’m not an asshole. Nobody comes looking to me for trouble and I don’t go looking to anyone else for trouble.
You do learn to carry yourself a little bit differently. There is that emotional aspect that comes with the sport of one, I feel more confident and two, this being a community space. I know I can go to the gym. I’m not going to be judged there. That’s where we separate ourselves from other gyms is that no one’s coming in with the bravado in here. Your bravado is in your skill. If you can box well, then that’s in your rounds. We don’t go around and like, “What’s that guy doing?” That community space helps people get that relief also from the outside world.
I want to try to give people an idea of what it’s like to come to this gym versus another. The obvious would be that the people running the gym don’t look like the people who normally run a gym.
It’s a boxing gym specifically. Female-owned gym for one and females that don’t look your average females. It’s funny that everyone thinks that between my co-owner and I that I was the original boxer, but Carrie was on the US women’s team and is much more accomplished than I am. Because I’ve got the shaved head and the muscles, people were like, “That must be the Olympic boxer.” I’m like, “That unassuming blonde lady over there.”
To your point, you can’t judge who’s going to be good in the ring.
Carrie weighs ten pounds less than me but hits twenty times harder than I do.
Looking around this gym, it’s a little cleaner than a typical boxing gym.
I was going to say that’s one thing that sets us apart from your average boxing gym is one, it’s female-owned and two, it’s clean. That might have something to do with the female-owned part.
You do have international flags all around the gym.
We’ve got flags up everywhere and some of those are from the nationalities of our members. Some of them are from the countries that Carrie has competed in for the US team.
Otherwise, you’ve got heavy bags hanging.
We’ve got heavy bags. We’ve got weights. We do not have a treadmill. We do our running outside. It’s Boulder. There’s no need for a treadmill. We do have bikes for people who cannot run as a warm-up, a low impact. I would say the other thing that sets us apart from some boxing gyms is that while we enforce the technique, this is a real boxing gym. It’s not BoxFit where you’re flailing around. We ensure that you’re learning proper form and technique of boxing and that provides a smoother transition. A lot of people when they start, they’re like, “I don’t want to hit anybody or get hit.” Six months later, they’re watching sparring and they’re like, “I could do that.”
We were talking about differences in the gym and you emphasized technique.
We enforce proper technique.
I remember how encouraging it was. Correct me if I’m wrong because my memory is not good. I remember it feeling professional in terms of it was snappy. You move people. It was clear what was expected and how to do it. You set parameters about the distance from people, safety and so on. Yet it also wasn’t like, “You piece of shit, get to it,” which can happen. It’s an intro thing, but it felt like, “They want me to be here. They want me to succeed. They know that I’m terrible. They want me to be safe.”
That intro class is tricky because it’s a lot of information to cram into an hour. That’s why it is regimented like, “Now you’re learning this skill, now you’re learning that skill.” It’s slowly building it up. The other problem is there’s not a lot of translations from other sports. You can have your super high intense triathletes come in here and they’re stumbling over their feet because there’s no translation from any prior sport or experience. It’s something of its own like the footwork and how you move. It’s different.
When I was in college, I had played basketball in high school. As a freshman in college, I picked up lacrosse. I got good in a year because I had spent years moving like that even the flow of the game is similar and so on. Who makes the best transition?
Tennis has similar footwork because of the lateral movement that you get from tennis. It’s a boxing ring, you end up making a lot of circular type motions. That side to side shuffling that’s in tennis and the quickness of snapping from one stance into another.
I would not have guessed that. Especially because when you think tennis and when you think boxing, you think of different people and different socioeconomic status and so on. Let’s get back to your roots. You are spending a lot of your time coaching, working on your extroversion muscles, but you’ve got into this world as a boxer. It is a solo sport in a sense. I’m picking up that. You have coaching and you need an opponent and so on.
That’s a misconception about boxing being a solo sport because you are the only one in the ring. What got you there was a group of people. You have a training partner, sparring partners and you’ve got your coach. As far as going with your coach, in the beginning certainly, we say that the best puppet wins. Meaning the person who can listen to what their coach is yelling from the corner and execute it will win because the coach is on the outside. You’re in the eye of the storm so you can’t see everything that your coach can see. If you can hear what your coach is calling out and execute it at that moment, you will win.
I want to do something. We’ll see how this goes. I’m going to have you hold the mic at arm’s length and I want you to simulate what you as a coach or what you might hear as an athlete from a coach during a match.
Keep your hands up, 1, 2, step right. Keep moving. Try to take an angle. Double jab, 1, 2, 3.
What does 1, 2, 3 mean?
In boxing, every punch has a number associated with it. Your jab is your lead punch is your one, which for righties will be your straight left. Your two are your cross or your straight right hand. Your three is your lead left hook.
I never knew that. There’s a coach on each corner yelling this stuff out, a crowd cheering. You’re exhausted. You’re worried about punches coming at you. You’re moving. You’re supposed to be processing. When you hear 1, 2, 3, you’re supposed to be throwing a jab across or a hook.
