Saturday, June 4, 2016

It Builds Character! Plebe Boxing at West Point

West Point is defined by many experiences that go unseen by the general public.  One of those experiences is Plebe Boxing.  It is mandatory for all male cadets and every one who enters the hallowed ground of West Point will experience the power and the glory of unarmed conflict in the Ring.  I injured my right shoulder early in my Plebe Year and had to undergo surgery to correct the problem.  Because of the timing of my injury, my boxing class was delayed to my second year as an upperclassman.  That initially caused me some concern, because I could easily imagine the Department of Physical Education (DPE) arranging for upperclassmen to be assigned make up classes with lean, hungry Plebes who would be more than willing to provide quality entertainment to the instructors by pummeling unfortunate yearlings for three action-packed rounds.

Fortunately, even DPE isn’t THAT cruel and I was relieved, to an extent, to see that the class was filled with my own dear classmates.  At one of the early sessions, a very seasoned boxing instructor retained at West Point especially for teaching “the Sweet Science” and one who could have easily taken on the role of “Mighty Mick” in the Rocky series asked us if there were any questions.  One of our classmates ventured to ask a technical question, “Sir, what is the most devastating punch in boxing?” The instructor rubbed his chin thoughtfully and responded with a gleam in his eye, “The Left Hook to the Balls!  Totally illegal, but utterly devastating!!”  “Here we go!” I thought to myself. “Another life-altering experience brought to you by the ‘friendly’ instructors of DPE!”  I had no idea how true that sentiment was!

We were most of the way through the semester with the graded bouts underway.  The adage, “You win some, you lose some” applies with a good dose of grunting, blood and pain added in for good measure.  I had the questionable fortune of gaining the attention of the instructors and being named “Section Marcher” or the person who forms the class and reports attendance.  One instructor in particular, a cowboy type with an easy-going drawl, but the kind of physique and visage that rivaled Hercules, really “liked” me.  I kept my hair “high and tight” meaning "Ranger-style" with very little hair on the sides and back and closely cropped on the top.  I also had a loud voice when it came to certain disciplines that required “sounding off.” "Cowboy" liked that.  When another classmate was initially named section marcher by an officer whose accent identified him as having origins in New York City, "Cowboy" overrode the choice demanding, “Naw Sir!! That’s not the one I want!  I want The Marine!!” The New York DPE instructor responded with a smirk, “Jackson, get your @%^# up here!” I was the new Section Marcher. 

As we battled our way through the semester, I noticed that I was in the same weight class as the most accomplished boxer in our group.  I understood that that was always how things worked at West Point.  If you were Joe Frazier, George Foreman would somehow show up in your boxing section. If you were Superman, your opponent would be supplied with generous doses of Kryptonite - that's just how West Point works.  My suspicions that I would one day face "The Best" were confirmed as “Cowboy” gleefully drawled, “It’s ‘George’ and the Marine!”  I even thought I heard CPT New York utter a “Yee Hah!” at the announcement.  We donned our equipment, touched gloves and we were off!  

Initially, I was encouraged.  I had a jab, and it was connecting. It seemed my right hand was finding a home too. Unfortunately, he had a whole tool box of skills and the shop was opening.  I remember my head suddenly turning uncontrollably and weird noises emitting from my lips as he gave what must have appeared to be a step by step demonstration of a speed bag drill executed on a human head.  He became so at ease moving my head from side to side that he relaxed his guard and I thought I saw an opening.  Seizing my opportunity, I threw what was intended to be a perfectly timed counter left hand when, half-way through the punch a searing pain shot through my left shoulder. My “good” shoulder.  It had somehow come out of socket!  “NOW??” I thought to myself.  I tried to imitate Ali’s ducking and dodging to escape his counter-counter assault, but found myself merely blocking “George’s” punches with my face!  I could hear “Cowboy” and “New York” yelling some expletive-filled instructions, but nothing short of a Claymore Mine could’ve gotten him off of me. Then I saw “it.". A HUGE, nighty-night right hand that surely would have destroyed the walls of Jericho, even without Joshua!  I tried to say “My shoulder’s out!” with my mouthpiece in, but it must’ve sounded like an insult because fractions of a second later, WHAM! Impact!! It was the best right hand that has ever connected to my face in fistic combat!  It lifted me off of the canvas, spun me around and landed me on my left side. 

I didn’t feel any discomfort on my face, because suddenly my newly hurt shoulder was on fire with searing pain.  I looked for my left hand and oddly couldn’t see it!  When I finally found it, I noticed that I hand landed on my left elbow, twisting my arm rapidly and grotesquely over my head and behind my back, much like a sadistic child would twist a dolls arm. I thought wishfully, “Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.”  Then a dear classmate who ran to comfort me saw my condition – and threw up! The medic on the scene exclaimed, “I’m not touching that!”  Both “Cowboy” and “New York” were beaming with satisfaction! A Ranger-Qualified classmate who had served with the Ranger Regiment boomed, “Best Fight of the day!”  All I was wondering was, “Does this count as a knock-out for ‘George?’” If it did, it meant I’d get an automatic “F” and I’d be reporting for another “fun-filled” adventure in West Point Boxing the following year.  As I wondered, I was put on a stretcher and transported to Killer…I mean, Keller Army Hospital where a new adventure in repairing yet another shoulder would begin! This is West Point Boxing. This is the way character is built as a Cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point!

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