After discovering a passion for boxing at the Integrated Martial Arts Academy, I knew it was a matter of time before I climbed through the ropes of the ring and spar another member of the gym. I looked forward to it, but I didn’t push for it like some of the other gym participants. Some were too eager to get in that ring. I think people joined the academy simply to spar. Some asked to spar as soon as they joined.
I spent a lot of time at the Integrated Martial Arts Academy. I was a very energetic person in those days. Running track, lifting weights, and spending a lot of time at the academy learning thaiboxing, hand trapping and of course, boxing.
There was this one guy, can’t remember his name, so we’ll call him “Ralph”. Ralph was my training partner for a time. He was quite enthusiastic about training and he was always asking Ray Longo when he can spar. After a couple of months of this, Ray finally told Ralph that he can spar the following Saturday. Ralph got in there with one of the amateur kickboxers and went at it. Hands only a.k.a. boxing. I thought he did alright for his first time sparring. Ralph seemed okay after the session, but quickly left the gym. That was the last time I had seen him.
I would see this play out a few times after that: people would come train, stay for a while, have their first sparring experience, then quit. This made me second-guess whether I should do it. A year after joining the academy, Ray asked if I would like to spar. He said I was ready. I hesitated then said yes. Hey, Ray wasn’t forcing me to do this. I didn’t have to, but if I wanted to ever have the confidence to pull this stuff off in a real street fight, I have to be able to do it in the ring.
The following Saturday I came down to spar. If I recall correctly, I was in there with a professional kickboxer. Again, hands only. Ray explained to the guy that it was my first time and to take it easy. I put on some headgear, sparring gloves and my mouthpiece. Climbed into the ring and waited nervously for the bell to ring. We touched gloves and I began to box. I should rephrase that; he boxed, I stood there doing… something. I was able to block many of the punches. Sadly, I had to use my head to do so… I couldn’t get out of the way of ANY punch. My punches had nothing on them. I’m sure this guy was having fun. I remember my stance at the time was pretty bad too; having my hands right under my chin and together, not very good for defense. Ray tried correcting that many times. Well, after two rounds, it was over. I walked over to smiling Ray who helped get my headgear off and he said something I’ll never forget: “You got some balls!”
I was relieved that the sparring was over, but instead of wanting to avoid sparring ever again, I was determined to train harder for the next time. I was actually looking forward to my next sparring session. Eventually, I would spar many more times at that academy. I only weighed around 145 pounds at the time, but would throw hands with guys smaller and much larger than myself. Some weighed over 200 pounds.