Category Archives: fighting

Swords, Gravity, Bikers: Three Things That Pumped Me Up Last Week

1. Samurai Movies. Last Saturday was an active one for me. The day began with the traditional Samurai Saturday Kurosawa movie viewing. The Criterion Collection on Netflix Watch Instantly has proven a handy tool for filling out the gaps in my samurai movie knowledge, even while it gives me a chance to go back and watch some of my old favorites. Sanjuro was new to me, but I loved every minute of the film.Toshiro Mifune was at his gruffest, but still stole the show in this story of a group of inexperienced young Samurai dealing with a rebellion and taking advice from a grizzled old drunk. Mifune delivers the goods, as ever. I’m not sure why I get such a kick out of these old movies. Sure, part of it is the unquestionable bad-assery of dudes just straight up wailing on each other with swords. But the violence is surprisingly low key. (Until it isn’t). But there is a lyrical quality to films like Sanjuro and thematic depth to movies like Rashomon that I prefer.

2. Triple Rock Brewery Firkin Festival. After the film ended and the Beautiful Wife returned from her trip,we met up with some friends and made our way out to the East Bay for some delicious craft beers at the Triple Rock Brewery Firkin Gravity Beer Festival. Some of the finest small brewers in Nor Cal showed up with kegs of their most delicious brews. All of them served the old fashioned way, relying on an angled keg and Sir Isaac’s Newton’s specialty to make the suds flow. I tasted probably the finest Imperial Stout ever from Ballast Point.  It was called “Sea Monster” and it tasted so good that it made me want to float through the gulf stream and hassle 17th century sailors. My local brewery, The 21st Amendment brought their “Imperial Jack” ESB, which was brewed with Maker’sMark barrel oak chips and tasted like it’s ideal setting would be to drink it from a Mason jar on the front porch of a large Kentucky home.

3. Punks fighting hipsters with bikers watching. The East Bay Rats are a motorcycle club based in Oakland. After the beerfest, we moseyed along to their clubhouse for an irregular Fight Night. I do not ride a motorcycle and I have never attended a soirée at a clubhouse before, so I had nothing to calibrate my expectations aside from my fervent appreciation of Sons of Anarchy so I didn’t know what I was getting into. The night was billed as Punks Versus Hipsters, and they started out trying to match the mohawks to the moccasins, but over time the match ups moved away from that theme and anyone who wanted to enter the boxing ring took a turn. It was awesome. The bikers that I met were all nice guys.No one removed anyone else’s tattoo with a blowtorch, so Sons of Anarchy may have oversold the danger. The bouts were all overseen by a referee, the fighters wore gloves, and everybody hugged after the match. It was more like a Smoker at a local boxing gym than Thunderdome. The club house was super crowded though, and it seemed like a popular event.

Friday Fighting: I Knew How it Would End

I knew how the fight was going to end as soon as he threw that first punch. It was a right cross, thrown correctly. This guy was serious and he knew what he was doing. Instead of flailing away with a wild haymaker, his punch came at me in a straight line. The whole thing had started with his shoulder lurching forward, driving his rear hand from his cheek toward my head almost faster than I could follow with my eyes. But sight wasn’t the sense with which I would experience this punch or the several that came after it. He had rolled his knuckles slightly forward so that the hard part of the bone dug into my cheek as his fist came home. In addition to the force of the impact and the white starburst of near unconsciousness that flashed behind my eyeballs, I felt my eyes start to tear up just a little bit. I didn’t fall, but I rocked back and wobbled a bit as I tried to find my feet. Lots of times, a guy throws a punch like that and he gets a little movie playing in his mind. He might perceive that time slows down a little bit as he strikes. In his head, the soft, dull thump of meat slamming against meat becomes the clean thwack that only ever comes out of Hollywood foley shops. In those few, slowed-down seconds he might start to think about what a bad-ass he is; how he really is that guy: the one-punk Knockout King, badder than Tyson, Lee, and Lesner combined. He might just stand still for those few seconds after a really clean punch lands thinking how he just rung your bell or pushed your button and waiting for you to fall. Those few seconds after the one clean punch can make or break the fight. If you get rocked and immediately recoil you can take advantage of a moment of weakness, when it is there. As I started to launch my retaliatory strike, I noticed that this guy wasn’t standing still to take in his handy work. He was following up with another punch. If the fist entering the far right of my field of vision was any indication, it was a left hook moving in an elliptical motion toward my right temple

