A Boxer’s Quest

It was finally time for Jose Torres  fight.  I’d been observing him preparing all evening at Nomads Adventure Quest in South Windsor, Connecticut where the Western New England Golden Gloves were being held.  The owners of the Untouchables boxing gym in Springfield, Mass had asked me to come up and take pictures of their fighter.  So all night I’d been watching Jose through my viewfinder as he danced, shadow boxed, chilled while listening to his iPod and then worked through his warm up routine.  I’ve seen a number of fighters with stony faces, putting on that show of  I’m cool; no big deal… it s just a fight,  but never believed it totally.  Maybe some were actually that calm, but this kid was very self-possessed.  Back down a long hallway off the main floor, Pedro Arriaga Junior talked softly with his heavyweight who jabbed the air, dipped and swayed. Pedro walked beside Jose and quietly spoke sometimes laying a hand gently on the young man s shoulder.  The senior Arriaga waited nearby with water and a towel, plus the occasional words of support and encouragement, but always delivered quietly, bent over and into the fighter s ear.  At the other end of the hall a coach was attempting fire up his charge, his voice becoming more and more frenetic and challenging.

A week earlier I had visited the Untouchables gym in Springfield on a cold, snowy night.  The facility is bright and clean, a stark contract to my night time impression of the downtrodden town.  The gym is situated in an old factory building that it shares with a social service agency.  This is fitting as boxing has long provided it s own sort social services to those who present themselves for training.  Inside the gym the atmosphere had been one of pervasive calmness, despite the driving Latin beats coming out of the stereo.  We hung around for a couple of hours, chatting boxing and other sports.  We watch a young lightweight spar with an old timer, a heavyweight, effectively defending himself and even pressing the older man.  This night Jose never spoke.  He hung out, shadow boxed a little, but mostly listened as I talked with the Arriaga father and son team.  Driving home something teased at me, demanding I put into words what I had observed, what was special about this gym, this father and son team and their charges.  Finally, by the time I hit the Bronx, I had it… Zen.  The place had the calmness like that you experience at the end of a yoga session.  And it was all about  old school  boxing as a discipline both physical and spiritual.

Back at the Golden Gloves, we were about to see if Jose was actually calm and centered or if that was just superficial, masking his fear and lack of skills.  The bell rang and he and his opponent mixed it up.  A strong overhand right from Torres produced a standing eight count from the referee.  Ah, I thought, this will tell us a lot about Mr. Torres.  Would he maintain his discipline?  Or would he carelessly attack? The ref signaled for the fight to proceed and Jose stepped up behind several jabs, working his way deliberately past the opponents somewhat limited defensives.  Then a solid left jab followed by a very strong right cross to the jaw and the man from the red corner was down.  At the count of three he managed to get to his hands and knees.  But he was still there at the count of ten and now it was the ring doctor s turn.  Jose’s calm concentration was now broken by the grin of a big kid who had just won the heavyweight championship in the novice division.

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