You’ve got to try to execute at that moment and do what your coach sees. You’re combating all of those other things. The noise from everyone else plus your own fears. Every time you get caught with a punch, it’s discouraging and you feel you can’t even get close to your opponent. Let alone throw this combo your coach wants you to throw.
How did you become a boxer?
One of my friends suggested I take a boxing class. She said that I was an aggressive person. She thought combat sports might suit me.
You were how old?
I was 26.
That seems late to the sport.
That’s one of the things we hear a lot is I wish I had started this sooner so that people could be farther along.
You have a senior’s program including Parkinson’s boxing and old broads boxing.
That’s one of the things I love about our gym is that we’re all in the age ranges, all walks of life. The old broads class is my personal favorite class. It’s the 50s and up. I coach that class and I love it. We rock out to Joan Jett and hit stuff and it’s much fun. It’s a great time and it’s super encouraging because one day I want to grow up and join the old broads.
If you were to describe the typical old broad, what’s she like?
She is not fragile, robust in individuals who can fight down and push through the rounds when they want to quit. Your average old broad has faced their fair share of adversity and knows how to get through it.
Do you have a particular favorite old broad story?
One of my favorite old broads is named Maggie. She is the captain of her softball team, the Colorado Peaches. It’s a league of their own, but she’s 87. She’s this little thing, but she’s got much fire in her. She’s amazing. It’s one of the reasons I love that class because they come and each one of them has different old injuries or mobility restrictions and they push past. They do what they can. It’s inspiring to be like, “If Maggie can bust out ten rounds on the heavy bag, I should be able too.” They’re amazing, but there’s also our Parkinson’s senior class. That’s both genders. They have Parkinson’s, so that presents a bunch of different ways. It’s a one-sided weakness. There’s the traditional shaking that everyone’s used to seeing from Michael J. Fox. There’s a memory and a variety of different symptoms. They come in. Some of them are in here three days a week.
We have this class, three days a week. They come in and they get their stretches. It’s the same thing. They’re pushing themselves hard, but they’re having fun. It’s encouraging. It’s a mutually beneficial atmosphere because they get a workout. It’s an endorphin boost. It’s fun. It’s uplifting. I love getting our youth athletes in here too so that they can see these days when you come in, you feel tired and you don’t want to train like look at them. Do you think they’re tired? Do you think they woke up and had ten different aches? They found out what was something else is aching now and they still came in. You got to push yourself.
You’re 26. You have a friend who says, “You should do this boxing class.” You say, “Let’s do it.”
The number one thing that I loved about it is I’d never been sweaty doing anything. It feels good to hit stuff and you get that workout. There’s that satisfying pop and that feeling when you’re like, “That was a good punch. It was in the right range. I got the rotation right,” and learning all of that stuff. That is the added challenge on top of the physical. The number one thing we hear from the intro class is, “I didn’t know there was much thinking involved in boxing,” because there’s much technique involved. Your feet have to be the right position. Your hands need to be in the right position. You have to keep moving your head. You’ve got to keep moving your feet and mixing up your combos. Everything has to keep moving.
There’s this notion in psychology called a flow state. I’m going to describe it to you and you tell me when you started to feel it as a boxer. The notion is that we can achieve a flow state when we’re involved in an activity. It could be a thinking activity. It could also be physical activity in which the challenge and your ability match up. If your ability is below the challenge, you feel stressed and anxious. If the challenge is below your ability, you feel bored. Painters and writers describe being in this flow state where everything disappears. Time even seems to stop. You forget to eat. This also happens in physical activity once you get good enough. I could even imagine something as seemingly as simple as punching a heavy bag that you can achieve that flow state because it has a challenge that needs to be met. For you, have you had that experience and if you did, when did you start to notice that it would happen?
What immediately comes to mind is that a lot of people when they’re working in here, the first month everybody feels the same way as I suck. Everyone thinks that they’re worse than everybody else. It’s tricky. I’m like, “Don’t be hard on yourself,” but also let that drive you, that desire to get better. In the beginning, you feel like you can’t. There’s much to get right. You feel you can’t get anything right. My feet are the wrong distance part or I keep dropping this hand when I throw this punch or whatever it may be. One of the first moments, it clicked for me. It wasn’t until after my first match because there’s nothing like applying the skills you learn on a heavy bag to the practical application of it. Everything you’ve learned goes away.
It wasn’t until after that match that I took value in shadow boxing, which you have seen in the movie Rocky when he’s running up to the top of the stairs. He’s punching the air. That’s shadowboxing. To everyone else, it feels stupid because you’d feel like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m punching the air.” After my first match, I was like, “This is what I’m doing.” I’m using my mental imaging to pretend how my opponent moves and how I’m going to move. You play out scenarios in your head when you’re shadowboxing.