Tango Kilo Oscar

Well, Friday came and went. I was unable to participate in Friday Night Fights, because I was busy participating in Friday Night Fights. It only sounds like nonsense. You see, I was participating in some good old fashioned fisticuffs on Friday Night so I was unable to post a scan of comic book characters fighting. The boxing bootcamp culminated in a night of fighting, as we put our six weeks of blood, sweat, and embarrassing encounters to use in the ring.

sean mcgilvray boxing fighting

This wasn’t my first time boxing, but I’m still pretty green. This match-up was much closer than the last time I gloved up. That time I was boxing a man who does this whole “punching hard” thing for a living, and while I think I did all right, it was clear that he was pacing me. Not so, this time. My opponent was more my equal in both size and skill level. I had a few pounds on him but he was quicker and slightly more agile. Our experience levels seemed about the same, so when we entered the fray it was a full-on battle royale. I will never be known for my finesse, either in the ring or in everyday life. I’m more inclined to stand and trade blows like a drunken 19th century Irishman or a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot than to float like a butterfly. I was also slow to respond to the idea that I should actually be throwing punches. I had to eat one or ten jabs to the jaw before I settled down enough to start putting the things I learned to work for me. I may have even remembered to bob, though I almost certainly forgot to weave.

sean mcgilvray boxing too

I landed a number of good solid rights, and worked his body at the start of every clinch. If there were judges, they probably would have awarded the first round to the other guy, but it would have been close. But after conferring with my cornerman and having some water poured on my head, I entered the second round with a little more strategy. I started working serious combos and probing for weaknesses in my opponents defense. I probably still looked a little sloppy, but I was thinking more like a sweet scientist than a back-alley brawler. I was landing serious blows, and I could see they were taking their toll on my foe. He was slowing down and his jabs were less controlled. He started clinching more.

Then, about halfway through the second round, it happened. On the advice of my corner, I threw a low jab at his solar plexus. He rolled his front guard down to cover just a little too late. I followed up with a big right hook aimed right at the side of his head. Time slowed down. The lights got just a little bit brighter. I couldn’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure reality actually shifted into slow motion. When the punch landed, the thump of leather meeting leather and fist meeting skull echoed through the room. I’m told everyone in the crowd heard the hit, and I could hear their collective intake of breath as my hook hit home. My opponent buckled just a little, swaying woozily as the referee started a standing eight count. He didn’t get very far before waving his hands to signal the end of the fight.

sean mcgilvray: victory and wrapped hands

My second foray into the world of boxing ended in a knockout, albeit one of the technical variety. That was something new for me, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. It was a good thing it came when it did, though, because I was seriously losing gas and I don’t know if I had the legs for another round. Fighter safety is a big concern so everyone made sure he was okay before we hugged it out. There were no hard feelings, and I think he is a consummate sportsman. He’s also a practicing attorney here in San Francisco, so I’m sure I’ll be pestering him for a job when summer rolls around.

sean mcgilvray: sportsmanship

Before Enlightenment – Chop Wood, Carry Water, Get Punched in Face. After Enlightenment – Still Getting Punched in the Face

