The people I train are ensured of two things: I’m going to give you my all, and most of the time it’s going to be intense, depending on your level of fitness. One of the ways I like to make the most out of a workout is to implement boxing or kickboxing with strength training. To me, it’s the ultimate combination of strength, speed, cardio, and coordination. When I put people through boxing drills, it’s the closest they’ll come to an interactive game without going through the rigamarole of putting on a uniform. Many gyms do one well, I like to do both well. In order to do that, I needed lots of training, experience, and knowledge. How did I get here? Well it’s pretty interesting, I think.
Before I get into my history, here are some of the reasons why I love boxing & strength training during training sessions:
I’ll get into more of the strength stuff later. First let me give you a little background of how I got into boxing and mixed martial arts. While certifications are great, there’s nothing better than first hand knowledge. Especially when it comes from gritty South Philly!
I was working at a bar in Olde City Philadelphia at the time and felt like I should learn to defend myself. I was a bartender, waiter, do everything at this restaurant at the time and the owner asked me a few times to get disorderly patrons out of the bar. I thought if I’m going to be kicking people out I should know a little more than the basic self defense I learned from Shitu-Ru back in Bloomsburg, PA while in college.
So living in South Philly I looked up local boxing gyms in the area, totally unaware of the rich boxing history of Philadelphia.
I heard about a place down the street so I checked it out. It was called Augie’s Gym. When I think of the name Augie, I think of old, Italian looking, curmudgeon looking fellow with glasses, maybe even a bit of a mob look. Maybe because that’s what Augie looked like but I’m pretty sure all “Augie’s” probably look like that.
So I walked up the stairs to this warehouse looking building that looked eerily similar to the gym used in the movie, “Creed” and paid the $30 to just hit some pads and bags. There was no air conditioning and it was the middle of summer. I really had no idea what I was doing. I must have really been looking to build my confidence! And let’s just say, not having a tan, I stuck out like a sore thumb in this South Philly boxing club. I look back at my audacious self and think, “you got balls dude.”
I must not have looked as clueless as I felt because after about a week, Augie walked up to me and said, “What’s your name?” I told him and he went on to say how he thought I had something and he wanted to give me a trainer. That’s when I was introduced to “Hawk.” A bald brother with gold rimmed glasses, gold necklaces, and a goatee. He was smooth. A former champ in Philadelphia. I wasn’t sure about champ of what or where but all I know is when he showed me how to do boxing movement and combinations he was silky smooth, this guy could move and punch. I could tell he was good and very experienced.
I didn’t touch gloves for a few days. It was all about foot work in the ring. Then I touched gloves and started hitting heavy bags, focus mitts, speed bags, everything. When I wasn’t hitting bags, his kids were hitting me and I had to protect myself. Heck of a way to learn how to protect yourself. Two little 12 year olds that have been boxing since they were 6 teeing off on my midsection. One of the many times I was wandering what the heck I was doing.
We worked, and we worked. I was going through 2–3 shirts a day. I would open my bag with my boxing gear and the smell that would emanate could kill small animals. My boxing gloves were like my pets, the ritual of cleaning and airing out daily was maybe a bit much. But they were my first gloves!
As I became a regular, one of the rituals was to go over to Roger and let him help you put your gloves on. He would hold them and you would push your hand down into the gloves. Roger was a former boxer and was one of Muhammad Ali’s victories. Like Ali, Roger had Parkinson’s or something of the like. It’s one of the harsh realities of the sport. I was at a point where I was too young to let it effect me. Later on I would have other thoughts.
Then Hawk said it was time for sparring. I had been training with a mouthpiece and headgear in preparation for this. I thought I was ready. My sparring partner looked way bigger in the ring. I’d seen him around the gym, one of the nicest dudes there. God, when we were across from each other in the corners, I just remember him looking huge. The sun was coming in from behind him and he was like a big shadow which made it feel even more daunting. And then the bell rang.
When I say there is nothing in the world that can prepare you for trying to knock someone out when they want to do the same thing to you, I mean there is nothing that can prepare you. You simply have to go through it.
