From the Introduction...
I have always believed that boxing is a metaphor for life.
In this book you will discover the stories of 15 extraordinary men from all walks of life, from different times and different backgrounds. These men chose boxing as their vocation. Each one brought his own unique contribution to the sport. Their stories are profound and no two are alike.
You will read of their hardship, struggle, defeat, comeback, and victory. They capture the very essence of the human experience. When a truly competitive boxing match is performed by skilled fighters, there is also a beauty, grace, and athletic excellence which cannot be duplicated in any other sport. And it is that combination of elements which grabs the imagination.
In boxing there are no words, only actions. And behind the action in a boxing ring are many of the human emotions and complications that one might encounter in life–preparation, concentration, purposefulness, goal setting, challenges, pain, perseverance, and a host of anxieties and fears.
There is an aloneness to boxing that is unique in sports. Indeed, when facing an opponent one-on-one, there is only you . . . and him. All the training, all the experience, all the emotions, come with you out of the corner. But there is no team, no ball, no bat, no racquet, no protective shoulder pads for someone to hide behind. And like a gladiatorial contest, it is done until one of the participants or the other cannot go on, either by knockout or stoppage, or when the winner or loser is declared by the judges at the end of the fight.
At its core, boxing is a sport of self-actualization, a means to discover truths about oneself which could not be learned in any other place quite so effectively. In boxing, mental agility and toughness are as equally important as physical strength and ability. Bruce Silverglade, owner of the famous Gleason’s Gym in New York City and the “godfather of white collar boxing” maintains that “the only person who can make a champ is the person himself . . . not the trainer, the manager, or anyone else. Boxing is 50 percent mental, 40 percent conditioning, and 10 percent ability.” The keys to the sport are commitment and focus. And these come with pain, long hours of preparation, and continued sacrifice. And then comes the day of judgment, the moment of truth–either a boxer wins or loses when he or she climbs between the ropes.
Boxing is ingrained in our culture, and evidence to this effect is everywhere: references to boxing constantly pop up in the lives we lead, and people make analogies to boxing without even realizing it. Nomenclature like “knockout punch,” “came out swinging,” “took some hard shots,” “down for the count,” and “main event,” are all references to elements of boxing in the society in which we live that make the parallels between life and boxing clear.
In the words of Joyce Carol Oates, “Life is real and painful, and steeped in ambiguity: in the boxing ring there is either/or. Either you win or you lose.” “Boxing’s dark fascination is as much with failure, and the courage to forbear failure, as it is with triumph. Two men climb into a ring from which, in symbolic terms, only one climbs out.” Indeed, how we handle losing, or winning, can define us in life.
And the last words of caution spoken by the referee to the boxers before the fight begins “protect yourself at all times,” is a symbolic caution of what must be done to survive not only in the ring, but in life on a daily basis. From the working world to our own personal lives, one thing is certain: there will come a time when we will have to enter the ring, alone, and face our moment. We can choose to bring heart, character and determination. We can decide to accept that the only result will be victory. And we can triumph.
The poem by Paul Simon, The Boxer,
contains these lines:In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains
Such is life in the ring.
–John E. Oden, New York City, 2009
Excerpted from Life in the Ring by John Oden. Copyright © 2009 by John Oden. Excerpted by permission of Hatherleigh Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.