I’m a smart guy. I read books. I move in intellectual circles. I also get punched in the face on a daily basis. Sometimes people ask me why I do things like boxing and MMA, suggesting by their tone that I am somehow too smart for combat sports. Perhaps influenced by the monosyllabic, mush-mouthed mumblings of Rocky Balboa, the popular image of the fighter is that an inarticulate oaf. Some people think of fighters as brutes who are just too dumb for anything else. This is miles away from the truth. There isn’t any aspect of fighting that doesn’t demand concentration, cunning, and strategy.

four ounce glove civil procedure book

Shows like the Ultimate Fighter on Spike both help and hurt the case for intelligent fighters. For every well-thought out aside, they show a scene where some rage-fueled beast of a man bellows like a wounded animal and starts kicking garbage cans because he doesn’t like a diagnosis. There’s a difference between passion and stupidity. The UFC post fight interviews are no help either. You can’t just stick a microphone in someone’s face after they have just gone five rounds and expect a good reply. Even the most articulate of fighters stumble over a few clichés and babble when the adrenaline is still pumping and they’re try to catch their breath in time for Joe Rogan to ask his inane questions.

So why do I do it? Why risk harm to my body for no obvious reason? If I just wanted to stay in shape, there are a hundred safer sports and activities. So I’m definitely making a conscious choice by deciding to box rather than play tennis or wrestle instead of Pilates. I have to admit, I do enjoy the atavistic simplicity of combat sports. They allow you to vent your frustration tangibly by imposing your will over another in the most primal way possible: by hitting him until he stops moving or holding him down so that he can’t get up no matter how hard he tries. There is a certain joy to the raw physicality of asserting my dominance.

But at the same time, these are sporting events not blood sports. Whether you’re talking about boxing, MMA, or wrestling there is a structure of rules in place and you have to operate in those rules. Doing so requires discipline and intelligence. A good wrestling match is like whole-body chess game. You have to outthink your opponent, and take advantage of things like leverage, anatomy, and physics. And that’s not even touching on the psychology of fighting – things like getting into your opponent’s head and reading his actions.

It applies to all sports, but I think it really comes through when its one on one combat. They don’t call boxing the sweet science for nothing. There are at least a dozen things a fighter has to mentally keep track of the bout progress, things like timing, posture, combinations, counters, body mechanics, etc. And they have to do all this with a huge surge of adrenaline coursing through their body and the fatigue that increases as the fight goes on. Mumbling aside, Rocky ain’t dumb. No (good) fighter is. They can’t be.

So those are the two sides of fighting that draw me in. But what really keeps me coming back to activities that involve kidney punches and bloody noses is the interplay of the two. There is a dichotomy between the physicality of the fighter and the intellect that you need to fight. It’s hard to think in the hurly-burly. The way to do it is to practice, practice, practice until calculating your opponent’s reach becomes as instinctive as drawing breath. You learn to think fast and adjust on the fly if your combinations aren’t working.

For me this almost leads to a kind of Zen state, a mode of thinking without thinking where cerebral contemplation finds its ultimate expression in a well-thrown straight right. It’s like concentrated mindfulness that I haven’t been able to recreate with any other activity. So for now, I’ll stay in the ring with the other smart guys.

Me Versus My Body: Round Two Leaves Me Taking it on the Chin

I am now at the midway point of my boxing bootcamp, and things are progressing nicely. Timing, strength, and overall conditioning is improving. I’ve lost some weight, to the point where I don’t have to hold the ends of the towel together when I drape it across my post-shower nether regions. They meet comfortably and I can once more roam the locker room with both hands free. I have even shaved my head, both to look tougher and increase aerodynamics.

But it isn’t helping. I still can’t run. Lacking an adrenaline surge from mortal danger, I just can’t pump my legs for any length of time. without panting and slowing to a walk. Its a good thing bears are so few and far between in San Francisco, or I would surely have been eaten by now. I know part if it is psychological. I don’t think I should have to run, for I am large and strong.

