Boxing is a sport that appears to be slightly hazardous to our health for two primary reasons: First, it takes place in a relatively inescapable ring surrounded by bloodthirsty onlookers hoping a distinct amount of harm falls upon participants; ala the smash hits Running Man, Hunger Games, and (sigh)…Squid Game – which we really hoped to avoid ever mentioning but here we are.
Second, the point is to punch an opponent in the face, rapidly, generating as much force as possible, to break that face into tiny pieces.
There’s a third reason, which involves urbanity. Boxing gyms tend to be located in gritty downtown areas of Philadelphia; typically nondescript, grey concrete structures covered in the soot of some nearby ironworks thanks to the furnaces, rolling mills, and dutiful labor of kids like Oliver Twist. Thus, the literal grit, with additional grit provided by the unsavory bookies, pimps, and general thuggery lurking about the entrances to such places, looking to pick off some poor office-bound schlep who in the course of suffering through a mid-life crisis decides taking up boxing makes him/her relevant, tough, and a subject of conversation at forthcoming New Year’s parties.
We took boxing once. The woman who ran the gym was a former semi-pro boxer and stood an unimposing 4’11, which gave us the misconstrued notion we could just smash her like a gorilla squashing a cantaloupe. A duly wayward assumption given the first time we got in close this windmill of a woman absolutely punished us with whirring body blows/jabs that snapped our neck back 90-degrees and elicited boisterous wailing and quite a bit of hands-up pleading, to which she responded with more body blows, jabs, and disgust. Lesson learned.
Thus our pivot to other urban sports in a continued effort to feel counter-culture-ish and have something to talk about at that New Year’s Eve party besides (sigh) work. Surprisingly, many of these sports involve the three-dimensional world we live in, which is disheartening as this requires sagittal, frontal, and transverse movements, or forward/backward, side-to-side, and twisting actions, respectively. Which, after the age of 37, become much more difficult to execute, as evidenced by the following storied history of our urban sport exploration.
Our Time with Skateboarding: We recklessly ignored the exclusive culture of this sport as evidenced by the 80’s smash cinematographic wonders Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’, diving right in with open minds and a special kind of innocent empathy.
Unfortunately, upon entering our local skate park, our warm smiles and proffers of, “Hey guys, we brought cinnamon rolls!” generated cloudy, almost frigid looks, as if these people were stoned. Despite the back-up tactic of casually inserting well-researched jargon we didn’t understand in the face of these agile non-posers – including, admittedly, somewhat arbitrary and awkward statements like “We’re with the Bones Brigade,” “Santa Cruzzzzz,” “It’s really fun when we’re all here together in the sunshine landing bolts, yeah?” and “We were waiting to drop in when that dude snaked us – say, what does that mean? “’Snake us?’” – we were promptly accused of allegiance to the local municipal police force’s drug enforcement/intervention squad and asked to leave.
It didn’t help we kept asking, “Girls skateboard now, girls?” Plus our direct observation of these folks’ tremendous single-leg stability, rotational force/expression, and incredible anerobic energy sort of made us decide we should try something else.
Our Time with Parkour: We decided to become traceurs (parkour practitioners) after re-watching Assassins Creedand Casino Royale, two films that generate unstable, weird feelings upon viewing, sensations likely exacerbated (in our case) by the extra-large pepperoni pizza we ate during the process.
Parkour is about moving from one place to another in the fastest and most efficient way possible; typically running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, plyometric-ing, rolling, etc., without equipment. Which was news to us as we showed up at the local university campus with ropes, pulleys, scaffolding, bicycles, extension ladders and NFL-grade protective padding and helmets. Needless to say, as we watched these young, flexible, bouncy traceurs run up walls, redirect momentum, fly through the air, then roll upon landing on the very hard looking, brick inlaid courtyard, we left for the bar.
Our Time with Underground Bike Racing: Surely this one couldn’t be that bad right? Originally called alley cat racing, these events are (shockingly) held without permits in city traffic because they’re designed to mimic the (now-deposed-by-the-Internet) average bike messenger’s day.
We were mostly excited about the outfits; those little short-billed white caps with Italian flag colored vertical striping, the capri pants with the right leg rolled up to avoid chain grease, our (non-prescription…unless the diagnosis is style!) black-rimmed glasses, the Mulberry Brynmore leather messenger bag we purchased for $1270 to impress everyone, etc. However, our first race was very confusing as we were definitely overdressed, and for some reason nobody wanted to spontaneously make out with us then go hang out in a buzzy North Beach San Francisco coffee shop, instead instructing us to meet at a predetermined spot and hit checkpoint after checkpoint, doing whatever necessary pass each “gate” quickly.
So off we went, and to our shock and horror, our peers committed countless municipal code violations in the name of speed, including riding against the flow of traffic, grabbing onto car bumpers uphill, and the most egregious: Cutting through private property.
Attention fellow cyclists who are roughly 18-26 and thus part of a cool subculture vs. the gear-laden over-culture of middle-aged giro-ists: We did not grow up watching Rad (young BMX racer blows off the SATs to go pro), Quicksilver (Kevin Bacon turns bike courier and gets tangled up in criminal affairs), and American Flyers (mustachioed Kevin Costner!) to merely cast aside the mores of our culture and the laws and various confusing regulations our legal systems imparts to create our much needed structure whenever its convenient…we….
Oh, those movies were all about rebellion, high-risk behaviors, unrealistic fictional whatever, etc. etc.. Never mind guys, sorry to have bothered you.
Out Time with Adult Playgrounds: Glossy exercise machines, brightly colored swings and slides, climbing walls, boulders for bouldering (but we use them to sun ourselves and take Cheshire-catlike naps)…adult playgrounds started cropping up in public parks ten years ago. It took a minute, but we finally found our perfect urban sport. The idea is mostly about mental and physical health benefits from doing something fun. Sold.
We’ll have to make a movie about that.
If any of these urban sports have a special appeal, go forth and prosper. We think they’re mostly about comfort level, a little bit about coordination, and a lot about determination – which sounds like most things in life – with the added bonus of providing fellow New Year’s Eve party-goers a chance to listen to something besides (sigh) work.