When I was in Boston a few years ago, doing a show at the Huntington, I joined a boxing gym to work out at. I was there three months and boxed for the last two. I had no aspirations to be a boxer; I was just looking for something different from my usual gym routine. I got exactly what I was looking for. Boxing training is fantastic. I very quickly came to enjoy the physical and mental battles that you fight wile training.
Fast-forward four years. I haven’t boxed since. But I kept my gear and it’s one of things that floats around in the “need to do that” file in the back of my head.
I recently found myself in the same position I was in leading up to Boston; I needed a change from my weekly gym routine. So I grabbed my gear and signed up for a month at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Gleason’s is the real deal. There’s nothing glamorous about the facility; except for its tradition and the “world champion” banners that hang around the gym. And they are plentiful. Gleason’s has had many great fighters drop blood and sweat on it’s floor.
I got a trainer to work with me for the month; Martine. Martine is a fun loving, no bullshit, pit-bull of a man. His hands are like bricks. He’s got professional trainers moving up in the ranks who he works with throughout the day. He trains them hard and treats me no different.
Martine focuses on technical proficiency and hitting hard. As we were working today, I was reminded, repeatedly, of the frustration of trying too hard. This is something I encountered heavily through my first two years of grad school. (I had a breakthrough going into my third year that helped me overcome that. That’s another story.) For me, trying too hard is the result if trying to do something right. The ‘trying’ then manifests itself in tension and holding. Both of which are death for the actor and boxer.
So here I am, hitting the mitts with Martine. ”Relax, relax, relax” he tells me over and over again. He gives me some adjustments in my stance and tells me to stop leaning in to the punches. ”Turn the body, not lean.” I take his advice and TRY to implement it. I get tight, trying to hold my feet in proper position while holding my body back to prevent the leaning. This gets an immediate response of “relax, relax, relax.”
My internal frustration is building as I ask myself “how can I hit hard and relax at the same time? How can I prevent leaning forward without holding?” Martine continues, “relax, relax, relax.” I’m growing more furious with each “relax” that comes out of his mouth. The, something clicks in my head and I tell myself “fuck it.” I immediately drop my shoulders, move with fluidity, and throw a left, right that pops the mitts and makes Martine’s eye widen. He steps back for a second, says “thank you” and then “one, two.” TRYING to replicate what I just did, I tense up, holding on to the past and throw a left, right that gets a quick “relax, relax, relax.” And that quickly it’s gone and I’m searching again.
Later, when I was left to the solitude of jumping rope, my mind was racing: How can I relax and work technically and hit hard? I don’t have an answer, but I have the feeling of doing it for a few fleeting punches here and there. It is possible to hit hard and be relaxed while doing it. In fact it’s necessary.
As I was jumping away my mind made the association to the feeling I had during the first two years of grad school. That frustration of trying to implement an acting note. Similarly, this TRYING was met with a similar response: “more ease, more ease.” Like the boxer, how does the actor do something without the tension that comes with TRYING to do it? And for me, again, the solution is “fuck it.”
Maybe tomorrow when I’m jumping rope I’ll find some inspiration to articulate what “fuck it” means.