He told me there'd be times I'd question myself and want to quit, but how often guys came back to fight again after completing the program because of the journey it'd taken them on.
He spoke glowingly of Fight Night, how it'd be "one of the best things I'd ever done".
I had fighting experience (being a 7th Dan red belt in Goju Kai karate) and while the idea of learning boxing appealed to me, I wasn't entirely sold that the next 10 weeks would be some amazing experience beyond getting my fitness level up and learning a new way to fight. My year to date had felt like a never-ending mountain climb with no place to rest. That hadn't been enough to make me feel like quitting, neither had any challenge I faced in karate and I doubted this would be any different.
I figured Gavin was giving the whole Fight Like a Pro experience "the big sell"- as you'd expect him to.
But as I discovered soon enough, I was wrong...there were some big lessons and awakenings to come, over the next 2 and a half months...
#1. "Did I Get Better?"
The first few weeks of training weren't too bad. Learning the techniques to stance, jabbing and punching all required a bit of adjustment from the karate techniques I was grounded in- but aside from that, I saw all this new training and information I downloaded as just more of the lessons and challenges I'd gone through all year to date. Why would I want to quit? You'd have to be hopelessly out of shape or have weak character to think about quitting. But then came time for sparring...
Gloves on, head guard strapped up tightly, mouth guard in, stepping into the ring to spar face to face with an opponent. The real challenge faced me in the form of more experienced guys. Before I could think of throwing a punch, they'd rain down on me with lighting fast blows.
Bam bam bam!
Their gloves pounded into both sides of my head and my stomach, they cornered me against the ropes with nowhere to retreat. I got belted with nothing in return.
Soon enough time was up and I sucked in deep breaths, heart pounding while my sweat burned.
I thought of Fight Night.
I imagined how guilty I'd feel with people I knew giving up their Saturday night and paying to come and watch me let down their hopes so massively. Getting beaten here was one thing, but having my arse handed to me with people watching- people who cared?
"Who am I kidding? Why am I bothering with this? Stuff boxing. I don't need this..." I thought in that moment. What was the point? I was so far off that Fight Night would be a complete let-down. Surely even my opponent would be disappointed that I was such weak opposition!
I thought all of this in the space of less than a minute, with being somewhat competent at fighting like a far off mountain-peak I had no hope of reaching.
But I'd finish up the session. Headgear off, gloves off, mouthguard out. As I stood there and unwound the wrapping from my knuckles, it sunk in: even if I felt like a human punching bag right now, in some small way I was better than when I began the session.
It was like this after every single training session, without fail: I'd realise that I'd just improved in some form. Either my stance got better, or my jabs and hooks would have more power behind them, or I'd be quicker at ducking or slipping my opponent's punches and hitting him with the counter. That's what kept me coming back: the idea that "Hey, I might still be far off, but I just got better at this. Let's keep going and see where this leads?"
This lead all the way to the end- to Fight Night- with 3 rounds and 6 minutes to show how much I'd improved since the very first day I set foot inside the Fight Like a Pro Gym. I'll get to that night soon. But first? There were other lessons to come:
#2. Could I Have Done More?
In preparation for Fight Night, I trained 4 times a week. Tuesday afternoons, Wednesday and Thursday evenings- and then at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings. At 5:10am my alarm woke me. I'd throw on my trainers, shorts, singlet and zip up my jacket, head out to the car and drive down in the winter darkness for our 5:29am rendezvous at Currumbin.
We'd all stretch as the sun peeped up over the horizon, do a light jog for a few k's and then return for the big slog: 20 minute circuits up and down the steps of Currumbin Alley. Even for somebody who won medals in High School Cross Country, this was a real uphill battle in more than one sense of the word.
When you're expected to jog for 20 minutes straight and every step- ascent or descent- strains at your knees, ankles and hips- you quickly begin to ask what the point is in pushing on? I'd think "Stuff this, I don't have to bother with this, how will it make any difference?"
Then at last, Kevvie (one of the trainers) would be at the landing, calling out "Come on guys, finish up strong!" in his Kiwi accent. One final blast (especially once in view of the trainers below!) and then pull up on the grass, sucking in deep breaths, heart pounding, hands on hips, sweating in the cool morning air.
What a relief the end was!
But here's the thing:
5 minutes later while stretching down, I'd think of how I could've done more. How I could've gone harder. Despite how much I'd resented every step, despised every time the trainers called out for us to "Push harder!" I regretted knowing I could've done more. The feeling that I'd conserved something, not pushed myself just that couple of percentage points harder?
It felt like a wasted opportunity.
After this realisation, I always gave everything during those morning sessions. Whether it was running cycles or doing sprints, burpees, and crawls down on the beach, I kept asking "Is this the best I can do?". Because I knew that stronger than the will to take it easy path, would be the regret afterwards knowing that I left something over and could've done more...
#3. The Power of Focus
It was Fight Night, at last.
Gavin got us all together in the ring, before our friends, family and guests arrived for the night. He spoke to us for about 10 minutes, and said "If you step into the ring tonight and you don't feel scared and you're not wondering 'What am I doing here?' then there's something wrong with you!"
I was drawn to fight second. Before the opening bout got underway, I was already in the dressing room with my corner man Tony and my other trainers, warming up. Soon enough it was time to walk down the corridor, out to the packed auditorium and await my big entrance. As I stood behind the stage, out of view of the crowd, I got last-minute reminders:
"Keep moving, go in and throw a few quick jabs then back out again"
"You've got the reach- use it to your advantage!"
"Remember to back away, don't be afraid to back away and catch your breath then go in again. If you stay in close range he'll get to you- make him come to you and wear him out, let him use up his energy coming towards you".
The whole time I thought of nothing except what they told me. I was completely indifferent to any emotion about the fight I was about to walk into. All I cared about was remembering what they'd told me, what I'd trained for.
Then it was time to make my entrance, as 'The Touch' by Stan Bush blared over the sound system. I ducked under the ropes, stepped into the ring and paced back and forth.
No fear gripping me.
No wondering how I got to be here with an auditorium full of people watching on as I went 3 rounds slogging it out against my opponent. I'd sparred him several times before. I knew he'd be difficult and that he'd go hard right to the end. Then it was his turn to enter the ring, as his walk-out song boomed:
"'Cause I'm T-N-T: I'm dyna-mite! I'm T-N-T: I'll win the fight! T-N-T: I'm the power load. T-N-T: Watch me explooooooooode....."
But I zoomed right back in deep, to the task at hand. That was the only thing that existed for me, in that moment.
We went to our respective corners, then the bell sounded. This was it.
I recall the entire bout only in small flashes: the dark void outside the ring, sizing up my opponent Glenn, hearing somebody's voice in my corner yelling "Ben- double jab cross!" or "Ben- move away! Move away!" Somebody would get a few hits in and cheers rang out.
Then the bell would sound. Back to my corner to sit and listen to Tony. Only a minute until the next round. In that minute, NOTHING existed in my world except a) What Tony said and b) Getting my breath back. I barely drank any water, because even that was a distraction.
By the third round I yearned for that final bell. It was now an exhausting slog against Glenn. But still the most important thing was to do what I'd been instructed to- and keep going to the end.
Then the bell sounded.
At last! The relief! It was over!
The referee brought Glenn and I together, either side of him. Glenn had got a few solid shots on near the end and barged me up against the ropes- but I'd given him good measure over the whole three rounds. Then the referee took my right arm and held it aloft.
I was handed the trophy, but it felt like nothing more than a formality. In every bout, somebody will win. Tonight, the win was mine. The announcer came over to me with the mic and I said something about Glenn being a tough competitor and how buggered I was. I remember little of it.
Then that was it. I stepped down from the ring, trophy in hand. My only feeling was relief.
Then my corner men were all full of praise for me because I'd done exactly what they told me to do throughout the fight.
At that moment, this great pride rushed through me. I'd felt no emotion about the fight and only focused on what I needed to do so, on saving my very best fight to when it counted. Despite the overwhelming fatigue- I'd done just that. I'd been given a plan to follow in order to have my best chance of winning- and I'd followed it every step of the way. That, for me, was the real victory.
The whole fight- and leading into it- I'd felt on another level of focus. The intensity was crazy! I'd managed to shut out practically everything else in my mind but the key objectives of the fight. The crowd, the occasion, how I might feel about stepping into the ring? I felt complete indifference towards these factors. If I could tap into that level of focus in other areas of my life- daily working, writing, meditation- what new level of results could I unlock?
With the 10 weeks fresh in my mind still, I realise 'Fight Like a Pro' gave me some valuable lessons.
I was reminded that even if we got knocked around and we feel like we failed, the question that really matters is: Did we get better this time?
As tiring or frustrating as a task is, making that extra 1 or 2 percent effort is worth it to reach the other side and know there was nothing more we could've done.
And I discovered the power of tapping into a whole new level of focus, where nothing exists apart from the desired outcome and what I need to do to reach it. I discovered how zooming in completely on an objective (and nothing else) erases emotions or distractions that otherwise hold you back from reaching your very peak of ability.
Thanks to Tony, thanks my trainers, thanks to Glenn and to everybody who helped me get to where I got that one night in September. And thanks also to you, Gavin...
You were right after all!