My high school had regular, daily PE classes, broken into units one or two or weeks. The more interesting and unusual were trampoline, badminton (I was school champion!), swimming, and boxing.
Mr. Arnold was the high school PE instructor, a quiet, intense man--not large but compact and muscular in a trim, graceful way. A panther, not a bull...who knew the art of pugilism.
The days slipped by with the class performing boxing exercises: jump roping alternated with lying on the mat on our backs, our feet raised, pounding on our stomachs with both gloved fists. We also practiced various punches and blocks, how to move our hips and shift our weight to achieve maximum punching power.
And then came the tournament, our "grade." It was an elimination tournament where we would box three rounds: a half-minute round, a minute round, and another half-minute round. I know, it doesn't sound like much, but believe me, it seemed like an eternity in the ring! My opponent was a nice guy (shorter than me, so I had reach) who also happened to be a state wrestling champion. I had reach, though--remember that.
And then the funniest thing happened.
My opponent, the state wrestling champion, cheated! The bell rang, and the PE class roared. My opponent went to punch me, and I obligingly raised my arms, gloves and elbows together, to block the blow--just like we'd practiced in class. He didn't hit me, though! He just pretended he was going to hit me and actually went on smack me with the other fist!
I waited for Coach Arnold to call the fight and was confused when nothing happened except the louder roaring of the crowd. In between rounds, I was told by my ringside "coach" to watch out for my opponents "feints." Feints--evidently, lying and pretending were intrinsic to the art of boxing, acceptable subterfuges--even honored and admired!
I finished out my rounds, heart-broken at the deceitful, duplicitous ways of mankind. I survived--and that, to be honest, was the goal of most of us in the class. Our hearts weren't really into boxing or fighting; it wasn't the sign of the times. It was around 1968, the era of LOVE and FLOWER POWER.
We students were conflicted. It was also the era of Mohammad Ali, the greatest boxer ever--American gold medal winner in the Olympics in 1960, and later in 1999 dubbed "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated magazine. Even Ali was confusing for us--a world boxing champion who refused the US draft for military service because of his religion and opposition to the Vietnam War. We had it figured that something was going on, though, and one didn't really have to be great at boxing. At least I kept telling myself that.
I survived, and after my friend had knocked me around the ring for three rounds, the guy, like the good sport he was, thanked me for making him look so good. "My pleasure," I responded. I'd never "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," but even then I could muster up a good turn of phrase.
Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
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