I know that boxers, indeed fighters of all disciplines, need the conditioning. I’m not arguing that Road Work isn’t a vital key to success in the ring. I’m just bitching about it because I am so bad it. I try to control my breathing and just focus on moving forward, and that has helped me make improvements. Today, I ran most of the way without retreating to my customary hands-on-hips walking breath-catch. Sure, I was panting. But I did it. Then, we ran some sprints and did some calisthenics. Okay. Then we ran some more, this time in the topographically ridiculous Potrero Hill neighborhood (photo by Toby Silver).

San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, steep inlines for the weary runner.

It’ has the word “Hill” in the title, fer crying out loud. I was doomed. I was reared in the wilds of Florida, a state perfectly sensible in its level uniformity. That is how God intended for us to move about the earth, on a flat plane. None of this ridiculous incline business. I got to the bottom of the first hill, and with all that sideways sidewalk staring back at me, I knew I was doomed. I tried to start running. I really did.

It was like when I was a kid. I remember watching The Empire Strikes Back about a million times. Specifically, the scene where Luke Skywalker is hanging upside down in the snow-beast’s cave. His lightsaber was just out of reach, and the creature was fast approaching. Using his Jedi mind powers, he was able to telekinetically summon it to his outstretched hand. You know the scene. After watching it, I just sort of naturally assumed I could do the same thing if I could juts concentrate hard enough. I used to spend hours (and I mean long hours) staring at objects and trying to move them with my mind. I would stare, squint and hold my breath, but unsurprisingly, the objects wouldn’t move no matter how red my face got.

That’s how I felt trying to run those hills this morning. I wanted to move my legs as bad as I wanted to levitate my childhood matchbox cars, but I was just as unsuccessful. There was no juice. At least not enough to run up the hills. I walked. Again. I guess the force (of running) is just not strong with this one.

Me vs. My Body- At the End of Round One A Clear Victor is Emerging

My body failed me today.

It’s been a rough first week of my boxing bootcamp, since I am more out of shape going in for this round than I was back in January. At the same time, I have decided to supplement the awesome cardio action with some weight lifting later in the day. The idea is that I’ll be a little leaner and a little stronger when the moment of truth comes. My fundamentals are decent if not spectacular. My footwork is passable and timing not totally ridiculous. Still, I’ve noticed I have some trouble delivering punching power. I suspect it has something to do with the comical shortness of my arms and the fact that I get tired so quickly, but I want to hear that killer thump and watch my opponent wince a little bit when the punch drives home. Hence the lifting…

The downside is that my muscles are in full revolt having grown used to the sloth-like leisure they had previously enjoyed. The bootcamp workouts haven’t even reached their full pitch of intensity yet. We are still in what the coaches lovingly refer to as “Pussy Week.” And yet, today my body failed me. I’ve been getting along through the calisthenics, and the boxing drills haven’t made too much of a dent.

But the running is killing me. I am not made to be a runner. I have neither the ability nor the inclination. Roadwork is a part of the game, though and I have to pay my dues. I would say that I am genetically predispositioned to be a poor runner, but my brother was a cross country superstar who ran four miles to warm up. Madness! Sprints I can deal with, but distance? Forget it.

Today, we were running down by the San Francisco Bay and it seemed like it would never end. At a certain point my legs just stopped responding. I could run no more. There is a difference between being too tired to run anymore or being too sore to run anymore and what I experienced today. I was willing my legs to move and they refused. My body has turned against me. I had to walk back to the gym.

It happened again at the corner store. After I was done buying my post-workout bottle of water, I dropped my wallet in the parking lot. When I bent down to pick it up, I was unable to stand. I wasn’t in pain, per se, yet I knew that the act of rising to my feet would send shock-waves of pain throughout my legs. My thighs were already groaning. It took me a full three minutes of kneeling in the parking lot before I was able summon the strength and courage to return to a standing position.