That may be when you get into the ring and you’re like, “I’ve encountered this scenario before even if you haven’t physically done it.” I remember that shadowboxing stopped feeling stupid and it started feeling useful. It’s like, “I’m not punching the air because there’s nothing in front of me. I can envision my opponent. I can remember how my opponent moves. That was one moment. The first time was when I slipped a punch correctly. We always say you want to make a miss by an inch, not by a mile because we want to be efficient in our movement. The first time I slipped a punch correctly, it was like The Matrix. It barely skidded my head and was like, “What?” It felt cool because it barely grazed my head but then it connects. That was a moment for me. I was like, “It’s coming together.”
You were bad at it and you became good at it. You have a natural skill or whatever but natural skill is not nearly enough. The most naturally gifted person doesn’t always win. You need grit. You need good training. You need a good coach.
It’s mostly hours in the gym of practicing.
There’s a famous Muhammad Ali quote about how he wins the match when the lights aren’t on. I’m no Muhammad Ali. I want to talk about some other things, but I read this article. It was a series of essays in Esquire or GQ back when they were more serious about being a writing magazine. I don’t know if it was Norman Mailer or Ernest Hemingway. It was that style essay article. It was a metaphor for life, but it used boxing as a metaphor for life. I’m curious if the boxing metaphor is right. It says something along the lines that the best punch is closest to the worst, more or less, was the idea essentially.
I’ll try to translate what my recollection of it is that to put yourself in a position to throw a good punch and potentially knock out your opponent, you have to expose yourself to being knocked out to their punches.
I would say that’s true.
The reason I always like that was, first of all, it’s a visual thing to imagine that you need to get close enough. You put yourself in harm’s way in order to harm. What I like about that for life and for this show, in particular, is that if you want to do some remarkable thing in life, you have to put yourself out there. You have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. You have to stretch yourself.
You have to pretend to be an extrovert.
Once you pretended to be an extrovert long enough, it becomes easier to do and you can start to enjoy that side of life. I like that I’m talking to a boxer and you are like, “What’s the most challenging thing?” It’s like, “Hanging out with all these people.”
It does take that extra effort and you have to be willing to put yourself out there. Going back to that quote, anytime you throw a punch, you open yourself up to be punched. On the other side of that coin, I’m going to use a Wayne Gretzky quote that, “You miss all of the shots you don’t take.” In the beginning, there are two kinds of boxers. There’s the boxer who doesn’t care if they get hit. They want to put down their bullhorns, push forward and lead headfirst. They’ll take ten shots so that they can get off one. That’s not great. I’ll admit that was initially my style in the beginning. There’s the other side of the coin, the person who doesn’t want to throw because they’re worried that they’re going to miss or they’re worried about exposing themselves. That’s the beautiful balance of boxing is the whole point is to hit and not be hit. You can’t miss either side of that coin. You can’t be all offense and you can’t be all defense. You have to find that flow of attack, defend. You learn about the timing and when you should be on the defense and when you should be on the offense and finding the holes of light in between it, of seeing the openings.
That’s a wonderful metaphor for life. There are those moments that you can’t always be playing offense or defense. If you want to do something that’s great, you’re going to have to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You’re going to have to challenge yourself and play both sides. Kirsten, you’re living a remarkable life. That seems clear to me. Not only are you training, not only are you running a gym, not only are you coaching at the gym, but you’re also a volunteer firefighter. Are you trying to become a non-volunteer firefighter? What would that be?
I started that journey a few years ago. One of my members in my gym is a firefighter here at Boulder Fire Department. He was like, “You would be a great firefighter. You should check it out.” I checked it out and I was like, “This is awesome. I love it.” I figured out what I had to do. I went and got my EMT. I went and got my IV certification. I went and got my Wildland Firefighting Certification. I found the Hygiene Volunteer Fire Department. Hygiene is up near Longmont. I’ve been getting certifications. On average, it takes five years to become a firefighter. It’s competitive. I’ve been working at that. I also tried out for the Colorado Firefighter Calendar.
I have a question about this. Someone had fed me an Instagram post of your tryout.
I had to do a three-minute routine. I picked Eye of the Tiger as my song for my performance because if I blanked out and didn’t know what I was going to do, I was planning on shadow boxing and following back on what I know. That was one of my more extroverted moments. I was in the back, drinking whiskey. This is another situation where I challenge myself. It was funny. I was drinking. Finally, it was like, “I’ve got to get into fight mode.” I put on my headphones. I started preparing for going out on the runway the same way that I prepare for a boxing match.
Which is how?
I put on my headphones. I was listening to Eye of the Tiger because that’s what I was dancing to. I was going through my moves in my head. Before I fight, I’m going through what combos I’m going to throw, how I’m going to move and how my opponent moves. There was that similarity. I was like, “Forget whiskey. I’m going to get into fight mode.”
What month are you going to be?
I don’t know. They still let me pick, but I want it to be July because it’s the hottest one.
This was super fun. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for indulging me and letting us sit in the middle of the ring. Thanks so much.
