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Saturday, March 5, 2016

What My Son's Boxing Lessons Taught Me

I never expected to become a boxing fan. I certainly never expected my son to get into boxing, either, though it was likely my fault (isn’t it always?) --because when he was nine or ten I brought home a video of Rocky.

Josh was hooked immediately and ended up seeing all seven zillion Rocky films (or however many there are). When he was in high school, he asked, then begged, then cajoled us into signing him up for boxing lessons.

I had to be convinced not just by Josh but by his dad that this was going to be "good" for him. His father thought it would give Josh more discipline and confidence, plus an outlet for a lot of things that were frustrating him. 

Josh wasn't the kind of kid who loved school (in fact, just the opposite). He was talented, fun-loving, charming and bright, but sitting in class working on fractions or literature or scientific equations was not attractive to him AT ALL.

He liked football but liked boxing more. So in his junior year of high school, I let him take a boxing course at the Y, which he looked forward to avidly each week. His teacher was an Upper Midwest Golden Gloves champion Mark Connor, who had a great rapport with his students, and Josh took to the sport instantly.

I guess I should have known.

Some months later, he was asking, begging and cajoling me into letting him train with Mark at a nearby gym. We went back and forth on it for quite a while. I was already wary of the dangers inherent in football, but never having grown up around boys, I knew better than to quibble about it.

I did know more about what repeated blows to the head can do, so tried asking, begging and cajoling Josh to change his mind, but that wasn't working either. I ended up caving with two conditions:

1. He promised that practice bouts would be fought while he wore a helmet
2. He promised never to fight with anyone outside of the ring

The first day, I think the training knocked him sideways, but little by little he got better at it, and little by little too I grew to admire the exceptional grace and skill of his trainers Mark and Dennis, and their students. 

At night when I picked him up, I would end up having great conversations with Josh's trainers and began looking forward to them. I learned a lot about boxing too.

Mark and Dennis also insisted Josh had to get at least a B in all his courses or they wouldn't teach him anymore. (They also pushed for A's when he came in with B's.) As the training continued, my son's confidence and discipline grew, just as his father said it would.

I also liked him telling me that when he heard some kids making anti-semitic remarks, he felt less threatened because he knew how to defend himself. Not that he was breaking any promises to me. But feeling like you can handle yourself if someone comes after you is not a bad thing.

I did get a bit squeamish about the nosebleeds during some of his practice fights and never watched him knock someone down. But I did enjoy watching the pros fight in matches we saw together on TV (especially Muhammed Ali).I had no idea where any of this would land, eventually, but it was certainly an interesting ride and I'm not sorry I went on it.

Would I recommend boxing for you or your kid? I'd say it was important to know exactly what you're getting into and then figure out if the benefits outweigh the risks or vice versa. My friend Kim grew up in a doctor's family and thinks the risks of blows to the head are too great. I tend to agree with her, but my own experience didn't end up with my son getting many blows, so the risks to me were manageable.

On the other hand, Josh has shared several stories of ex-boxers getting memory problems as older adults and those stories are very sobering. (Spend some time with them and you hear a lot about that).

These days, my son is not boxing regularly and is pursuing a career that involves singing. But when he's out walking alone in New York or wherever, I feel kind of better knowing he has some skills.

Besides that, I’ve gotten to love boxing and would go to see a lot of live fights if I had the time. After all, being a playwright and growing up in theater taught me the entertainment world is its own kind of blood sport. I think boxing is just a manifestation of that.

And oh, yeah, life. Isn’t that a blood sport, too?

You can learn more about Mark Connor at 

For more on boxing and kids: