As a teenager growing up in various Army Cantonments, I got exposed to a lot of diffirent sports. Football, Basketball, Golf, athletics. But nothing captured my imagination like Boxing did.
I was fascinated by the men who danced their strange dance inside the ring, throwing punches and dodging them. Bobbing, weaving, jabbing! I heard those thunderous body shots, I saw sweat and blood fly and punches landing hard and then I saw my first knockout at the age of sixteen.
I still recall the victor putting his hand out to pull up his temporarily incapacitated opponent. I saw blood, busted noses, lacerated eye brows and the visceral side of the sport but what stayed with me was how these bruised and battered men and women went inside that ring, fight after fight knowing they could end up dead or worse a vegetable on a hospital bed. I realized that their passion and dreams of becoming Champions and owning the ring superceded all fears .
And it was just like the boxing movies I’d seen, only more real and visceral and you got One take to get it right.
For those of you who follow it, Boxing is like ballet, except there is no music, no choreography and the dancers hit each other. It’s a dance none the less. Infact lemme say this, Boxing transcends sport because you don’t play boxing, you Box!
Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, Boxing goes way beyond physical prowess. It is a thinking person’s game. It is a calculated, strategic exercise in mental acuity. You need to anticipate what’s coming towards you, you need to react swiftly, block or dodge the punch in time so you don’t get knocked out. You need to move your opponent into a position that allows you control, using the ropes as your stronghold. And at the end of the 12 rounds, you’ve got to hug your opponent.
So essentially Boxing requires great self belief, confidence, dedication, fearlessness, focus and a never say die attitude.
Isin’t that what we need for life as well?
Incidentally my first novel ‘Dancing with Demons’, is a resurrection drama set against the backdrop of this beautiful athletic dance in the ring. When the novel got published, the first question everyone asked me and many still do..
Boxing because it’s the closest any sport comes to mimicking the crests and troughs of life. Infact it is the strongest visual metaphor for life itself. Look at the ring as life- you are inside it and no matter how many people support or love you, you are alone in that ring and those battles inside that ring are only yours to fight.
Boxing because those three minute rounds bring you face to face with your true selves, your fears, your weaknesses, your tenacity in the face of adversity and your ability to get up after being hit.
In life you are going to have to do this again and again. So what do you do? You deconstruct your obstacle, study it , see how it moves, find a weak spot, hammer it till it crumbles while saving yourselves the best you can. Now it’s also possible that you might crumble but your spirit must not! Cause it aint about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”
Boxing because the ring tests the very extremes of one’s physical, mental and emotional endurance. For a fight, you need a lot more than physical prowess, you need to enhance your mental and emotional ability to last twelve rounds despite an intimidating opponent.
The ring tests you ruthlessly.
Life will test you too. It will throw everything it possibly can at you. An illness, an accident, a difficult boss, a cheating partner, an ailing parent, money problems and so much more. These obstacles could propel you or stall your journey. It is really up to you.
Would the world have had the great Mohammad Ali if he feared that boxing would give him Parkinsons at the age of forty? It did give him Parkinsons but millions get Parkinsons without get hit a single time in their lives. Mohammad Ali lived his life front foot forward. Literally and figuratively. Importantly, he believed he was the greatest of the greatest and guess what –he was just that! The greatest.
Would the world have witnessed Mary Kom’s genius inside the ring if she allowed Poverty, patriarchy, corrupt sports federations, casteism, even motherhood to come in the way?! It almost seems that her obstacles propelled her towards greatness. Mary Kom is a six time World Amateur Boxing champion, and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the seven world championships. Her blazing legacy continues to inspire millions of women.
And who can forget one of the best heavy weight title fights in recent times? and the grit of forty one year old former Heavy weight Superstar Wladimir Klitchko who fought like a man possessed even though he finally lost to a much younger Anthony Joshua by TKO in the 11th round. It was one hellava bout! Klitchko had so much fight inside him that even the fiercest Joshua supporters bowed to him at the end.
