By Mural Ali Beg
Small victories build our self-esteem and teach us valuable lessons in life. There is how the author crafted victory from unpromising material
All of us have been deeply affected by certain experiences that have shaped our values and confidence in ourselves. In my case it was through boxing that many consider a brutal sport. It was by accident that I became the captain of our house boxing team in boarding school after the earlier boxing captain had broken his shoulder. So by default I became boxing captain at the age of 15. That year there were very few good athletes among the 100 boys in our hostel, and I was the only boxer from our house in the 15-member school boxing team.
Though it was almost hopeless to expect very much from this team, I realized that the one good thing in the situation was that I had nothing to lose by experimenting with a bold new idea. At that time there were no books available on boxing, training or strategies, no internet and nothing except for the power of one’s own observation and imagination.
The normal training sessions consisted of physical training for strength and stamina, hammering at a canvas punching bag and a few rounds of boxing with four or five boys in similar weight groups. I had, however, noticed that the winners of each weight group were usually the same and were usually the most aggressive ones. After a few bouts, a pattern would emerge and one boxer would almost always win, another would almost always lose and the others almost always followed a predictable pecking order.
I thought that I must change this by teaching the team to box with their brains and not just with their fists. So I made them stand in two rows opposite each other making one row give a left or right punch while the others were taught different combinations of attack and defence. They had to learn that to win, a boxer had to win two out of three rounds and that in each round they had to deliver more punches than they received. This needed thinking as much as aggression, strength and speed. With repeated practice many moves became automatic reflex actions. I then tried another experiment by making the boxers fight against bigger and smaller boys. Facing a small opponent, a boxer was willing to experiment with the new moves he had learned and when pitted against a bigger opponent would fight defensively.
But I also had to do something about mental strength. Inspired by a torn copy of a book about Alexander from the library I told the team: “You must always have the word attack in your mind even when fighting defensively. Attacking makes you brave while defending makes you cowardly and demoralises your team. But do not attack all the time. You can use defence as an opportunity for attack. You must vary the pace, change the direction and save your moment of all-out attack until you see a decisive moment. You have to keep your opponent guessing by constantly trying to out-position, out-manoeuvre and out-wit him. Never show your frustration by abuse or irritation. You can pretend to be weak, demoralised, tired or defensive but the word attack must always burn in your brain and fire you to hit hard whenever you see the opportunity. And when you get a break immediately follow it up by attacking again and again to thoroughly demoralise your opponent.”
The changes were amazing and many timid boys began to suddenly demonstrate unbelievable boxing skills. I noticed that most boxers were of four types. First were the aggressive ones who fought with their fists and not with their brains. Then there were quieter ones, like myself, who would avoid a fight if they could honourably do so, but would respond with thought and determination if attacked. The third group would be too mentally weak to stand and fight unless they were taught to fight and given confidence in themselves. The last category was the cowards who, despite sometimes being strong and clever, would go sick or find excuses. A new team of confident fighters was beginning to evolve.
At the semifinals among the four school houses, our lowly rated team surprised everyone by winning eleven out of the fifteen bouts. I put myself in the ring in the open weight against a very muscular fighter who was much heavier and taller. But having studied him carefully I went in to quietly earn points and not hit so hard as to anger this much stronger opponent. This easy victory made me an instant hero.
But the finals were another matter as the top team had ten members in the school team. But our team distinguished itself and every single bout was keenly contested. When our house narrowly won the fourteenth round to make the score seven all there was a big shout of joy because I was now expected to win the final. But the opposing house had sprung a last-minute surprise by replacing a big but clumsy boxer with a new boxer of my own size.
I was not a natural fighter but one who had studied to become a scientific and capable boxer. My opponent, however, had the fluid feline movements and quick attack of a born fighter. As the first round proceeded I realised that he was winning. I increased the tempo and went aggressively into attack but with little effect. While being swabbed before the final round I told myself: “You must do what you have taught your boys. Don’t get angry. Turn your mind to ice and fight with your head and not with your fists. Just go for the points.”
It was a very close match and the judges took three minutes of discussion before announcing the winner. I. There was a loud roar of applause from the entire auditorium that had enjoyed fifteen closely contested matches. My teachers and house captain who had watched the moulding of the winning team from unpromising material were overjoyed.
It was a lesson to inspire me throughout my life. From this experience I was willing to constantly try new ideas and fear no enemy as I was confident that every challenge could be met with a calm mind, clear thinking and bold action. I also realized that the greatest strength came from an intuitive ability to reach back into one’s own unconscious mind and draw the wisdom from there as one finds deep wells of an unknown, but potent, cosmic force there.
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