Welcome back for some special bonus material. Please meet Andrew Woods. He is a seventeen-year USA boxing coach and healthcare advisor for the greater Los Angeles communities. For the past several years, Andrew has been a group fitness boxing instructor at Equinox throughout Southern California. I met him at one of those classes and besides thoroughly enjoying the class, I was impressed with the boxing wisdom he shared with his students. I thought it’d be great for him to share some with you. Welcome, Andrew. A little bit about your boxing background, seventeen years as a coach. I assume you were a boxer before you were a coach.
I did a little bit of amateur, but I didn’t get all the way into the amateur profession per se. I didn’t get too many fights. I started off preparing for the amateur division, but then I got sick. My doctor has explained to me, if I kept it up, I would eventually die in the ring. I was forced to quit due to this illness. Thinking back about two years into it and I said, “What do I do? I’m unable to pursue my passion and dream.” I thought about it. I prayed about it. Lo and behold, I got the answer. Why don’t you teach people about what you know?
This sounds like the start to a movie, the young up and coming fighter learns this diagnosis. What got you into boxing?
I picked it up. I don’t even know how to explain it. My father got me and my twin sister into martial arts when we were young. We didn’t take it seriously, which is something that we did as a pastime. My father was a sixth-degree black belt in Taekwondo. I left it out after that. I wasn’t interested in it. I found myself later on in my teenage years, more on my pre-adulthood, 20, 21 that I was struggling mentally and spiritually. I was struggling in every area of my life. I’ve tried to figure out, “How do I fight to get over this issue?” I found myself getting into boxing, almost looking for a cure. I was looking for an answer.
I picked it up. I knew how to fight already. Don’t ask me why and how I knew how to fight. I knew how to fight. I did it well in the streets. I said, “Let me pick up this thing and start taking it more seriously.” I got myself into the gym. Broadway Boxing Gym is where I came out. I started in 1998. I taught myself from there. Everything that I’ve learned was autodidactic. If you don’t know what autodidactic means, it’s self-taught. Everything that I’ve learned was self-taught. I taught myself how to fight. I would watch films. I would go to the library and pick up old boxing films.
YouTube did not exist in 1998.
We did not have YouTube.
We had email and that’s it.
My mother would drop me off at the library and I would go pick up old fighting films from Sugar Ray Robinson days to the Joe Lewis and Muhammad Ali days. I would sit there. I would watch and steady until I got familiar with the technique, offense and defense. I would take what I would get from the films and apply it to the gym. Before I knew it, I got good at it. I would train about six hours a day learning how to master and sharpen these tools, but I wasn’t eating properly because I didn’t understand about nutrition and dietetics. Imagine I’m working out to the bone 6 hours, 4 hours a day and only eating baby food and bread. That’s all I could afford at that time. Remember, boxing is a poor man’s sport. There’s no money involved. I did it because I loved it. I was doing it much that I was malnourished.
I was trashing my body day in and day out, but I was getting better at perfecting my craft. I would get sick to where I would have these massive stomach aches that wouldn’t go away. I would take all kinds of medicine and it wouldn’t go away. Over the weeks and months, my belly would expand out almost as if I was pregnant. I went to the doctor and the doctor said, “You have a condition called rhabdomyolysis. It’s a condition where your body starts eating at itself.” My body was attacking my kidneys and my pancreas at the same time. I don’t know if you’ve seen children in third world countries where they’re small. I had that condition.
The doctor said, “You do two things. You can keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll probably die in the ring or you can stop what you’re doing and potentially save your life.” I stopped what I was doing. I remember I couldn’t go to the bathroom for almost six weeks. Imagine the amount of pain that I was in. Sitting here, lying on my back, no medication because the doctor said there’s no cure for this. You have to let it ride out. I would sit there, lay down, depression would kick in. Suicidal thoughts would kick in, “What do I do?” I would pray about it, thought about it. I said, “I can imagine how many other people are fighters, in particular, are going through the same thing that I’m going through. Why don’t I teach them about proper health, proper teaching as far as the sport of boxing is concerned?”
I first heal myself naturally. I said, “There’s no medicine for this. Let me figure out how to nourish myself properly.” I went into studying dietetics and nutrition, anatomy, gastroenterology, herbs, natural and holistic ways of medicine and heal myself naturally. From there, I said, “I haven’t figured out how to go into the business of coaching.” I got online and figured out how to get the certification at the USA Boxing Foundation. I took all the courses and certified myself as a USA boxing coach. From there, I went on and promoted myself.
At this point, you’re a young coach. When I think of boxing coaches, I think of these grizzled old veterans. I think of Mickey from Rocky and Mike Tyson’s coach, Cus D’Amato, these curmudgeonly old guys. What’s fascinating is my previous guest, Kirsten Barry. She’s young. She’s youthful. You’re a little older, but you’re a youthful man. When you started this though, you were 20, 21 so young in that way. What do you think the advantage and disadvantages of being such a young coach were for you?