Five days down, Twenty-Five to go…

Back in the Ring to Take Another Swing

Boxing Boot Camp Third St. Gym Poster

The time has come once again to subject myself running ungodly distances at unthinkable hours of the morning and spending more time with a jumprope in my hands than would seem befitting for a grown man. For some reason, I’ve signed up for another boxing bootcamp at the Third Street Gym in San Francisco’s historic Dogpatch neighborhood. And by historic, I mean “pain in the ass to get to every morning at 6:00 am.” Last time, getting there was a snap because I lived just a few blocks away. Having moved literally across the city, I was hesitant about taking the plunge into this pugilistic pastime once again. I had a great time, and I could use the extra impetus to force my ass into shape. I have become rather indolent as of late, and my expanding waistline is a sure sign that I need to take drastic measures.

The last boxing bootcamp that I did was back in January and I’m looking forward to getting back in shape. The good thing about bootcamps is that I feel motivated to see the thing through. I actually feel bad when I miss a day. The fact that the punishment for absence includes a being thrown in the San Francisco Bay is also a strong motivating factor. The fellas who run the thing are pretty cool. They strike a fine balance between meaning business and pushing you during the boot camp and cracking jokes.
I am not a very good boxer. My arms are short and my rhythm is highly suspect. But on the plus side I find a good punch to the jaw an exhilarating way to start the day. I’m mostly in it for the cardio, although these things traditionally end with a public display of fisticuffs. I suppose I’ll have to lace up my gloves when the time comes.

In the meantime, I am sore and tired. Being reliant on Muni, I have to get up at 4:30 in order to make it down to the gym in time for the days boxing lesson. I’m having problems because there are no other buses for me to catch. Not only do I have to wake up stupid-early, I also have to lug my boxing gear with me (gloves, headgear, jumprope, Survivor cd) and my ridiculously overstuffed backpack with me, because I go straight to school afterwards. Then, when I am going to school I have to lug the same crap around with me all day. Lockers don’t seem to be an option, unfortunately…

But I’m not one to let some minor logistical annoyances get in the way of a good exercise regime, so it’s cups of coffee and early bedtimes for me. It seems like my life is either at the gym, the classroom, or the library right now. It seems that way, because it’s true. Two days down, 28 more to go.

Iron Fist-ing: This Had Better Not Be the Last Iron Fist Story

I have recently read Immortal Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Last Iron Fist Story and lo, it was good. I love the martial arts, and therefore have a natural soft spot for ninjas, samurai, and general ass-kickers. Iron Fist has always been one of my favorite characters (his formerly ludicrous outfit notwithstanding).

His kung-fu was strong, and he was always ready to hang out with his super-best pal Luke Cage. In addition to the allure of the martial arts angle, I like the street-level heroes. Maybe the Moon Knights and Daredevils of the world don’t get quite the attention that their more galactically-oriented colleagues do, but I sure like ’em. True, Batman gets to play with the Justice League but he always strikes me as out of his element. This isn’t true of Iron Fist. He Keeps it Real. Which is no mean feat for a billionaire. Matt Fraction keeps it real, too. In the latest adventure, we get snippets of the exploits of past men and women who wore the green and gold of Iron Fist creating a sense of legacy for Danny Rand. He may have grown up in a mystical Shangri-la called Kun Lun and mastered mad skills, but he wasn’t the first. Over the course of this story he finds out about his immediate predecessor and has to learn quick even as he goes up against the hordes of Hydra and prepares to enter a mystical Mortal Kombat. This comic felt like a cool eighties movies. Ninjas, terrorists, pulp heroes, opium, kung-fu and even a touch of boardroom intrigue await the reader. It doesn’t feel too rushed, and the art by David Aja really sells the look and feel of the world Iron Fist inhabits. The fight scenes are fluid and retain a sense of the improbably awesome while still holding a veneer of realism. When Iron Fist kicks a hydra ninja in the head, it looks as though it hurts like a kick to the head should hurt. And he gave the character a much-needed redesign:

My only real complaint about the collection is that it is only the first six issues and seems like it didn’t need the hardcover treatment.