"It's dangerous, because a trainer holds a fighter's mind in his hands. The fighter depends on him for the truth, and if the trainer don't got it, the fighter is going to get hurt."
- A Fighter's Mind by Sam Shepherd
I think back to my first days at Cobra Kai, and the hours upon hours of workouts spent in a gym in Ferndale. Where I learned the foundations of how to box, how to move my feet and punch, hard. How to throw combination punches, block, bob and weave, and build my cardio base. I think back on the relationship I had with Coach James Ferguson - the blind leap of faith I put in his hands and the blind faith he put back in me.
His piercing blue eyes, flattened nose, and boxers gait framed an aging and failing body. Often his back would spasm and he would lean on anything nearby. On a good day, he would hold mitts and we'd rattle off jab, cross, jab, left hook over and over and over. He'd start throwing in a return hit so you got used to protecting yourself. And I swear, you'd learn more in those five minutes with him then hours spent with sparring partners.
Coach would talk about dancing and always moving your feet. And for warm ups we'd often incorporate a free flowing dance with shadow boxing thrown in for good measure. Turns out those little drills would be invaluable when fighting in the ring. Being able to move your feet and move is crucial for survival; if you just stand there, you will get hit. The more you get hit, the more it hurts.
Coach also made up games. Games that would push us and challenge us in outside the box ways. For he knew the importance of becoming a well rounded fighter goes well beyond what happens between the ropes in 20 square feet. One summer we did a training camp down at Boulevard Park, termed "Hell Summer." He would have us swim in Bellingham Bay's frigid water, swim in a water soaked log and then haul it up the beach. People must have thought we were nuts. Then we'd take the log back into the water and dry off and start warming up for focus mitts. We'd run flights of stairs, carrying our sparring partners by piggy back up and then back down. Then we'd time it - competing against one another. He was toughening us up, preparing us for the rigors of going to battle.
And then one time we had a snipe hunt.
The discipline it takes, the motivation to workout day after day, especially when your body is screaming for reprieve and your head is still fuzzy from last night's pop to the chin and your neck has whip lash; it takes a driven person to stick with it. It was there I honed in on how much I loved competing. I loved facing danger right in the face, prepared and completely naive - it scared me down to my core and it made me feel alive.
The "Hell Summer" ribbon of excellence lays right next to my world cup jersey numbers on a mirror covered dresser. It is a big part of the athlete I am today. And its printed words remain my mantra: A champion is made a day at a time.
I wonder what Coach is up to these days. I lost contact with him once I moved down to Seattle ten years ago. Yet some of his lessons still resonate in my head. And for the record, I never got hurt.