I don’t remember much from the couple of rounds that we did, all I know is that out of everything that I learned, absolutely nothing was applied. It must have looked like two girls clawing at each other. I know I hit him with a good shot and Hawk said I won, but I remember thinking that my performance was horrible. I think I apologized 10 times.
I started sparring more and it all slowed down a lot. I still got hit and learned not to lower my head because getting hit in the back of the head is not where you want to get hit. You drop like a ton of bricks. If the forehead is one of the hardest parts of your body, the back of your head is one of the softest.
I got better and better and they were talking about fights. That was about the time I got a chance to move to New York City to pursue acting. Oh yeah, if you didn’t know, I was an actor in Philadelphia and my theater teacher at the time persuaded me to move to NYC because one of my fellow actor friends was going and now was the best time to go.
Saying goodbye to Hawk was one of the toughest days of my life. We’d been training almost every day for over a year. Off to New York.
When I got to New York City I found the boxing gyms to be insanely expensive and I wasn’t looking to go anywhere with it so I sort of left it by the wayside. Then one day I was hitting a heavy bag at a Crunch Gym and a guy said I had some “sick hands.” He told me about Tiger Schulman’s and their fight team. Sounded pretty cool so I checked them out. I went to a class and liked it so I decided to join. Not too long after I joined, they put me on their fight team. The fight team at the time was basically guys looking for more intense sparring and training and a few of them were fighting.
A couple of the notables from the class were current UFC fighters Uriah Hall and Lyman Good. Also Glory fighter, Carlos Brooks. All great fighters and better humans.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to fight, but I did want the best training I could get. Aside from normal training, The actual fight class was one night a week and started around 8pm. They pulled the shades on the windows. I never really knew why except that they maybe didn’t want to scare new people because it got intense. We had one hour of kickboxing and one hour of jiu jitsu. I did fine in the kickboxing. Got my ass kicked sometimes and kicked ass sometimes. Again I look back and think, “you had balls dude.” One of the tallest guys in the class was a bald Polish or Russian dude. Didn’t speak much. He was a lefty which I hated and we always had good sparring sessions. More than a few times we were told to calm down, and I was always glad that the Sensei’s said it and not me.
Like I said, the kickboxing was fine. I didn’t mind being thrown into that kind of a fight class. Being thrown into a jiu jitsu fight class right off the bat, is not the best way to go about things. My first introduction to an elbow popping didn’t take long. I hated it. It was stupid, I thought. “Just stand up!” Little did I know that jiu jitsu would become a passion as I advanced in training. Jiu jitsu, to me, was the true chess match. The true fighting, or at least that’s what I told myself after getting my black belt and getting sick of the headaches from punches to the head. I would never really spar again after I got my Black Belt. Bloody noses, headaches, just not worth it anymore. I loved the rush, I didn’t like the aftermath.
Over the course of around twelve years on the way to my Black Belt, I loved the training and fighting. As I learned over the years as I helped fighters train for fights and they helped me train for Black Belt test and tournaments, it’s interesting how you show love. You show love by not being soft, but by truly trying to break your partner. Then when the fight comes, it’s hopefully easier than the training. My Black Belt test was an utter joke. After these guys utterly beat the hell out of me for weeks beforehand, I could take anything confidently.
If you’re looking for an escape and want to take your mind off life’s daily tribulations, there’s nothing better than kickboxing or jiu jitsu. If you’re not focused, you’re going to get your ass kicked. Literally.
Strength training to me is a way to make both your daily life and athletic life better. There’s no substitute for strength. Whether you’re walking up stairs, sitting down, or running laps, it always helps to be stronger.
To say I was skinny is an understatement. My senior year in high school I was 6'2 and 165 lbs. Yeah, I wasn’t a dating machine to say the least. Humility is a gift.
Anyway, I started working out and gained about 20 lbs. before my freshman year of college. To say it changed everything is also an understatement. I started dunking, and having a lot more confidence. The power of building strength is immeasurable.
