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Virtual training with a boxing champ is tough (and not for the reasons you'd think)

Stephen Haw discovers humour doesn't work as well outside the gym

19 April 2020 - 00:01 By Stephen Haw
Boxing 101: To protect your face, tuck chin and place gloves up to cheekbones.
Boxing 101: To protect your face, tuck chin and place gloves up to cheekbones.
Image: 123RF/Sergiy Tryapitsyn

I can already hear his voice in my head and I'm not even fully awake yet. "Steve, I'm watching you Steve ... Don't give up on yourself ... Steve. I'm watching you." The voice belongs to Isaac Chilemba. He's my trainer and a light-heavyweight world boxing champion, so I try to listen to him as best I can.

Today is not a good day. My WhatsApp video call session should have started already but I can't seem to find one of my shoes and I've got to clean the gym mat because the dog's been pissing on it in retaliation for not being walked. And then there's the insistent ring of my phone with Isaac's face on it.

It's so much better in the gym. Sure, I have to deal with the frightening prospect of Isaac coming for me in the flesh, but I can wear protective gear and, although I haven't managed to tame him, I've learnt a few tricks when it comes to running down the clock. At around the two-minute mark, I often feint a couple of technical questions on the finer points of throwing a particular kind of jab.

Light-heavyweight world boxing champ Isaac Chilemba.
Light-heavyweight world boxing champ Isaac Chilemba.
Image: Supplied

"So Isaac, tell me, if I throw the jab from below the eye line, and hold my glove like this, down at my side, does that work? I mean, it'll be effective, but it's not going to be very hard, is it?"

"No, Steve."

As I say, I haven't managed to tame him completely, but sometimes I do manage to slow him down for just long enough to snatch a few gasps of oxygen.

"The clock's running, Steve."

And if that doesn't work, I try to make him laugh. Which is a lot easier than you might think, partly because I'm so useless.

He once told me (after a session) that, "There are three kinds of clients: those who are naturally talented; those who, if they work very hard, for a long time, can be trained to look a bit like boxers; and the untrainables. You, Steve, are in the second category."

I knew then that he was not without kindness, though I suspect he'd only said that because he knew the truth would break me even more than he already had.

Now, my only defence seems to be a bad WiFi connection, though it's not  quite as bad as I make out.

"Sorry Isaac, you're breaking up ... Did you say 'Take a break?'"

"No, Steve. I said 'burpees', three sets of 25."

Maybe, it's just the buffering but humour doesn't work like it used to. And if you want proof, look no further that the burpee itself.  I mean, what maniacal entity even dreamed up such a cruelty?

Could the same god who invented beer have invented burpees? It's amazing where the mind goes between burpee 19 and burpee 24. Sometimes I find myself thinking about sex, but that just seems kind of wrong - especially with the pissed-off dog on the sidelines giving me the side-eye.

Wait a moment . I've just lost reception. Oh no. He's back. "Steve. I can see you. Don't give up on yourself Steve."

I try the oldest trick in the book. "I need water."

"No, Steve. Remember, good boxers don't need water; bad boxers don't deserve it."

Next I try the old-age counter. "Isaac, you forget how old I am. At my age, you should be offering me some kind of pensioner's discount. Yes?" That should put him on the back foot.

"No, Steve. Age is just a number."

Dead clients don't pay
Light-heavyweight world boxing champ Isaac Chilemba

Lastly, I appeal to his sense of common humanity. "Isaac… surely as a trainer, you need to be able to assess your client. You need to be able to see whether he's on death's door or not? It's not a good look, you know… body bags?"

And then the sucker punch: "Dead clients don't pay."

"I can see you Steve. Don't give up on yourself. Push Steve, I can see you."

And that is really the problem. He can, more clearly than ever. Out here on the patio, there are no distractions. All the stuff I couldn't get away with in the gym, I still can't. And all the stuff I could, I now can't. There is, simply, no place to hide.

"I see you, Steve."



Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.If you're right-handed, take one step back with your right foot. Left-handers, do the opposite. Line up the front toe with the rear heel. Turn lead shoulder to opponent or bag. Bend knees slightly and use hips for power when throwing a punch.


To protect your face, tuck chin and place gloves up to cheekbones.


Inhale to prepare for a punch. Exhale fast through your mouth with a closed jaw asyou throw. This should sound like a hiss.In a real match, you could risk breakingyour jaw if your mouth is open and you take a hit to the chin. The purpose of this sharp exhale is to engage the core and connect the punch to your body. Breath helps with both timing and power.


The jab: Extend front arm straight out as you step forward with front foot. Pull glove back to your face as fast as possible to reset. Referred to as "1", it's the quickest punch using the least energy.

The cross: Step front foot forward as you rotate at the hips, pivot rear foot forward,and extend rear arm straight out. Don't cock arm back. Keep weight evenly distributed through both legs. Pull fist back to face as quickly as possible to reset. Referred to as "2", it's the power punch, since you can throw your whole body into it.


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