‘‘He went down fighting’’ is the attitude of a winner. He went down fighting is way better than he never tried.
The first chapter in my book ‘Dancing with Demons’ ends with the protagonist Karan Pratap Singh being banned from the sport after violently beating his opponent in the ring and nearly leaving him dead.
Karan Pratap Singh loses it all just minutes away from becoming the heavy weight national champion. He muses, “May be I broke too many hearts, may be I crushed too many souls, may be my heart was too broken to give a damn about anyone else, may be the wise man was right, life is like a boxing match, tons of people will cheer for you from the outside but you’re alone in that ring to fight your own battles”. The rest of the book is about him putting his childhood demons to rest and coming back into the ring despite a medical condition that could kill him if he fought.
Have you ever wondered why some of the most inspiring life lessons come from our favourite boxing movies?
The Rocky series…the story of an unlikely winner, an underdog who fearlessly takes on a reigning champion and even though he doesn’t win the fight, he wins everyone’s hearts because he takes the beating of his life but refuses to go down.
Rocky works because we believe we are underdogs, we are the Davids to every Goliath. And regardless of gender, we can identity with Rocky Balboa.
When the idea of Rocky came to him, Styllone was living in a seedy apartment in Hollywood. He wrote Rocky in three and a half days and pitched it to producers with the condition that they had to cast him. The Producers loved the script so much, that they agreed and Rocky was shot with Styllone in 28 days on a $1 million budget.
Stallone trained six hours everyday for five months to don Rocky’s gloves and Rocky became the sleeper hit of the year, making him rich and a big star. Sly Styllone’s performance is heartfelt and the boxing matches are perhaps the best we’ve seen the movies.
Or ‘Million Dollar baby’, which is about the relentless persuit of a dream by an unlikely, over age boxing contender Maggie. Her single minded focus, self belief and fire in the belly compels the boxing coach played by Clint Eastwood to take her as a student. She ultimately dies in the persuit of that dream but when Morgan Freeman’s character consoles her distraught coach Frankie,he says ‘”People die everyday Frankie-mopping floors, washing dishes and you know what their last thought is? I never got my shot. Because of you Maggie got her shot. If she dies today, you know what her last thought would be? I think I did it all right”.
Million Dollar Baby is perhaps one of the greatest boxing films ever made, not because it has the best boxing scenes; which it doesn’t, but because it tells you that your dreams are worth fighting for.
So Back in New York when I was studying filmmaking, I started to watch boxing matches at the Madison square garden. I met coaches, trainers and boxers and took membership at a local boxing club. I stepped inside the ring and felt a lot of things, specially the urgent need to hear that closing bell at the end of the round. I felt fear, I felt my knees wobble, I felt my throat drying up, I also felt the crushing pain of a hairline fracture on my nose during a sparring session but I realized very quickly that life had to be lead front foot forward and fear had to be a propeller, not an inhibitor so when my first story found me, I threw my protagonist inside that ring. It was a litmus test for him. I let him fall, I let him fight, I let him bleed and soon he took over and forged his own path and destiny.
‘Dancing with Demons’ not only got onto the Crossword Bestseller list within six weeks of it’s release, it is also the only boxing fiction Novel in India, so far.
The filmmaking course ended and I came to Bombay to chase my dreams as a writer-director. While my mother introduced me to Somerset Maugham and the joys of reading and writing , it was my father who took me to my first boxing fight and today I am living my life using the same principles that the ring taught me. “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it”.
Step inside that ring, take a blow or two because nothing will prepare you for life like the ring will. Almost nothing.
Nidhie Sharma is a Filmmaker-Author based in Mumbai. She is the writer of ‘Dancing with Demons’, India’s first Boxing fiction Drama published by Harlequin Harper Collins. Her twitter handle is @iamnidhiesharma.
This article is a transcript of a TedX Gateway unplugged talk given by her in Mumbai.