Health and society in New Orleans: New Orleans hot boxing

Never in a million years did I think I would step into a boxing studio, let alone walk out craving more. Before taking a class at New Orleans Hot Boxing, my previous boxing experience could be summed up in one word: nonexistent. The fear and anxiety surrounding something I had absolutely zero experience in made me feel shaky yet paralyzed simultaneously. The environment and culture at New Orleans Hot Boxing, though, completely embrace fear as an opportunity for growth and conquering what we mistakenly do not believe we are capable of.  

The atmosphere at New Orleans Hot Boxing is everything, especially since people are participating in an activity that may breed fear and discomfort. The studio is located in a recently converted Uptown house at the corner of Willow St. and Leonidas St. Inside, the large space with over twelve 100-pound boxing bags contains purple and gold walls. The solid, hefty, black punching bags are arranged into two square-like formations, encouraging athletes to work out face-to-face and build off of each other’s energy throughout the class. According to psychology researchers, “people who live in an environment with more threats and hazards should feel more fearful than those who live in an environment with fewer threats and hazards.”

Boxing Gym (Photo by: Helena Orrego)

These threats are by no means eliminated, though. The bags are strategically placed to stimulate and encourage competition. Competition, like most things, has both positive and negative aspects to it. The National Institute of Health published a psychological study that analyzed the impacts of competition. The study found that “competition in a physical effort setting may increase attention.” However, it did recognize that “significant individual and gender differences exist, […] and the presence of a competitor may have detrimental effects on memory and performance.” Three-minute rounds of throwing punches, jabs, and hooks directly in front of and simultaneously with the other athletes provide a source of motivation and performance for some. However, the violent, intense nature of this sport can also create fear–especially when taking gender into account. Jodi Lane, a professor of sociology,  notes that “we socialize girls to be terrified. We socialize boys to be tough.”

Damon Deal, known as “Coach D”, is the founder, owner, and coach at New Orleans Hot Boxing. Throughout the class, Coach D’s words of encouragement are constant and striking: “One more round…you’ve got this…there’s not a thing you can’t do if you put your entire mind and heart into it.” 

Failing and trying again brings a certain level of unspoken vulnerability and closeness between the athletes and Coach D. Justine Clarabut passionately writes about the significance of “being part of an engaging community” noting that it “gives us a sense of belonging. It enables us to share personal relatedness and support perpetual growth of each other, ourselves, and our environment.” Coach D encourages us to motivate each other by cheering each other on despite the grueling physical challenge boxing ensues. Without him, the vibrancy and spark that exists at the studio would simply not even be attainable. He takes people’s fears and helps them manifest them into something positive—a sensation of growth, strength, and connection. 

The hour-long, heated workout is dynamic, challenging, and rigorous. Challenging situations can make many uncomfortable. The fear we experience is often uncomfortable, and “when you run from discomfort all the time, you are restricted to a small zone of comfort, and so you miss out on most of life.”  According to Coach D, these uncomfortable feelings only possess the power we give them. Boxing is by no means a comfortable experience, but the grit, courage, and intrinsic motivation that is built as a result make uncomfortable experiences less fear-provoking. 

Boxing Gym (Photo by: Helena Orrego)

Each boxing workout begins with a rigorous dynamic warm-up, ranging from jump roping to tire flipping and everything in between. It is a way to confront the fear of possibly failing because fear is a nearly impossible feeling to eliminate; it was created as a necessary means of self-preservation.” More specifically, fear of failure is experienced by 1 in 3 Americans, and 49% of adults claim that fear of failure stands in the way of them achieving or even attempting to achieve their goals. Both fear and failure are viewed as opportunities rather than limitations at New Orleans Hot Boxing. The warm-up is then followed by several 3-minute rounds of boxing, where various repetitions of jabs, crosses, and hooks are called out by Coach D. With each punch, arms grow heavier, sweat drips faster, and breath becomes more rapid. The fear that was overwhelmingly present slowly started to fade until the only thoughts experienced related to being intentional and putting effort into each movement.  Fear of failure and embarrassment often are due to “motives such as the need for approval, belongingness, and achievement.” The community at New Orleans Hot Boxing reinforces that everything in life is a learning process. This not only enables one to feel a sense of belonging that minimizes fear of failure and embarrassment in the boxing studio, but it helps in approaching fears that arise in people’s daily lives, outside of the studio. 

Oftentimes, boxing is an experience where acts of courage and perseverance are necessary. Stanley J. Rachman studies the relationship between courage and fear and describes courage as a process of “continu[ing] despite one’s subjective fear.” In order “to act in ways that minimize the implications of failure,” we must face our fears. This response to fear has “proven a strength rather than a weakness in the development of human character.” It is only obvious that we are doing ourselves a disservice by letting fear stop us from pursuing aspirations. Perseverance is what breeds success; it is what combats failure; it is what simultaneously embraces and eradicates fear. 

The atmosphere that embraces failure and encourages determination perfectly embodies the Buddhist concept of failing better. It is an idea many adopt, acknowledging that “failure is part of the learning process–if we give people room to learn. Failing better means trying and trying again, but with a difference. Reflection makes the difference.” Botching form or footwork, being unable to complete a set, and risking a severe injury are all opportunities to reflect and implement change. Despite any hesitation in continually putting myself in a position to fail, these instances of failure and reflection cultivate courageous energy within the boxing studio. 

I am reminded every time I box with Coach D that I am capable and strong, and no other place or activity makes me feel even remotely similar. Boxing has taught me to fail better. If I had never shown up to my first class with Coach D, I probably would have avoided a lot of discomfort, embarrassment, and failure. Still, I also would have missed out on an experience that continues to give me an outlet and bring me pure and utter contentment. New Orleans Hot Boxing has improved my life, and I hope it does for you too.



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