[bctt tweet=”Boxing is a poor man’s spot. There’s no money involved.” via=”no”]
The disadvantages were the experience because most coaches have a lot of experience. They’ve been around professional and amateur fighters for a long time. They’ve seen the ins and outs in regards to the sport. More importantly, they understand the business a little better. I lacking that experience didn’t necessarily put me at a disadvantage. It stretched my capacity to learn more and to get more involved. I had to do more work than what an average coach would have to do. I went into the deep end. I said, “I’m going to surround myself and get involved as much as I can possible. If I die doing this, I die doing it.” I got into films. I would go to different boxing camps. I was anywhere and everywhere soaking up as much knowledge as I could. From there, it was prayer. I promise you, I prayed. I said, “God, send me the help that I needed,” because I didn’t know where to look. There’s no boxing instruction booklet. There’s nowhere to go, how to or who to talk to.
It’s an apprentice-like profession. You start out as a fighter. You work your way up and you can’t fight anymore. You might either transition out or transition into coaching. You were creating the playbook for yourself. I like situations like this. I like it when people deviate from the status quo. While it has a disadvantage, it can give you an edge, which is a fresh perspective. If everybody’s doing exactly the same thing and you do something different, that can provide an edge. I’ll tell you two things that I like about your class.
One is your class is physical. This is a fancy gym. These are pretty people doing these things. Your class is hitting things. You strap on this thing that goes over your chest and belly that’s padded, body vest, and you hold these pads in your hands. You have a group of four people and they’re doing some calisthenics work. You call someone down out with you. You will rough them up a little bit if you need to. If you notice that they’re being a little scared or whatnot and you will encourage them to be aggressive. You put the gloves up for different types of combinations. At some point, I don’t know exactly what you said, but you’re like, “Go to work.” You’re a big sturdy guy, but still you’ve got people hitting you in your basically abdomen. You want them to hit you as hard as they can, as effectively as they can and that’s unusual. We live in a world where it’s not okay to hit people.
I like that the class was physically challenging. My abs were sore for two days afterward. I like that you were having people tussled. I thought it was refreshing in a world that’s carefully curated. Everybody’s looking at themselves in the mirror, doing their Instagram shots and all this stuff. People are sweating, huffing and puffing. Punching these gloves, punching bags and moving through. You have these moments where you feel like a boxer. How did that evolve? That’s a thing I would expect in a real boxing gym. Yet you’re doing this at Equinox. Tell me how did you arrive at that philosophy? How did you arrive at that style? Is there something behind that?
I started at Broadway Boxing Gym, that’s all the way in South Central between Compton, South Central area. It’s a tough neighborhood, a tough city. Being in that environment forced me to be tough. You’re dealing with gangs. You’re dealing with economic deprivation. You’re dealing with drugs. You’re dealing with anything and everything in regards to suffering. People come from these different atmospheres or environments and they come into the gym to let go of what they’re dealing with. The gym is almost like a church to us. This is our therapy. This is our home so that we can express ourselves any way that we can. We use it in the form of boxing. Believe it or not, boxing is an expressive sport.
Coming to Broadway allowed me to express my frustration, number one. It allowed me to express my type of suffering, number two. After that, it provided healing for me. Being in that environment for long, I built up this tough, strong, enthusiastic, almost intimidating, no-nonsense mentality about myself and how I wanted to carry myself for the rest of my life, especially out in public. Being there for as long as I’ve been there, I’ve cultivated the idea that I needed to be tough all the time. Not that I was seeing that anybody was picking on me or trying to take advantage of me, but my condition and my suffering allowed me to be open to abuse because I didn’t address it. I said, “I needed to fix this problem.” About 4 or 5 years after I healed myself from my sickness, I said, “Let me go out and see what other people I can be a service or help to.” I would drive from Compton straight down Rosecrans all the way into Manhattan Beach. If anybody knows the east of Rosecrans, you can run right into the beach. It was a nice neighborhood, nice people and all that good stuff.
It’s one of those streets that has a little bit of everything.
If you go to the west side of Rosecrans, you go right into Compton. I will take my little trip to Rosecrans into Manhattan Beach to get a little peace of mind. I remember going down Rosecrans, there was a little gym called Equinox. It wasn’t even built yet. They said, “Yoga studio, healthcare center and boxing studio opening up this summer.” I would pass by there every day and I would tell myself, “I’m going to work here.” I called it out. About a year later, I went in and put my resume through. The young lady that was the head of the group fitness department, she said, “We hired all of our people already, but if we were to hire you in the future, give me a little 30-second spiel of what you would do.”
I gave her about 30 seconds of a little bit of hood, a little bit of Compton. She said, “You’re hired.” She hired me on the spot. That was my first initiation at Equinox at South Bay. I remember the first time I came in to teach, I said, “I don’t know what these people are going to think about me because I come straight from the hoods, straight from the ghetto. Let me be myself.” I remember four people came on the first day and the next day, 29 people show up. I said, “They like me here.”
