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  • Reverend James Squire

Lessons Learned in the Ring

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

I had the skill to move safely in the world of adolescence thanks to a neighbor, Raymond “Mushy” Mushlanka, who set up a boxing club in his garage complete with punching bag, speed bag, and weights. However, there were no ropes in his garage. It just had four walls. He would comment that “You are your most dangerous when your opponent has you against the ropes. He won’t be expecting a knock-out punch.” In our case it was the walls. Once the fight started there was no way to get away which is true of the boxing ring as well.

It was not the legendary Blue Horizon Fight Club in North Philadelphia, but I learned a lot from my neighbor. He was very strong and skilled. When we sparred he would always win, and I would learn another lesson about boxing and losing. It wasn’t pretty. Believe it or not, there is really a lot to learn about what seems to be a primitive art form. My neighbor walked with a swagger that he had richly earned. He was that good! No one challenged him.

One of the things from my childhood that I loved was the “Friday Night Fights” on TV sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. This was a great time with my father. My mother and brother were not interested in the program so it was something that my dad and I did together. I knew that my father bet on horse races. I am not sure whether he bet on the boxing matches but he seemed most interested in who was going to win. I could care less who won. I watched the fights because, for me, it was a master class in boxing. I cared about what I could learn by watching. One of my favorites was Carmen Basilio who was a hard charging boxer who always took the fight to his opponent.

I didn’t know at the time why Basilio was my favorite boxer. I just knew that he was always moving forward and the action never stopped and, since I was a left hander, it was great to learn that his best punch was a left hand hook. Later in life I learned that he was the most offense oriented boxer of all time. He was non stop action. He wasn’t only brave in the ring, but he fought against the mob who controlled boxing. He would never lose a fight to receive more money. He was regarded as a man of courage.

Unlike Basilio, I didn’t measure up! I didn’t act on the model he provided quickly enough. I remember being afraid at this point in my life. I was afraid of the bullies in our school and embarrassed that I never took them on. The bullies that I encountered were in school and not in the neighborhood. Their behavior took the form of sitting behind me or one of my friends and hitting us on the head. When I turned around they would just be smiling. Whenever one of my friends was bullied, I found it easy to retaliate on their behalf. There have been recent studies that indicate bullies are insecure with low self-esteem. When I think back on bullying in my school days I realize two things: the bullies never seemed to be involved in a contact sport such as football, wrestling, or boxing where their behavior could be directly challenged, and they always had someone around them when they were bullying. They needed witnesses to their unkind acts or to come to their aid if they were losing a fight.

There were three important things in working class culture that carried over for me later in life regarding what was emphasized in boxing and how it translated to real life. You never hit someone when they are down or take advantage of another person who is vulnerable. It has to be a fair fight no matter what the fight is. Second, the championship boxers are always proactive and not reactive. They don’t wait for the opponent to come to them. Third, you never sucker punch anyone. That is when you hit the person when he least expects it, catching him totally off guard. This can be accomplished by words or with a fist. Usually this occurs when someone has power over a person. People who break any of the above rules are considered to be lacking integrity.

I am sure these guidelines apply in all cultures but, from my experience, they were considered sacred in the blue-collar world.

To this day I regret not taking on the bullies in my early years. I think subconsciously that is why I got involved in boxing in the first place. Any feeling of cowardice went against my need to feel courageous. That was part of the way I wanted to see myself. Failure to take on a challenge was seen as something very bad by me. It related to the other side of freedom in my life. That was the “freedom to” be in control. We tend to want to control things later in life when aspects of life that are very important to us are out of our control during our younger years.

Later on in life, my development was shaped by this drive to take on the bullies of the world that started in my younger years. By not feeling that I did this enough early on, I overcompensated to make sure that no challenge went unchecked. This could be very draining at times. Some who were in my orbit thought that I looked for confrontations when leaving the situation alone would have been a better choice. Certainly my family felt that way with people that I encountered outside the home.

When I attended my first and only bullfight in Madrid, I was not as bothered by the blood and gore as I was by the fact that it wasn’t a fair fight. The bull was stabbed many times by the picadors and was weakened before the bullfighter entered the ring in a very macho fashion. I was cheering for the bull since cowards look for those who they perceive to be weaker. They pick on people who they feel are at a disadvantage. I have yet to meet a courageous bully. Again to kick someone who is down is one of the things that still bother me today. There is great responsibility when you have power over another person. I want to see the justice in any action.

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