Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why Being Punched in the Face Is a Good Idea

Last night, Shane Fazen Tweeted the following:

I genuinely believe that every single person in the world should be punched in the face, at least once, before the age of 18. #BeHumble

When asked "why?" Shane responded:

It's humbling. Knowing that your actions could lead to, say, a broken nose, I think people would be a lot less selfish.

This is a good example of another person having a completely different perspective. I never considered that I might act in a way that would prompt someone else to want to punch me in the face. Now, I am not a paragon of virtue, but it's unlikely that I would put myself in such a situation. I would also not consistently associate with people who try to solve problems by hitting others!

I tend to agree with Shane for a completely different reason, however. When I was 18 I enrolled at the US Air Force Academy. All male freshman cadets were required to take boxing. (All female cadets were required to take a self-defense class, which male cadets also later took.) As of last fall, USAFA, West Point, and Annapolis all require women to take boxing as well, due to new DoD combat rules.

I was not a spectacular boxer, but I have two notable memories. First, in the regular boxing class, I remember doing fairly well against an equally unskilled opponent of the same general weight class. The coach said "you did pretty well, let's pair you against someone bigger." I don't understand why that happened, because that is not how boxing at any level works. Nevertheless, I proceeded to get pounded for the next bout. I think the other guy knocked me down four or five times. The coaches videotaped every fight, so during the review I was able to "enjoy" the experience from the perspective of an onlooker. I finished the round, getting up after every knockdown, which I remember to this day.

Second, as a sophomore I was forced to box for my squadron team. These teams were essentially canon fodder for the Academy team that would fight other schools. Back then my street weight ranged from 145 to 150 lbs, at 5'9. (Today I yell at the scale when it reads 155 lbs.) During my summer Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training I lost about 20 pounds. My health was also complicated by an illness that inflamed my spleen. As I was trying to recover from the weight loss and illness, the senior cadet running our squadron boxing team assigned me to fight at a ridiculously low weight -- either 125 or 132 lbs. I can't remember which, but I had no choice in the matter. I made weight,  fought, and was knocked out in the second round by a right hook to my left temple delivered by a Golden Gloves champ prepping for more serious competition. Onlookers said I flew through the air at a 45 degree angle, and when I woke up two new fighters were already in the ring!

After the fight a doctor checked me and said "you really need to gain some weight!" He put me on a mandatory weight gain program. The insanity of the Academy intramural boxing program required fighters to stay in one weight class for the duration of the season. Because I had already fought at a specific weight class, I would have to make that weight all season. When the time came for the weigh-in, I registered in the high 130's. I ended up "failing" my sophomore intramural season, and was put on athletic probation, because I was assigned to a doctor-required weight gain program. There was no way out of this dilemma until the season passed and I was assigned to another intramural sport for the winter.

Despite this misery, the reason why being punched in the face was a good idea is simple: I lived to tell these tales. Today, I enjoy sparring in my martial arts classes. I do not like being punched in the face, but I know I can survive and learn from the experience. This is the reason service academies require cadets to take boxing. They do not want young officers to experience their first physical adversity on the battlefield. Better to be hit in the gym first than in a trench.

Could there be a better way? Periodically we read articles like this arguing that the concussion risk outweighs the training value. Could cadets experience simulated combat stress through a non-striking art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Clearly one can experience stress in BJJ, especially if one is a smaller person underneath a larger, smothering opponent. I am not aware of the role of BJJ or other grappling at service academies, although BJJ plays a huge role in the Combatives programs required of enlisted troops. Does anyone know about this topic?

Thanks to Shane for his great work and for prompting this post!

What do you think? Is there a good reason to be punched in the face?

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