From there, I taught them what I learned in that rough, tough and rugged environment. I’ve noticed that people love the idea of getting that tough, rugged boxing experience. They didn’t want to be pushed away. I noticed that my toughness and my firmness about getting things done in a particular way, scared or intimidated a lot of people. It forced me to change my way of teaching. Equinox taught me how to settle down and soften up a little bit.
First of all, it was a different crowd that’s normally in one of the group fitness classes. There was almost a business-like atmosphere in there. People are friendly and nice and so on, but they were strapping up. They’re like, “I’m ready to go.” This was not like, “I’m going to mail it in now.” They know you.
I set the tone early. I said, “We’re going to come in here and we’re going to work out. We’re going to have fun, but we need to be serious about your future. You need to be serious about what healing you want. We want to be serious about what change you want to facilitate. Let’s get it right. They know when they step in, it’s work.
One of the things that came up in the previous part of the episode was I had thought about boxing is this solo activity. I’ve been changing my mind about it a little bit. One is you can shadow box. It can be a purely solo activity. It’s you in the mirror or you with a heavy bag, but it’s not purely. You have someone who you might be fighting. This role of coach, I didn’t realize how prominent it is. In an actual fight, how important it is to have a coach in your corner. In terms of shouting instructions, noticing things, telling you what to do in between rounds and so on.
It’s nice because it serves as a nice metaphor for the idea that I have for this show. I’ve been working behind the scenes to try to develop some principles for the solo remarkable life. One of those principles that I’m sure of is this idea of creating a team. I think of a coach as a teammate in a sense, a wiser one and one who directs, but also one that you’re never going to be the best boxer that you can be without a good coach. It’s an actor and a director. An actor is never going to get better without a great director. A boxer is never going to become great without a great coach. I saw a glimpse of that in this class.
The other thing that I liked about the class was your boxing wisdom. One of the things that I noticed is that it wasn’t something that you said at the end of class, but I connected to things in class. If I remember correctly, you had this idea of, “Are you moving forward or moving backward?” When we were doing our little sparring thing, if someone was moving backward, you would move into them to make them recognize that they’re moving backward. Also, to let them know that is not an escape. What is that idea about moving forward and moving backwards as you think of it as a boxing coach?
You only have two choices. If you’re moving backward, you’re running away from your problem. Your problem is not going to go away because you move backward. It’s never going to go away. The only way you’re going to address your issue is if you move forward. You’ve got to recognize first, “I have an issue.” That’s accountability. Your job is to either get through it or get over it, but the idea of success or victory is what we call in boxing is always moving forward. You have two tools. You have your left hand and your right hand. You use those tools accordingly to dismantle and to destroy your opponent in the most strategic and destructive way possible.
You do in a manner where you’re not exhausting yourself. You don’t want to be sloppy. You want to have a technique. You want to have poise. More importantly, you want to have emotional stability. Seeing many fighters that get into the ring and everything that we’ve taught, practiced and worked on day in and day out outside of the ring gets thrown out the window when they get in because they’re emotionally distraught. Fear sets in. The opponent gets the best of them. They may be too big or too strong and they lose it. I said, “If you don’t have your emotions under control, everything else is out of control.” The idea of moving forward with a strategy is important when it comes to this fight. Moving forward with a strategy with complete control and discipline over your emotions, you can’t fail with that. That’s key.
Part of the reason that I chose boxing because of this idea of that it seems at first this solo activity. It supports this idea of having a team, but also it’s one of those activities that can push someone to live at their edge, to be uncomfortable. This is one of those other principles and themes that I’ve been working on is to live at your edge. It’s scary. We live in a world where it’s impolite to hit people and hit things and so on. It’s scary that you might end up getting hit or pushed around or whatever it might be.
Some of it is awkward. Boxing can be beautiful. It can be like a dance. You can feel like a complete badass, but you can also feel awkward, stupid, clumsy, flat-footed and so on. That’s a progression where you build to it. One of the other things that I’ve always liked is I’ve read this back as a college kid and it was in a series of essays in Esquire or something like that. It was probably written by an Ernest Hemingway-type writer, one of these brash, both masculine yet artistic kinds of personas that felt like they existed a lot more in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and so on. Maybe with Norman Mailer, I don’t know who wrote it. I haven’t been able to find the essay.
The premise of it was in boxing and in life, often the best punch is closest to the worst. The idea as I remember it is first of all, if you want to hit your opponent, you put yourself at risk of being hit. If you want to knock out your opponent, you also put yourself at risk of being hit and potentially being knocked out. The best right jabs don’t knock out opponents. Uppercuts and hooks do, which are closer range punches and in the pocket punches. What this author was arguing was a lot of life is like that. A new business venture, an advanced degree, moving to a new city, taking a risk in life can turn out magnificently or remarkably and it can also turn out devastatingly because the best punch is often close to the worst. I’ve always carried that around whenever I think about doing something that’s a little scary is that oftentimes that’s a scary thing.
