The road to Rota, part one: Learning the ropes

27 Oct 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake

Editor's Note: The road to Rota is a four-part series that follows the author from learning how to fight into his own bout at a boxing event in Rota, Spain.I am everything good fighters are not.I punch slowly, my nose is overt and bony, my large, flat feet would probably function better as fins and I have the rhythm and timing of one of those wind-up toy monkeys that plays the symbols.These are obstacles that must be overcome if I hope to achieve victory when I step into the boxing ring in mid-December. I am currently training for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s Rumble in Rota, an event that will feature 15 amateur bouts of three rounds each.This is where LCpl. Juan Salazar and the group of Marines and Sailors he trains will come in. The Houston, Texas native and member of our Battalion Landing Team 2/2's India Battery is helping me begin the process of undoing in five weeks what it took Mother Nature twenty-two years to manufacture.Though Salazar plans to compete in the Rumble in Rota, CWO-3 William Joseph, Philadelphia, Penn. native and event organizer, said fighters are paired up by weight and ability. This hopefully means Salazar, who punches as quickly as he moves, will never end up in the ring with me.Though I am not sure whom I would want to end up in the ring with. Having seen most of the fighters who plan to compete, I'm starting to feel a little like the football team that everyone wants to play for their Homecoming game. The easy victory.But beware, looks can be deceiving. Chief Warrant Officer-3 Joseph told me that. The former All-Marine boxer said he has seen little guys thrash much larger opponents. He also said having a powerful punch does not mean much when the person throwing it wears himself out too early, becoming tired and vulnerable in the latter rounds.Of course, he has also seen larger opponents destroy smaller men, and powerful punches knock someone out in the first round."Stick to the basics and fundamentals and you should be all right," he said.Salazar is helping me learn those fundamentals. In amateur boxing, fighters first learn five basic punches appropriately named one, two, three, four and five. Ideally, each punch sets the fighter up for the next.One is a strait jab with your weak hand. Right handers use their left hand for this. That hand comes straight out and extends all the way. The purpose of this punch is to keep your opponent at bay. Though this punch can do damage, it is meant to set someone up for the two.Two is the overhand punch and is carried out with your strong arm. The arm comes straight out and draws its power from a fighter's body, who should pivot off his back foot and move the whole upper torso. It is your power punch. This is the punch Mike Tyson uses to kill people. It is the punch I use to make red marks, but I'm learning.Punch three uses the weak hand again for the hook. This is usually dealt to the body, but sometimes the head. You should be close to your rival when using this punch.Punches four and five are both uppercuts. Your strong arm should administer four, while the weak arm should throw the five. Uppercuts are simply that. Using your body's momentum, the arm comes straight up and against the opponent's body or head.It is important to remember through all the punches, points out both Salazar and CWO-3 Joseph, to keep your hands and arms up to guard your head and body. The difficult thing about boxing is that the other guy is trying to hit you too. Keeping mobile is also important, but be careful not to cross your feet while doing it. If that happens, your opponent can simply push you over. That's just embarrassing.The most important thing is to use these basics fluidly."Find out what works for you," said Joseph. "Get to a place where you feel comfortable and successful."I have not found that place yet; I just started. Though Salazar is helping me get there. He is running me through various exercises curtailed to improve my boxing, like jumping rope (it improves grace and foot speed) and hitting the heavy bag. With his help, maybe I won't do so badly at the Rumble.For now my focus is training, and lots of it. It's not easy. My body often aches and my knuckles are sometimes sore. But those seem like a far distant second to getting beat up.