I’m going to skip ahead about 15 years after college and all the strength training I did through out my 20’s and early 30’s and go right to Salt Lake City, Utah where I got certified through Gym Jones. This was by far the most challenging certification mentally, physically, hormonally, everything. But it taught me what I was capable of and how powerful our minds really are. Their motto is “The mind is primary” and as you go through the training you truly learn how true that is.
The mind is primary.
It was a year process. It started with a weekend seminar called “fundamentals”, then another weekend seminar that was “intermediate”, then ANOTHER seminar that was “advanced” and it was a week long. After all this, I finished with a 4 day internship out there in mountainous Utah.
The basis of Gym Jones is that strength training should have a mental component as well. The founder, Mark Twight, was an adventurer and extreme mountain climber. He wanted training to resemble a trek up a treacherous mountain. It would be just as much of a mental challenge as a physical challenge.
I’d been strong in my past, being able to squat 400 lbs. and deadlift the same, but what Gym Jones encouraged was being able to deadlift 1.5 times your body weight and then doing a 2000 meter row in less than 7 minutes.
Being able to climb to the top of a mountain (a Utah mountain, not a Pennsylvania mountain, big difference I would find), and then having the mental fortitude to do a workout in the afternoon.
Doing heavy shoulder presses for ten reps and then immediately being able to row 600 meters in 2 minutes. Three times. In a row. With 2 minutes rest. And not going below 600 meters. All in that’s about 15 minutes of hell.
One day we had to do a “One-Minute All Out” on the Airdyne bikes. And based on your height and weight, Bobby Maximus gave you a number of calories to hit. My number was 68. There were about 15 people around my bike. They said “Go” and I took off. I was flying, the first time I looked up I was only 15 seconds in and it felt like forever, I knew this was going to be hell. I kept going, it was the longest minute of my life. Maybe sparring minutes back when I was boxing were just as bad. When I was done, I saw 68.5. Everyone went nuts. I was happy.
The first 30 seconds when you get off the bike it isn’t so bad, after that it’s pure hell. I was on the floor contemplating if I could stand up. And if I stood up, would I be able to walk. For 20 minutes at least I was on my hands and knees, just knees, one hand one knee, and variants of all three. I remember distinctly thinking, “I never want a client to feel like this.”
We learned about working together. Above you see me on a Ski erg during a four person relay. That looks like about quarter of the way into a 21,000 meter ski relay. Notice the sweat on the bottom. I can tell that’s only a quarter of the way in because by the end the whole machine was drenched. You would pull as hard as you can for 15 to 20 pulls and then hand off to the next person. It took about an hour. We lost by meters. That’s how close it was.
The main lesson I learned is you’re capable of much more than you think you are. Your brain is trying to help you by not letting you overdo it so it will tell you to stop well before you hit your threshold. If you think of your ancestors as cavemen, what would happen if they totally went all out and exhausted themselves to the point of not being able to move. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you could be in some real trouble. Your brain will cut you off way before you’ve reached your limits.
Basically it comes down to building, applying, and interacting. And then repeat. I’m trying to build strength, speed, cardiovascular endurance, coordination, and reaction time, all the time. And how do I know if they’re getting better?
I can test if someone is getting stronger by looking at their 5 rep max for squat or deadlift and then trying to do a little more. I can test someones cardiovascular ability by seeing if they can beat their 500m, 1k, or 2k row or ski times. But if I want to test coordination, reaction time, strength & speed, all at the same time it has to be through boxing or kickboxing.
I’ve seen muscle bound bodybuilders in kickboxing tournaments. It’s not a pretty sight. One of the few, if only times I’ve felt sorry for a muscle bound person.
When a client, guy or girl, learns how to throw a correct punch, making sure it starts in their feet, using their hips, corkscrewing their punching arm, it’s a beautiful and powerful sight and sound. They know it, I know it, it’s power and grace. And then when they throw a roundhouse kick using their hips and it knocks me back, I jump for joy. It’ funny, but when I create someone that I no longer want to hold pads for because I know I’m going to get a beating due to their increased strength, power and speed, deep down I’m satisfied.