Most people don’t want to take a risk and that’s what you have to do in boxing. As soon as you step outside of your house, you’re taking a risk. You don’t know if you’ll get hit by a bus. You don’t know if you get into an accident. Unfortunately, you heard what happened with Kobe Bryant. You’ll never know when it’s your time. Every time you step outside of your home, you’re taking a risk. Hopefully, you have a plan, but you know that once you take a positive risk and doing anything, the negative risks are going to come back your way. That’s adversity. It’s inevitable. There’s nothing you can do about it, but be the best that you can be while taking the risks that need to be taken. The less risk you take, the less reward.
They’re correlated. You can’t have one without the other.
The same thing applies to the boxing ring. You can stand by on the outside and hopefully, you can jab your way to victory but the judges don’t look favorably upon a person who stays on the outside. It’s a dancing mechanism. They’re looking for you to get inside and take some bigger strides and bigger risks. See what body blows you can take, see if you can take some punches to the chin, but it’s how much evidence are you presenting in front of the judge for you to be found favor. You’re the clear winner. If the judge says, “There’s not enough evidence here,” they’ll give it to the other person. You hit it right on the head. I can tell you’ve boxed before.
In terms of some of these ideas, for the audience who’s eating this up, what are Andrew Woods’ wisdom along the lines of this moving forward, moving back idea?
I live by this quote about pain, “When an individual decides to move forward with precision, compassion, understanding, love, gratitude and integrity, it’s called the correction of his soul. When an individual decides to move forward with hate, negativity, spitefulness, vengefulness and foolishness, it’s called the error in his soul. Know this, whatever the individual chooses, there will be pain.” I use that every day. I walk outside of my home and I said, “What am I going to decide to do? I’m going to decide to move forward with the best positive outcome, positive character as much as possible. The pain is going to come because I’m not perfect. I’m nowhere near it. I have flaws. I have issues. I have problems that I work on daily. I look for those moments of pain as a form of embracing the pain, knowing that I’m getting better at something.”
Some people see the pain and say, “I’m doing something wrong.” No, it’s part of your growth. I used to be in bodybuilding heavily back in the day because I wanted to look the part like the boxers did back in the old days. I noticed one thing after two days of being up under some weights, I’m like, “What is this soreness coming from? Why doesn’t it ever go away?” That’s a part of having flesh on your body. You’re always going to be subject to weakness. After a while, I would get so used to the pain that I started to like it. I was like, “This pain is telling me that my muscles are growing. They’re maturing.” After about 5 or 6 years or so, when I didn’t feel any pain, I said, “I’m not working hard at it.” That’s what it is.
I like the idea that whether you’re moving forward, correcting your soul or is it showing the error in your soul?
The error is moving with the wrong mentality, the wrong type of application. As I said, people get into the boxing ring with no strategy. They are going through the motions and that’s it. There’s going to be pain involved.
I like the idea that pain is a constant, so then it’s a matter of whether you’re acting with integrity or not. To me, you’re living a remarkable life and you’re a solo. This is for the audience, one of the things that you have added to your busy schedule is you’ve teamed up with these professors and physical therapists at USC’s Keck Foundation for a program called Punch at Parkinson’s. It’s designed to help people, in particular athletes, anybody who has Parkinson’s. What led you to do that? To me, that’s a remarkable activity.
I started working with a young lady by the name of Dr. Beth Fisher. She’s a neuroscientist. She specializes in neurological plasticity. I met her at Equinox. We will work together privately with boxers. Beth is about 70 or so. She loved it. She loved to box with me every week. We did that on a regular basis. She was like, “I would love for you to come and do a little boxing program with my staff at USC.” She brought me up. I trained all the doctors, the physical therapists and some of the neurological specialists up there. We decided to use this as a form of physical therapy for Parkinson’s. She introduced me to the Parkinson’s Division and talked with the Biokinesiology Division at USC.
I said, “Let’s put together a program, which is boxing as a form of physical therapy and we’ll see what goes.” She got me a little bit educated about how the disease works, the dysfunctions and how it affects the body. There’s a part of your brain called the cerebral prefrontal cortex, that part of your brain is responsible for your motor skills, skill acquisition and cognitive ability. Once that part of the brain has shut down or dilapidated or broken in some way or shape or form, it causes these tremors. It affects the body, the autonomic nervous system. It’s a terrible disease. That’s all I can say from meeting many different patients and people who are battling this disease. It’s a horrible disease. I said, “I want to get involved as much as I can and figure out how to help or find a cure to this disease.”
We started out in the city of Altadena in a small little church. We opened it up and put the invites out. We started off with fifteen people that grew to 20 to 25 to 35. We’ve been working on the program for a few years, going strong now. We haven’t found a cure yet, but we’re working with other foundations as far as stem cell is concerned. We are opening up a community for people who are struggling and battling with the disease who don’t have a place to go or haven’t been heard. Through it all, we’ve built a great family of beautiful people. I don’t even know how to explain it to you. I’ve been changed by these people’s testimonies in their journey and where they’ve come from, how they have gotten the disease and how they’ve overcome or managed the disease as far. I started off with two or three patients who can barely walk because their equilibrium moves off because of the disease. Boxing with us for about a year, they can jump rope. It’s like, “This is a miracle.”
