John Derbyshire wouldn’t call himself a great boxing fan, but enrolling his 9-year-old in Fitness Through Boxing reminded him of his own long-gone glory days:
I had a brief moment of glory at age thirteen when the gym teacher at our boys-only school organized a boxing tournament, with a ring set up in the school auditorium. Though a fundamentally unathletic kid, I was going through a growth spurt, and, as often happens, different parts were growing at different speeds. The part of me that was growing fastest at this particular moment in time was my arms. I looked like a gibbon.
At our low skill level this gave me a great advantage. With decent wind and some grasp of basic technique, I could hold off any opponent till he tired enough to give me an easy opening. I won all my bouts.
The glory didn’t last long — does it ever? The gym teacher left that year, his successors had no interest in boxing, and society soon passed into a zone where the idea of thirteen-year-old boys punching each other’s faces for educational purposes became as unthinkable as the dense fug of tobacco smoke in our school’s staff room.
John and his son both like the boxing gym:
There is an agreeable and good-humored atmosphere in a boxing gym that cannot but be healthful for a growing boy to inhale. Robert A. Heinlein famously remarked that “an armed society is a polite society.” Well, a trained fighter is always armed. It is an odd paradox of human nature, seen in sergeants’ messes as well as boxing gyms, that there is never more ease of manner, concentration on mastering tasks and skills, and warm fellowship among men than when they have come together in a group to perform lawful acts of physical violence.
It is of course an open question how much longer boxing will be lawful in our feminized, lawyered-up society. Rob makes his customers sign a sheaf of wavers before they can put on the gloves. For a while longer yet, though, a boy can still come to a place like this and learn how to take on others in physical combat with skill, courage, and discipline, as men have done for longer than time itself.