by Al Alvir
Teddy Atlas took Cus D’Amato’s Willie Bag invention and ran to the bank with it when he sold the idea to Everlast. Boxing is filled with tools for learning that have lasted many decades, possibly centuries. Cus developed some strange number system and made the Willie Bag to prepare Jose Torres for Willie Pastrano. The evaluation line, the slipbag, slip lines (ropes), the jab plank, the floor-to-ceiling bag (double-end bag), etc., have been incorporated in boxing, but it’s unclear to whom we owe the ideas. Trainers often take other people’s ideas and create their own systems – few have cashed-in like Atlas – without a dab of recognition to Cus D’Amato I must add.
Ringside Boxing is another company that was known for making really unique devices to keep boxing training fresh. They made a bag that was attached to surgical tube that bounced in all different directions – I even cloned it with the help of an assistant coach, and gym-members started calling it the Onion (due to the reddish-purple tape) or the Swee’ Pea in regard to Pernell Whitaker for his unpredictable movement. Trainers consistently borrow new ways of teaching to forward to their fighters.
At Eastern Queens Boxing Club (EQBC), I created two devices. One is in the process of being patented and the other is being made for distribution. One is the “Slip-Pipe” (patent-pending) a swinging pipe that hangs from a ceiling parallel to the floor and swings so boxers can use it to slip and bob and weave while it moves. Think of it like slip-lines that swing. The other tool I call “The Boxing Footwork Grid” (so unoriginal, I know, but in boxing we tend to call things as they are – very little embellished). It is a box system that I created to teach new boxers the proper foot positioning and the proper footwork for boxing. In the gym, I have a grid of numbered taped squares on the floor so boxers can practice the steps with a fixed and guided pattern that is exactly the way one would step in a fight. Once a boxer learns the steps, he could change the distances in his strides without losing his stance. It’s a simple solution, but it took a lot of trial and error and struggles with teaching people how to stand. Before this I used to tape footprints to the floor, but the footprints didn’t work for little kids. The Footwork Grid works for anyone.
Another tool I have made part of the teaching system at EQBC is written routines on the wall that have been tried and tested over my years of boxing and innovated from the haphazard commands of trainers. The routines work like lists on the wall with optional replacements. It’s no different from how educated trainers coach their young, but it is self-managing. It leaves no room for a boxer in a crowded gym to not know what he has to do next.
Trainers around the world also have their number systems, but the one that evolved at EQBC is consistent from head to toe. The basic punches are numbered 1-6 (this had been coincidentally created by vast numbers of trainers). When I first found out another coach had devised the same number system, I was baffled until I looked at it more honestly – it is an obvious number system. One thing that was not so obvious to others was my initiation of adding 11-16 to indicate the basic six punches to the body. Head-movement is also consistent to “spots” that are odd and even. And the lateral steps are also compatible with “odd” and “even” movement. This makes all the communication exponentially easier, and it makes learning more accommodating. These are also basics of boxing. It doesn’t change the way people box, rather it has changed the way people learn.
Throughout my many years involved in boxing, I’ve studied under many coaches. I used to keep a notebook during my training years. I’ve learned that simplification is the most toilsome duty, essential in boxing. So many trainers make their boxers do things, and understand those things for themselves, but the boxers tend to not ever find out how to translate, explain, or process, and they tend to not know the reasoning to their moves. Good athletes can know exactly how and when to do things in action, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any athlete who can breakdown the process and simplify to relegate to different people. How do you develop feints? What are the beats that you use to counter? Why are some spots “safe spots” and others not?
Every next year in this game, I realize how little I knew the last. But one constant is that the best ways of teaching is to habitually adjust, innovate and simplify.
Good teachers don’t make things seem more intricate than it is; in something that is already so intricate, only bad egos do that.
* Ethical coaches also don’t steal ideas and sell it as their own.