Talking About Fight Club

UChicago’s recently formed boxing RSO will free your mind without your having to fracture it.

By Advaita Sood, Sports Reporter

I first set foot in Henry Crown Field House’s Green Room at 7 p.m. on a Thursday. This is an odd time to choose to get your head bashed in (which is what I imagined would happen to me) and therefore seems appealing only to those truly committed to the sport. The sport of which I speak is, of course, boxing—the sweet science of swapping fists and ducking blows; the game that gave us Muhammad Ali, Rocky, the phrase “below the belt,” and Rock ‘Em Sock Em Robots; the great, gory spectacle that everyone knows of but few partake in, whether out of fear, general regard for personal well-being, or sanity.  

As I entered the Green Room that day, what I wanted out of boxing was simple: to take out life’s frustrations on someone or, in this case, have them beat out of me. I wanted to know what it would be like to beat a man with my (moderately cushioned) hands, and to look him in the eye and peer into his broken soul as it cowered fearfully before me. But I digress. And so I walked in, tingling with adrenaline, wearing a menacing air or as much of its counterfeit as I could manage, expecting to see great hulks annihilating punching bags; fighters brawling with bloody noses and clothes and gloves clotted with gore; ‘regulars’ standing around, getting ready, chewing on glass bottles, and generally looking formidable. The scene I did walk into was a little different: Punching bags were being annihilated, but in a manner that inspired awe rather than terror; there wasn’t a drop of blood or malice in sight, and those sitting around getting ready seemed genial but focused. 

Within a few minutes, the boxing club’s leaders called for us to gather around and introduced themselves. Like a ragtag group of protagonists in an underdog story, they were affable and lighthearted, yet with the exception of the occasional unit or two, they didn’t seem particularly intimidating. Still, any unsuspecting newcomer foolish enough to step into the ring with any of these masters of the pugilistic arts would receive a hard lesson in the way of the fist and pay for it with a few of their teeth and a mild concussion. Behind their jocular exteriors lay beasts of significant power and skill, each bred for a different martial art: some for boxing, muay Thai, or kickboxing, and a few others for sanda or tae kwon do. These were experienced fighters with useful knowledge to dish out, and I was ready to receive it.  

The session began with a few rounds of the track at Crown and a brief lesson in stretching. Following this, attendees were asked to divide themselves into groups based on self-assessed experience levels, and each was assigned to a club leader. I had boxed a little in my school days and was involved in a fair number of brawls with my classmates, so I placed myself in the experienced group. Despite our “experience,” before we began training, our group leader asked that we execute each fundamental boxing skill, probably in order to screen for at-risk charlatans such as myself. Of these skills, I had vague ideas of what the fighting stance, jab, and cross were but hadn’t the slightest clue about fighting movement or how to throw a hook or uppercut. Fortunately, I was able to make it to the training part of the session by imitating the people around me and evading my group leader’s vision using a side-step I had just copied. We then formed pairs within our group and took turns flinging our fists at each other. We simulated different fight scenarios and took turns playing the protagonist (that is, the one who lands or dodges the punch) for minute-long rounds before switching to the opposing role. While throwing the punches, we were, of course, told to stop short of our partner’s face, and our partner was taught to defend themselves. In this manner I learnt the slip, parry, jab-slip, and overhand right, among other things.  

The session concluded with a few games that were meant to help us hone our agility and precision. Both games were played in pairs: In the first, you had to try and tap your opponent’s shoulder or knee as many times as you could in a minute while evading their taps, and in the second, you attempted to step on your opponent’s foot while they tried to tap you. The games were fast-paced and fun—the kind of games that plaster a goofy smile on your face for the entire time you play them. And yet, as you play, you don’t notice your bovine countenance; while you see the game’s whimsy, you take it completely seriously. And only if you take it seriously can you be possessed by the single-minded desire to tap and not get tapped, and only then do you realize its joy.  

As my session progressed, I slipped deeper into this sort of single-minded joy. It is what makes the UChicago Boxing Club fun. I entered with the malicious (and largely delusional) intention of using violence as a release and found myself reveling in the moments when it was simply me, my opponent, and the game—moments that existed in a vacuum, for I forgot about everything outside them. Generally, combat sports are hailed as embodiments of courage, discipline, strength, and perseverance. While this is all well and good, such ideals are largely the denizens of hardcore fighting gyms and professional rings that teach the best way to break the opponent. The UChicago Boxing Club, however, exists so students can simply have fun, perhaps forget about whatever drudgery happens to be weighing on them outside of it. So make your way to the bowels of Crown and look for the Green Room on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 4 p.m. After all, there are few better ways to break the ice than by eating a punch from a stranger.