Boxing clever proves punishing primal pastime
It's universally accepted that getting punched in the face is not fun. Yet that's precisely what boxers deal with every time they step into a ring. For them, a bad day at the office means being on the receiving end of a fist flying towards them at high velocity.
So I kept telling myself, even before I wound on my hand wraps for my introduction to boxing, that it was reasonable to be filled with a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. I've always been curious about boxing (hence the excitement part) but have always been petrified of getting a shiner (hence the anxiety).
In combat sports, you constantly hear that safety is of the utmost importance. But, as I arrived at DEF Boxing gym for my session with head trainer Jay Lau Chi-yuen, that thought did little to take the edge off any jitters. Let's face it, boxing is not for everyone - especially not the sissies.
Coach Lau got me started by fitting me with a pair of 16oz (about 450 grams) gloves. Olympic hopefuls will compete with 10oz gloves. Heavier gloves provide more padding for the puncher (less impact on the hand) and the punched (less impact on the face and body). Although my gloves looked colossal - almost like small cushions - they felt lighter than they appeared, and were quite easy to manoeuvre. Midway through the session, though, they felt like mini-dumbbells.
Before a boxing bout, a referee will invite both fighters to the centre of the ring, where he will tell them the number one rule in boxing: protect yourself at all times. The most common way to protect oneself in boxing is to keep your hands up. In the basic fighting stance, both hands are raised up around the chin area, with the elbows tucked tightly into the body. People commonly believe boxers possess massive arms for generating powerful punches. Coach Lau says arms are more for defence - they function like a shield. The larger the arms, the greater the area protected.
Punches are thrown directly from the fighting stance with little to no 'wind-up'. Wind-up makes you telegraph your punches, giving your opponent more time to react.
A common misconception is that punching power comes from the arms. In fact, punching power comes from the entire body, and much of it comes from your base - the legs and hip rotation. After throwing some jabs, uppercuts and hooks at a punching bag, my entire body felt exhausted. Most of all, my legs were burning.
The jab is the most basic, and most-used punch, in boxing. It is a measuring stick to gauge distance and timing, to keep your opponent at bay and to score points. It's typically thrown with the lead hand - the hand closest to your opponent - in a straight line directed to the opponent's face.
The hook, which comes from the side, was the most difficult punch for me. There's something strange about entering at such an angle and my hand would often glide off the bag. I needed to make my punches stick, striking the bag with all four knuckles, so the bulk of the force was spread among them all. This provides more impact per punch and reduces the chance of breaking a hand.
An uppercut comes from an upward movement aimed at an opponent's chin. This was also a lot more difficult than I had expected.
After doing some bag and pad work, I progressed to the speed bag, a ball-shaped object dangling from a wooden board. Coach Dave Lam Tsing told me the speed ball is meant to improve timing - helping rhythm trump brute power. It looked really simple, but catching the ball on the rebound and striking it at the same speed and position each time proved to be immensely difficult.
By this time I was basically running on empty. Although I'd thought my gloves felt relatively light, by the end, my arms felt like jelly, and just keeping them up was a major task in itself. My cardio strength is not quite up to par and I knew it was time to throw in the towel.
There's a lot more to boxing than brutish combatants throwing hand grenades at each other. After completing one session, you realise it's not so much a fight as an un-choreographed dance. There's a primal rush you get from boxing that can't be replicated with any other Olympic sport.
Special thanks to DEF Boxing
Additional reporting: YP cadet Sophie Cheung
Boxing has been around for thousands of years. The earliest signs of the sport have been discovered in primitive drawings in Egypt from about 3000 BC. At first, boxers bound their hands with strips of leather. Later, in Ancient Rome, they wore special gloves with metal studs. Predictably, this led to the death of at least one contestant in each bout.
Boxing first appeared at the Ancient Olympics in 7th century BC, and was first held at the modern Olympics in 1904. Women's boxing will appear at the Olympics for the first time in London.
Boxers are divided into weight categories, so that each fighter faces someone of a similar size. In London, there will be 10 categories for men and three for women.
Men's bouts are made up of three three-minute rounds, and women's of four two-minute rounds.
Boxers score points every time they land a punch on their opponent's head or upper body. They are not allowed to hit the lower body; this is where we get the idiom 'below the belt'. If you act in this way, that is hit 'below the belt', you are acting unfairly.
Boxers also may not kick, head-butt, trip, push, or hit with any part of the hand or arm other than the knuckles or a closed fist.
Boxers score points every time they hit their opponent's head or upper body. To win a bout, you either need to score the most points, or your opponent needs to be knocked to the ground, or 'knocked out', and unable to get up before the referee counts to 10. It is possible for the bout to be won through retirement or disqualification. Also, if the referee thinks a boxer is unfit to continue the fight, he has the right to stop the bout.
bantamweight: one of the lighter weight classes; a bantam is a breed of small chicken
bout: a boxing contest, or match
hook: a short punch delivered with a bent elbow, from the side
jab: an arm's length punch to the front
Queensberry rules: the set of rules used in modern boxing, developed by the Marquess of Queensberry in London in 1867
standing eight count: when the referee allows a boxer some time to recover from severe blows
throw in the towel: when a boxer's assistant declares defeat for his/her boxer before the contest is officially over
Ones to watch
Ireland's Katie Taylor, 26, who started boxing aged 12, is considered by many as the world's best pound-for-pound women's boxer, and a favourite to win the first Olympic gold.
In her lightweight (up to 60kg) class, she's won the past four golds in the World Championships, past five European Amateur golds and the past four European Union Amateur Championship golds. She's also a member of Ireland's women's soccer team.
Meanwhile, Vasyl Lomachenko is considered the world's best pound-for-pound men's amateur boxer.
In Beijing, the 24-year-old Ukrainian won the gold medal in the featherweight (up to 57kg) class in dominant fashion, routinely outscoring his helpless opponents. His performance helped him pick up the Val Barker Trophy given to the best boxer at the Games.
He will fight as a lightweight (up to 60kg) at the London Olympics.
Despite being only 24 years old, Luke Campbell is already one of Britain's most accomplished boxers.
In 2008, he became the first English boxer in 47years to win the gold medal at the European Amateur Championships.
The bantamweight (up to 56kg) fighter, failed to make the cut for the Beijing Games - so he has extra motivation to achieve his dream of winning an Olympic medal in front of his home crowd.
Women's medal events
Fly 4.30pm (11.30pm in HK) Light 4.45pm (11.45pm in HK) Middle 5.15pm (August 10, 12.15am in HK)
Men's medal events
Light fly (49kg) 8.30pm (August 12, 3.30am in HK)
Middle (75kg) 9.45pm (August 12, 4.45am in HK)
Super heavy (+91kg) 3.15pm (10.15pm HK)
KO in Hong Kong
Address: 2/F, Wing's Building, 110-116 Queen's Road, Central
Telephone: 2167 7218
Address: 15/F, The Pemberton, 22-26 Bonham Strand East, Sheung Wan
Telephone: 2840 0162
Address: 3/F, Hang Wai Commercial Building, 231-233 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai
Telephone: 2574 2888