The human body is incredible if we give it a chance. Let’s suppose someone is reading and they go, “I never thought I wanted to do this. I’m going to give this a try.” What advice would you have for someone who’s going to take an introductory course? They’re going to give boxing a try. As a parting wisdom, what do you think that they should know in order to be prepared, ready, try something new, to live on their edge?
Number one, if you plan on fighting in this lifetime, know what kind of fight you’re up against. You never want to get into the ring and don’t even understand the opponents that you’d be dealing with. You may be dealing with a guy who’s faster than you. You may be dealing with an opponent who’s stronger than you. You’re supposed to know and understand your opponent’s strength as well as his weaknesses because that’s his job is to expose your strength and your weaknesses as well. You better know that about yourself.
[bctt tweet=”The first thing you have to do is recognize when you have an issue. That’s accountability.” via=”no”]
What are my strengths and weaknesses as a boxer?
You personally, from the time that I’ve met you, your strength is you have such an enthusiasm and a goal about getting the job done. I noticed you never stepped back one time. I said, “He has a fortitude that most people don’t even have. I like that about him.” I’m speaking the truth. I said, “I can work with this guy.” Your weakness is your technique. You’d never been exposed to boxing on this level. Your weakness is a basic technique. You know what you’re doing. You need to sharpen up your tools. You make sure that your house that your building doesn’t have any cracks, any faults in the foundation. Other than that, I’ll put money on you.
Number one, know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. The good news is you work up to that. What my previous guest said is that you’ve got to pay extra to get punched in the face. Is there anything else that comes to mind in terms of day one?
That’s in this fight called life. I must split them in two. It brings some wisdom. I said, “I don’t want to have them swim in the deep end with no life support.”
I teach marketing. You would think it has nothing to do with this. One of the foundational ideas in marketing, especially if you’re thinking about launching a business, launching a new product and so on, is to do something called a market analysis. As part of that market analysis, you look at three things. You look at the customer and what their needs are. You look at your competitors and you look at your company, yourself. When you do a company analysis, what you’re looking for are strengths and weaknesses. What are we good at? What are we bad at? What our competitors good at? What are our competitors bad at? That’s essentially the same idea that you described.
We use that in the boxing ring a lot. The coaches use it a lot with our fighters. We assess the situation. We adjust to the situation and we apply. I see the same steps. To the beginning boxer, if you want to take this seriously, it’s a physical sport. You don’t have to get into the ring necessarily or pursue this actively as a career, but if you do decide to pursue this as a form of fitness or weight loss, I have people who use it as a form of therapy. Number one, know why you’re doing it. You have to have a goal in mind. I want to do this to lose twenty pounds. I want to do this to deal with my depression. I use it as a form of healing from my PTSD. I use it as often as I can to keep me mentally sharp. After you figure out your goal, go in and find a wonderful coach that can help and support you along the way. I know a great coach. His name is Andrew Woods. You can find him online at WoodsBoxing.com. I’ll be there to support you every step of the way.
On a serious note, find you a good coach. There are wonderful and helpful coaches out there who are more than willing to help you accomplish your goals. Boxing is not supposed to be hard, but it’s challenging. There is a difference. Things that are hard for you in life aren’t meant for you to get over or get past. Things that are challenging for you are the things that are meant for you to get past to get over. The difference is one is designed for you to never succeed. It’s negativity. You use negativity to build yourself up. Without negativity, there’s no growth. I don’t know how often I can explain that to people. Negativity is used to build and to help you grow.
It’s like fire. Fire can do three things for you. It can be used to give light and to illuminate something in the dark. It can be used to clean something and to cleanse and purify like if we use to purify and cleanse gold or it can be used to destroy something. If you want to get rid of a bad attitude or you want to get a bit of a bad personality or character trait, put your character under some fire and see what happens. You got to stay in the fire long enough for that bad attitude, that bad character to be destroyed. You’ve got to understand the uses of fire. It’s because it’s there, it doesn’t mean that it’s there to do harm.
It’s neither good nor bad. It’s the way you use it. Andrew, I’m glad that we did this. To hear your story in terms of your origin, battling this illness and now seeing you thriving not just physically but spiritually, emotionally and being able to help people, it’s great. I’ve reflected on that a number of times. I put it as a standing invite on my calendar. I’m looking forward to going back and moving forward. Thank you for your time.
- Corner Boxing Club
- Andrew Woods
About Kirsten Barry
Kirsten Barry is the 2016 Colorado State Golden Gloves champ. She is a USA Weightlifting and USA Boxing Level 1 Coach.
I join her today at the Corner Boxing Club in in Boulder, Colorado where she is a head coach and co-founder.
About Andrew Woods
Andrew Woods is a 17-year USA Boxing Coach and health care advisor for the greater Los Angeles communities.
For the past 11 years, Andrew has been a group fitness boxing instructor at Equinox Clubs throughout Southern California.
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