Having gone through the first three steps (featured in the previous installment) you should be putting the proper building blocks in place to continue to add to your game. The development of learning how to box and what you will learn as you spend time in the ring, is a step-by-step process. It takes time to learn and understand the many facets of the sport and intricacies of the game. That's the beauty of it, that's where the challenge lies and that should be part of what drives you to continually take it to the next level.
Once you have the basics mastered and understand the dynamics of the game, then you need to be able to forget them and let nature take its course. At this point, boxing becomes intuitive. You should be able to flip the switch and just act, without thinking through every action and reaction. You won't have to think about every step your taking and every move you're making...it will just happen unconsciously. Moves are made at a rapid pace, without time to process and weigh the consequences of each one. There is no time to think through the ideal response. It is a rush when you get to this point. You are in the zone and it will feel spectacular!
Once you are able to act intuitively, then you can up the ante and actually control what your opponent is doing and dictate the action. Now you are thinking strategically. Going back to the kids’ games analogy; if level one is like playing Lincoln Logs and level two is like checkers, then this stage might feel kind of like high speed chess. At this point in your development as a fighter, you will be able to read your opponent's actions and react almost effortlessly. You will be able to set him up for specific shots, bait him to take advantage of an opening that you've purposely left for him. You will be able to set traps, use his own moves against him, and actually take advantage of his habits and predictability. And just as importantly, you will be able to know when he is doing the same to you and you can use that against him too.
At this level, half the battle is not allowing yourself to become too comfortable or falling into the trap of thinking you know it all. Countless fighters at this level start to train themselves, dictate what they will and won't do in the gym. They call all the shots and they know best. Unfortunately, apart for a few exceptional athletes, they always choose the wrong approach. They ultimately end up taking the easy road. It’s understandable because it's human nature. A babbling brook finds the easy path around the creek bank. It flows between two rocks, through already carved paths and under branches that are in the way and too hard to go over. It's not wrong. It's just natural to take the path of least resistance. Instead, at this advanced stage of your career, you should be choosing to challenge yourself and test your limits. Surround yourself with people who will push you and help you expand. You can't break new grounds if you're standing in the same place you were yesterday. Be open to learning and receiving advice from people who have earned your respect. Then, take it upon yourself to push your mind and body to meet new demands.
Finally, if you are a smart fighter, you will always, always be revisiting the basics and fine-tuning your approach. Your jab may never be perfect. Your hook may never be hard enough. Your defense is not flawless, but they're all worth striving for. That quest for perfection comes from doing the basic things better than anyone else. A smart fighter will spend as much time zeroing-in on the fundamentals as he does sparring, even though sparring is more fun because it is more challenging. Challenge yourself in the seemingly small details and they will pay off in a big way and in the moments you need them most.
The best fighters realize and come to terms with the fact that they will never arrive. Even when they have reached the pinnacle of their sport, it will evolve, they will get older, they will be tested and they will have to change along with those new demands or be forced into obscurity. That is the challenge, but also the beauty of the sport. That's part of the appeal that boxing has. Whether you're doing it for fitness or to become a world champion, it's going to take digging deep on some level to test yourself, find your limits or discover that you don't have any limits.
Even at an elite level, you don't just jump in the ring, start sparring and make all the right moves. Boxing presents a very large, insurmountable hill to climb for the fighter who wants to get by on raw ability alone, but for the fighter who is willing to put in the time and take each step to get to greatness...that's how legends are created.
Now ask yourself, which one are you? Are you driven to take it to the next level or are you willing to settle in and just be good enough.