I lost my most consistent sparring partner to 6 months of overseas travel this year, and while I got rounds here and there when I could, there’s nothing like sparring two days a week, every week, to keep you in boxing shape. NO amount of conditioning (running, weights, etc.) can make up for straight-up ring time.
So I was looking pretty sorry when she finally got back to the States, and was thankful (in a sick and twisted way) that Yvonne had not been sparring every week while she was gone, keeping in ring shape while I wasted away.
A tiny bit of good news, if you’ve been out of the ring…
Minor segue: I’m pretty sure boxing is at least a little bit like riding a bike. If you’ve been doing it a while, then you are out for a few years, it’s not nearly as difficult getting back in the ring as it would be if you were stepping into the sport for the very first time. Some stuff sticks with you. This is pure speculation on my part, but it’s 100% true, hah.
Anyway, when Yvonne and I got back to the gym together after half a year, we were eager to test out our sparring.
How sparring looks, after several months out
One word: ragged.
Okay, more words: rusty, sloppy, wild, uncontrolled, messy.
Since I have weight on Yvonne, it’s particularly important for me to control my punches during our sessions, although having been a pro fighter for more than a decade, she can certainly take a punch. But if I’m doing good work, she shouldn’t have to feel all of it.
Sigh. It was ugly. I couldn’t control my shots, wasn’t relaxed, and felt cardboard-y and frustrated. Intensely happy to be back to regular sparring, but annoyed at how ugly my work was.
We slogged through the rounds anyway, knowing that the only way through the slop was… through the slop.
Set your round goal and start low
My goal was to get five rounds of good sparring every time I got in the ring, no matter what. So on our first day back the two of us set the round timer to 2-minute rounds with 30-second rests.
We wheezed and groaned our way through and were damned happy to quit. Who knew two minutes could be so excruciatingly long?
Well, we did. And we had suspected as much.
Other things that help
Other than having an experienced, trustworthy sparring partner, there’s not a damn thing that truly helps, that first time back sparring. Maybe not the first two times. But I found that one thing that did start helping was moving back to some basics.
After getting in the first time, I decided I needed to work in three places:
- Keeping my feet moving
- Punching in combinations (rather than one or two shots at a time)
Sounds basic, no?
Keeping your feet moving has to do with conditioning, and this kind only comes with training with sprints, agility dots and ladder drills, and, well…sparring. So I started doing some dot exercises when I could, and adding intervals on the bike during non-boxing days.
For me, punching in combos comes back in when I practice in slow motion. Which NO ONE wants to do in the gym, because you feel like an utter ass when you’re doing it. But I tried to slow down during shadowboxing and think/move my way through combos, rather than delivering one or two punches at a time.
This actually helps with slipping, too, because if you throw a one (jab), followed by a power two, you’re in position and weighted to throw a hook. You’re already shifted to the side. Voila, slip.
In fact many of your shots go from one side of your body to the other in a rocking rhythm, and the boxing becomes a kind of (in my case, sort of ungainly) dancing.
The problem for me with slipping is simply that Yvonne’s shots are very (very) fast. She punches faster than I can see or anticipate. BUT, when you have this situation, you slip anyway, and sometimes you deflect the blow slightly, which is still a positive outcome.
The magic moment
After our first time sparring, we moved back to three-minute rounds (holy shit that was grueling). We sweated and struggled our way through a total of 20 solid (and by “solid” I mean we worked our asses off) rounds.
And on our fifth time back — round 21 was suddenly golden. We floated through our five that day like dandelion seeds on the wind. Violent and mean-ass dandelion seeds, dammit!
We both marveled at the difference. For me, it was primarily about feeling relaxed. I was relaxed, loose, and comfortable in the ring. It was awesome.
20 rounds, Jack. It took us 20 to get back.
That’s just four sparring days, y’all. That is do-able. So next time you’re feeling all “there’s no way I can get back in the ring,” remember that it may only take you about 20 rounds to get to golden.
After our golden-rounds-with-badass-mermaids-singing session, we were sparring for the first time with our team again, in front of our coach.
It was a mix of clunky and golden. I was more tense, trying harder to please, and working more rounds, too. So it wasn’t all roses, but I was intensely thankful that Coach Massey hadn’t seen me for the first 20 rounds.
Everybody has seasons out of their sport. Leave me a comment below and tell me how long it took you to shake off the rust and get back in the golden groove. What tricks did you use? Were there any shortcuts? Did you have any “ah-ha” or “oh-fuck-no” moments? Spill.