Boxing Is Jazz

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During the winter break I took my son to see “Whiplash”- a scary and amazing film about jazz and the agony required to create great music. I have always liked jazz but never understood it at all. In the last few minutes of the film I realized something about this art form. Jazz is essentially the art of mastering the fundamentals, and then having the courage and creativity to improvise while “in the moment”. The great jazz musician has the ability to maintain the fundamental melody while creating new combinations of notes and measures that both diverge from and support the baseline sound.

Boxing is exactly the same process. The fundamentals are basic-jab, straight hand, uppercut, hook, roll, move. But in the course of a sparring session, or a fight, the the great fighter is the one who has the courage and creativity to improvise-to build out of the fundamentals a “riff” that pays careful attention to the baseline moves but improvises combinations and punch sequences that create both the unexpected and the exhilirating. Ali had this gift. Floyd Mayweather, I think, has this gift, which is why he remains unbeatable. Tyson did not have this gift, but his fundamentals were so solid that fighting Tyson was like fighting a machine that threw perfect punches, perfectly executed each time.

Boxing is a lot like jazz.

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