SPORTS Editor Graham Smyth continues his boxing education at Manton ABC, and this week writes about his experience of sparring.
AS I got hit with yet another straight right, I distinctly remember thinking that I should get out of the way of the punches.
But for some reason, my body wasn’t responding exactly the way my mind wanted it to.
My first ‘proper’ sparring session at Manton ABC saw me face off against two different partners, both a lot younger than me but more experienced inside the ring.
Neither of the lads I sparred have had competitive bouts yet, but head coach Harry Watson informed me he was looking to get them fighting soon.
So I didn’t feel quite so bad as their gloved fists connected with my forehead, chin, nose and body.
In fact I didn’t feel bad at all. If anything I was quite pleased.
After a three week layoff due to a lingering chest infection, I had felt exhausted before I even stepped between the ropes.
The warm up had been tough, and included more burpees than I care to remember.
We’d skipped, and that had gone well - my technique is improving.
There’d been some shadow boxing, and bag work, interspersed with press ups, sit ups and alternates.
And then it was time to spar.
I had made up my mind to get involved in some actual boxing at the very start of Wednesday’s session.
As a group we’d been given a bit of a rollicking by the coaches.
Not enough effort, too much back chat, not enough respect, too many excuses and crucially – not enough sparring.
I took this to heart. It was the extra motivation I needed.
I watched intently ringside as several rounds went by, with Matt Brierley taking on four fresh opponents in preparation for his Midlands Championship bout on Sunday.
And then it was my turn, as Harry plonked a head guard on for me and made sure it was tight around my skull.
I’ll admit to feeling considerable nerves as I climbed into the ring. In my haste to get involved I neglected to put my gum shield in, but mercifully still have all my teeth intact.
The first opponent, a teen who was a little shorter than me and a lot leaner, darted around the ring quickly.
I was in danger of becoming too impressed with his technique and footwork when a voice – that of coach Dean Eshelby – ordered me to throw a double jab.
I obeyed, and my punches missed, but it settled me into the swing of it and I feel I did okay.
He certainly landed more, but a few of my punches went through his guard.
Judging range and distance is a tricky business, trying to get close enough to connect with punches while putting yourself in harms way.
Once I had loosened up a little I tried to throw a hook or two into the mix, but found myself mostly relying on single and double jabs, or a jab then ‘big right hand’.
Looking back, I don’t think I threw one single uppercut. And only went to the body once or twice.
Perhaps the unfamiliar nature of the situation restricted my ability to recall the more complicated combinations I’ve been shown.
First round out of the way, a new opponent stepped in and I was warned by a coach to ‘stay away’ because the lad hits hard.
He did hit hard, and as we got deeper into the round he hit with greater frequency.
I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed, but I certainly wasn’t comfortable.
Again, I managed to land here and there. But he connected with ease, and I can’t quite be sure but I think Harry may have ended the round before time was up.
Strangely, along with a little relief that my work for the night was over, and I wouldn’t be on the receiving end of anymore of his straight rights to my midsection, I felt a buzz, and an appreciation for the lad who’d just ‘lit me up.’
We touched gloves, and I thanked him outside the ring – because it’s a learning experience for both of us.
For him, the benefit is in realising how far he’s come since being a beginner, and trying out things he may not get away with against an opponent of equal skill.
For me, I’m getting used to the feeling of being punched and hopefully reducing the panic or flinch that accompanies that sensation – and it builds confidence that what I’m being shown on the pads and bags can be applied in a fight.
And after doing my bit in the ring I felt like a proper member of the club, not just a tourist who’s dipping his toe in the water in order to write a blog.