Soft Chins, Hard Temples: The Interpretation of Taking Blows
by Al Alvir
Absorbing shots to the face and body is often a matter of interpretation. I call it “interpreting force.” Some shots, of course, have the impact beyond the realm of interpreting; fighters just get layed-out. But the great majority of hits in a fight are not going to be KO worthy. And everyone gets hit. So what does one do when he gets hit one of those times hard? Does it depend on how sturdy his chin is? Can his chin get sturdier?
Interpreting force is not some spiritual idea. One doesn’t have to reach an inner Chi to start taking good shots. It’s not a psyched-up state of mind, necessarily, either. Interpreting force is a matter of experience. One will only know how to interpret the force of blows depending on two simple things: 1) Having seen it coming and felt it in the past, and 2) Not having seen it coming and felt it (being blind-sided) in the past. The two criteria must be met in order to really know one’s capabilities to further one’s fight education. And it’s very important that all interpretations in a fight should be positive. That way, a fighter can just tell himself, “I’ve been hit like that a million times before, and it does nothing.” If a fighter interprets a good shot saying, “Uh-oh, I’ve been rocked with shots like that before, if I get hit again, I might get knocked-out,” it means his fighting spirit might need a re-evaluation before his chin does. At the threshold, however, some point in one’s experience of taking the most damaging shots, a fighter will know what his body can and can’t take. Even body blows and other kinds of force can be prepared for to a shorter extent. Fighters often wilt and stay down from a great shot to the body because it’s debilitating – if it happens, it may only happen once in a fighter’s career. But other fighters have been known for getting up only for the reason that they’ve felt the pain at least once before. It is arguable that Oscar De La Hoya may have gotten up if he had already felt the same exact pain of Bernard Hopkins’s knockout punch to the liver. Knowing the threshold of pain is why experienced fighters sometimes know when their opponents simply cannot knock them out after feeling the other fighter’s power. And experienced fighters are only “tried and true” when they have been down and have had to feel how it was at that threshold of trying to survive. This is why trainers often dwell on a fighter “never being down before” or “never going deep in a fight.” Fighting has enough overwhelming pressure by just being alone in combat that one needs experience, as much as civilly possible, to be productive.
Generally, chins and temples are a genetic grace, but once a fighter has the experience of knowing what it feels like to be hit, he can start “interpreting” the force (again, as long it’s not knocking him out). What does it mean that it hurt so much? How much abuse can be sustained? So much of a fighter’s ability to interpret force depends on him seeing it. The saying goes, “It’s the one you don’t see that knocks you out.” Seeing shots coming is so important because it provides a fighter with another source of information – he saw it and felt it, then he processes it. When a fighter sees a shot coming, he can prepare if he has experienced it before. He knows he can take it and he eats it, or absorbs it. “Eating” a shot is like having a “prepared relaxation,” no tensing up, per se, and no allowing the shot to topple the fighter over. Some trainers wrongly encourage fighters to roll their heads with shots like Shannon Briggs does, but that can only get a fighter knocked-out with another punch he doesn’t see, and it looks to judges like punches are really snapping the head. Plus, if a fighter keeps his eyes on his opponent and the punches, maybe next time he can defend it or counter it. Taking blows and “doing something with it” is part of the chess game of boxing.
But how does a fighter interpret getting hit with a hard shot when he doesn’t see it coming? He has to use it as a wake up call and treat it like it can’t hurt him, he’s felt it before. And then he needs to know what he did to be put in that position, because it shouldn’t happen too often in a fight. If he can’t adjust, he might have to be woken up off the canvas. And the problem is that knock-outs blows are never a force that can be interpreted.