There’s a thin line between being confident and getting your shit kicked in.

Clever wants me to use my jab. Not just throw it, but use it. Intelligently, like it’s asking a question. Where’s this guy opening up, around the head, around his body? Use your jab, find out. What does he do when I move around him, like this, or like this? Can I make him do what he doesn’t want to do? Use your jab, try it out. Clever calls this poison. Ask enough questions, create enough doubt, grind down defences. The jab is a sting, a constant interrogation, a slow killer.

Last week I got into the ring and actually enjoyed myself. For once, I wasn’t thinking about all the things I’m bad at, like moving laterally and keeping my fists up. I was having fun, dancing around, swinging my arms, being stupid. For once, I wasn’t thinking about how I need to crouch from the waist and balance on my knees and stay on my toes. Last week I got into the ring and forgot all about my weaknesses. I thought I was exploring my strengths. Or what I thought were my strengths.

How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time. Now imagine that elephant is your ego. How do you eat that?

This week I’m walking around in pain. My elbow, from throwing punches that miss, punches that flap and fail, unused and useless. My wrists, from connecting badly, without design or direction, without a point. And my ribs. God damn, my poor ribs. It hurts to sit, to lie down, to turn over in my bed. It’s hell to hit a bag, impossible to do a sit-up, never mind stand up for a minute in the ring. This week I’m walking around with blue ribs, chewing on my bruised pride like it’s humble pie.

Last week I had too much fun. Man, I’ve been here forever, what’s it now, almost six months? Training every day, running every other day. Doing enough to start thinking I’m hot shit. Long enough to stop worrying and start swinging. Big punches, final-round punches, dumb punches. Last week I got cocky, got stupid, and got beaten up. I got hit, everywhere, like a punching bag, like a needle to my overblown sense of superiority. This is the opposite of intelligent. This is a different kind of slow killer.

You know when the ref says, before every fight you’ve ever seen on TV, protect yourselves at all times? That’s easy not to hear when you forget about your ribs. When all you see, through a hazy kind of of hubris, is what you think are your strengths. This is easy to ignore when you stop asking questions, of yourself, of anyone. When you’ve been infected by your own arrogance, sabotaged by your ego. When you get blinded by overconfidence and start having too much fun.

Turns out there’s a thin line between getting somewhere and getting way, way, way ahead of yourself.

Clever wants me not to worry. About fight night, about being in the ring at all. He wants me to have focus, to be confident, to know what I want and how to get it. This week, I don’t want to do anything, never mind think about how to go and get it. A needle bursts my sense of self-importance and I don’t just go into a shell, I go into a sulk. Man, I’ve been here forever, why aren’t I better than this? Clever wants me not to worry, but I do. About getting hurt, getting knocked out and fucked up.

This is the other side of arrogance: fear.

To use your jab in an intelligent way, like it’s something you’ve designed and something only you can direct, something sharp and pointy and useful, you have to believe in it. Not in yourself, like you’re this big cheese who never needs to worry and can just swing away, but in what you’re doing: probing, searching, creating doubt. This is poison. Killing slowly, not wildly and stupidly and all at once. Using what you have, intelligently, like you’re up against an elephant.

This week I’m walking around in pain, very aware of what I’m bad at. Like getting cocky and stupid and exposed. Every spasm in my elbow is a reminder of what happens when I stop thinking, stop asking questions, and start getting ahead of myself. Reminders are good. When I turn over in the middle of the night and my ribs wake me up, I remember all about my weaknesses. Like having too much fun and forgetting to protect myself at all times. It’s a sharp pain, the sharper the better.

When you lose focus and your head explodes and you drop your arms and dance around and get beaten up, when your ribs are blue and it hurts to do anything, you get scared. Hesitant, about exposing your ribs, your head, yourself to getting hit. There’s a thin line between being assertive and being afraid. But it’s there. You just have to force yourself to walk on it, not run around it or dance next to it, but walk, like there’s poison on either side.

You just have to remember that boxing is hard, and dangerous. As hard and dangerous as taking down an elephant.

Photo by Doran via Flickr