TAKE A 9-COUNT
Boxers train. A lot.
We’ve all seen the movies. Movies of the underdog boxer incessantly training with motivational 80’s rock music playing in the background. The boxer who runs through the streets of his town in the rain and snow, morning, noon, and night. The sweat covered boxer doing countless numbers of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups preparing to take down the loud-mouthed opponent we all come to root against. And the over the top coach having his boxer punch racks of beef in a cold meat locker so he gets a feel for making contact with real flesh. ADRIAAAAAANNN!!!!
Recently I heard that boxers actually train for what to do when they get knocked down. Not IF they get knocked down, but WHEN they do. And it made me wonder why they would do so.
Smart boxers, it turns out, know that no matter how good they are, or how talented they are, or how much they train, they will eventually take a punch that puts them on the mat. And in the rules of boxing, boxers have 10-seconds to get back up and get ready to fight or they will be considered Knocked Out and the fight will be over. So boxers are trained to think ahead to how they will respond when the inevitable happens. The thought is if they get back up too fast, they risk being knocked down again because they are disoriented and not yet ready to protect themselves. However, if they get up too slowly, they will be counted out and the fight will be over. So they are trained to get to their knee, take some deep breaths, refocus, take a full 9 seconds, and then get up ready on the 10 count ready to go. Good fighters are trained to take a 9-count.
I have no plans to step into a boxing ring anytime soon, but I did have a few takeaways from this lesson about how to respond when life knocks you down:
1. Stay down.
Life is hard. If you live long enough, you will get knocked down. That is an undeniable fact. Whether it is a sudden loss of your job, a surprise end to a relationship with a friend or spouse, or an out of nowhere health issue, we will occasionally get blinded sided by something that sends us to the proverbial mat. It may sound counter-intuitive or against common advice, but this lesson from the boxing ring teaches us that after you get knocked down, it may be best to “stay down”, at least for a short period of time. Take time to catch your breath, gather your thoughts, think of anything you could have done differently to avoid a similar situation in the future, grieve if necessary, seek wise counsel, pray, and get refocused. Getting up too quickly after being knocked down can put you at risk for a repeat of what knocked you down in the first place or leave you prone to saying or doing things that could make the issue worse. So stop. Get to a knee. Take some deep breaths. And regain your focus before you do (or say) anything else.
2. Get Up.
You may say, “make up your mind, should I stay down or get up?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Do both. As with the boxer, the key is to stay down just long enough to regain your composure, but not so long that the fight will be over. Once you have take your 9-count, you must get back up and get back to the fight. This won’t always be easy. You may have people telling you to stay down. Your legs may be wobbly. You will likely be hurting, either physically or emotionally. Your own mind and body may rebel against you in these moments. You may be facing criticism from outside sources or embarrassment from within. But you have to get up and find a way to keep going. The alternative is giving up and quitting the fight. You may need to make adjustments, rework a previous plan, get advice or counsel in order to put yourself in a better position to succeed, but the key is to get back up and get going again.
3. Have someone in your corner.
Every boxer has a cornerman. Someone coaching him, encouraging him, shouting instruction, and helping him heal his wounds in real-time. I am convinced no one can do this life alone. It’s just too hard. The boxing analogy stands firm here; life can be a fistfight. If you can’t name one or two people right now that will have your back when life blindsides you, finding those people and building a healthy relationship with them should be priority number one. As a person of faith, I rely upon my relationship with Jesus Christ for a cornerman. But I also believe my faith teaches me to have healthy relationships with my earthly brothers and sisters in Christ who are there to sharpen me in the good times and help carry my burdens in times of trial. Surround yourself with people who will build you up and will help pick you up off the ground when life knocks you down.
4. Be in someone’s corner
The boxer has a tough job. He stands in the ring with another person who is counted his equal and takes a beating for up to 10 rounds. The cornerman can only stand and watch. To watch someone you know get knocked to the mat can feel helpless. Often we don’t know what we should say or do to help them. Because of this, we will often retreat in order to “give them their privacy”. Boxing’s cornerman helps paint a picture of who we should be when we see those around us get knocked down. The cornerman gives wise instruction to the boxer who is dazed and disoriented. He cautions his boxer to take it slow, gather himself, and ultimately implores him to get up and fight. He walks him through that 9-second count guiding him every step of the way. And Occasionally, when a boxer can’t decide for himself, the cornerman will even throw in the towel for him, so he can live to fight another day. And the cornerman, win or lose, is always the first one in the ring to be with his boxer. We all need a cornerman. But just as important, we should all strive to be a cornerman for someone else. Are you investing in others? Are you encouraging others who are down? Who among you would say you are a person they could turn to if they were to get knocked down by life? If you see someone close to you get knocked down, please don’t leave them to their “privacy”. Run into the ring and be with them. You don’t need the right words to say or know the right things to do. Just start by being there. The “right” words and actions will come in time.
This life can be hard. And while we hold fast to the virtues of perseverance, determination, and grit, we also should not discount the practice of pausing for a moment after life knocks you out of the metaphorical saddle. And so I say this, learn from the boxer, it’s okay to take a 9-count. Staying down for a short period of time is not a weakness, it’s good strategy.