Shadow boxing is good exercise: ducking, spinning and punching, without anyone hitting you back.
I DON’T BOX, so the idea of sparring with an imaginary opponent in a shadow boxing class seemed like it would require superhero-level inventiveness.
I gave myself a pep talk beforehand. I have tried many things in the name of fitness. I could make up opponents, too.
Then I met Cap Kotz, the namesake and owner of Cappy’s Boxing Gym in the Central District, and the coach for the class, primal boxing. Kotz had other ideas about how to think about boxing. Primal boxing is about allowing yourself to get to your instinctive, emotional core. It takes work.
Cappy’s Boxing Gym
For a warm-up, instead of visualizing boxing or discussing a jab or an uppercut, he had us visualize a giant chalkboard covered with the scribble of our thoughts that we needed to wipe clean.
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I looked around. Everyone else appeared to take his instructions in stride. I closed my eyes, imagined giant erasers and went for it. Kotz turned up the music.
We did other visualization exercises, pretending to walk through doors, forcing them open, pushing our way through, jumping through as fast as we could or sliding through a narrow opening. Kotz encouraged us to let go of caring about what others thought or whether we looked silly and to go for it.
Soon, he had us work on punches, including the jab, the hook and the uppercut. He reminded us the punch comes from the feet through the core to the arm.
We did other exercises, like snapping a towel against a punching bag to get our fast flick. It was fun practicing with my nondominant left side to see whether I could snap the towel faster, and my heart rate went up, fast.
Instead of using weights for resistance, we did partner work, pushing each other across the gym and playing with resistance for jabs and uppercuts.
During an angle-change exercise, I worked even harder, practicing pivoting on each foot, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.
Sometimes, we did work with our eyes closed, though I occasionally would peek to watch the real boxers. They were so light on their feet and quick, it was inspiring to watch them dance around.
Then the moment came — shadow boxing. For the final five minutes of class, Kotz told us to come up with a focus. He sometimes pretends he is getting out of a small box, he told us, punching his way out.
I stuck with my first instinct and pretended I had an opponent. In the only other boxing conditioning class I’ve taken, I didn’t like getting hit, light as the blows were. In shadow boxing, I didn’t have to suffer getting bopped on the side of my head. Once the music started and my imagination was unleashed, I was delighted to have someone to spar with. I could pretend I was so deft, so swift, that my opponent had to work extra hard to land a blow.
I didn’t have much of a jab, hook or uppercut, but I closed my eyes for a lot of it, punching and going after my opponent. I also ducked, blocked blows and pivoted away.
During the shadow boxing, all the exercises we had done earlier came together. I ducked, as I had from the door exercise; punched more quickly thanks to the towel snapping; and spun faster from the angle-change workout. And I had fun.
Boxing requires your entire body to engage — boxers are in great condition for a reason. But if you’re more interested in conditioning than sparring, primal boxing might be the right fit for you to get the benefits without the blows. And your adult brain will get a great reminder on how to play pretend all over again.