Pragmatic Mom, path to pugilism, mom boxing, Nonantum Boxing Club, Marc Gargaro,

My Path to Pugilism is Strewn With Skeptics

Now that it’s summer, my kids have certain weeks where they are completely unscheduled. I have masterminded their summer plans so that they each have at least one week off while the other two siblings are in camp. During this week, my husband takes the “only child” out to play golf with him and I take that same kid to box with me. Even kicking and screaming.

In the case of 11-year-old PickyKidPix, she was game to box. We had a lot of fun and she turned out to be a natural. Here she is learning how to wrap her hands.

Grasshopper and Sensei, my 13-year-old, had to be bribed to box. Her reasoning is that she’s learning martial arts for self defense so she would obviously use her legs to kick if attacked. There are no rules for self defense against a bad guy, she reasons correctly. She did end up liking boxing though, as I hoped she would. We did the second lesson together with no bribery needed.

My son is desperate to box with me. He’s been watching reruns of Power Rangers and all that martial art action has him doing flying sidekicks and spinning roundhouse kicks all over the house. Usually, I bear the brunt of his attacks as he entreats me to hold a pillow for him to use as a punching bag. Better the pillow than me!

My kids, however, don’t think I’m any good at boxing. The Path to Pugilism, it seems,  is strewn with skeptics, most of whom I live with.

Pragmatic Mom, path to pugilism, mom boxing, Nonantum Boxing Club, Marc Gargaro,

“Mom, he LETS you hit him. You aren’t actually good at sparring.” [Picture kids laughing hysterically.]

Pragmatic Mom, path to pugilism, mom boxing, Nonantum Boxing Club, Marc Gargaro,

“Your reflexes are like a snail’s. No, slower than that.” [Now, picture them thinking very hard of something slower than a snail. The best they can come up with is molasses which they are only slightly familiar with as they do not like baked goods with molasses in it.]

Pragmatic Mom, path to pugilism, mom boxing, Nonantum Boxing Club, Marc Gargaro,

“It’s so funny how you think you hit hard. You are tiny. You don’t hit hard. Trust me!”  [Picture them laughing so hard as to fall off their chairs.]

Pragmatic Mom, path to pugilism, mom boxing, Nonantum Boxing Club, Marc Gargaro,

Normally, I blow them off as 1) they’ve never actually watched me box and 2) this is their typical reaction to anything I do. [Can I say that there was much amusement in my house during my first few months of blogging 3 1/2 years ago when my first paycheck for the month came in at a hefty 69 cents?]

But, then I asked Grasshopper and Sensei to take some photos during our time boxing together. She’s my aspiring artist and she has a great eye. I asked for video too. [She insisted that I make very clear that all photo and video credit be given to her. Duly noted.]

I was shocked to see that  my boxing trainer never actually makes contact with me when he throws punches even though I’ve had several little chats about that. They went like this:

“Marc, you know my other kickboxing trainers would leave black and blue marks when we sparred. That’s totally ok with me. You need to make contact or I’ll never learn.”


“Please throw more punches faster and a little harder. AND LAND THEM!”


Yet, he just won’t. Or can’t. It must be that Italian-American gentleman thing. Or the fact that I’m old enough to be his mother. Maybe he thinks it evens up the disparity between our size and experience. I’m not sure.

One thing that I did NOT do this time was set an intention. [Don’t you love it when boxing and yoga collide?] I usually have one, just one — my brain can only handle one thought at a time — specific sparring goal that I articulate to my trainer. They have been:

  • Look For An Opening. Initially, I would go crazy, fists flying and land … nothing. It would also really tire me out.
  • One-Two. I worked on a jab, followed by a low, slide-y cross right at his belly button. He’s open there and has to drop his elbows to block the cross. I’m trying to use my smaller size to my advantage.
  • Breathing. I forget to breathe during the round which leaves me winded. It sounds silly but it’s easy to forget to breathe.
  • Stay in the Game. When I get tired, I’d back away, far away. Instead, I try to stay close but step instead of bounce to get some breathing room.
  • Going Under. When my trainer has his guard up, there’s not much to hit. He’s protected like a fortress. I need to find angles by moving to his side. The best way for me is to duck under his hooks thereby stepping to his side. My problem is that I’d  try to block his hook while simultaneously trying going under. It’s not pretty.
  • Stamina. I had trouble lasting for more than 2 rounds because I just got too tired. I’m now trying to jump rope for 15 minutes a day to gain stamina. I need to be more patient and throw less punches but ones that actually land on their intended target.
  • Block and Counter. My next intention will be to block his punch and then throw a counter punch. My brain typically tells me, “Holy crap, incoming fist!” which causes me to freeze up when a fist is coming straight at my head. This is not a helpful reaction. Also, I need to move my head around more and not be so frontal to his punches.

I’ll be working on trying not to freeze when an incoming fist approaches my face. I’ll check back with you, dear readers, again as soon as I make some improvements on my Path to Pugilism. I know that you will be kinder to me than my children!

p.s. I had to look up the word pugilism too. In fact, there is a blog called The Road to Pugilism of a young lad in England. He has been training for about six months as well and is making great progress. I also believe that his house is not filled with skeptics. [He is wearing green in the first sparring video.]

pu·gi·lism (py j -l z m). n. The skill, practice, and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing.

Isn’t is funny that boxing has such a fancy synonym? You just don’t picture a sport like boxing with big words. Am I right? I mean, soccer’s other name is football! Boxing’s other name should be fistpunch. Pugilism is so high brow.

p.p.s. I’ve been getting tips via YouTube from Johnny of Clearly, I need to watch this one a few more times but all of a sudden, it makes a lot more sense. I think that is what’s called having sense beaten into you.


By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Nice work, Mia! Your boxing technique is better than my mom’s! 😉

    • Thanks Johnny,
      Getting into shape is my 50th birthday present to myself. I have 1 1/2 years to get better before I turn 50. But I have the feeling that your mom doesn’t box!! Am I right?!! But it is a thrill for me to have you come here and comment because I have been watching your videos religiously and I am getting great tips to improve my boxing. My friend Lydia who trains with me (anther mom) has been watching them too. We are both (trying) to jump rope 15 minutes a day a few days a week to improve our boxing stamina and thank goodness you warned us that it would totally suck in the beginning because most boxers make that look so easy!! Thank you for your encouragement. It means a lot to me!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…My Path to Pugilism is Strewn With SkepticsMy Profile

      • I found your story to be so entertaining! Even at the age of 48 years old, you are experiencing boxing exactly the same way I did at 19. Breathing, stamina problems, not seeing openings, head movement, ALL fighters have these problems when starting out.

        Hearing about your story is definitely inspiring me to teach my mom how to box. I never attempted before because she was so busy when I was younger but maybe it’s time for some mother-son bonding.

        Keep those hands up!
        Johnny recently posted…How to Throw PotshotsMy Profile

        • Thanks Johnny!
          I know. My hand drop constantly. It’s funny because I am a kickboxer turned boxer. I trained off and on for 15 years in kickboxing but I’m finding it doesn’t translate as much as you’d think it would. In fact, very little. You don’t have to worry about angles as much in kickboxing since it’s much easier to land kicks to the side via round house kicks.

          Also, you don’t have to be as close; that was weird for me to be standing so close to my opponent. And I think kickboxers rely on their legs a little more than their hands. I know I did.

          Boxing is a lot of fun. I started learning this past January with 4 other moms and we all say that this is the only exercise we’ve really stuck with. There is always something new to work on so it’s never boring. We keep adding more and more moms who want to give it a try. As long as you don’t have knee or shoulder problems (we’re all older moms), it’s a great way to exercise. One mom was talking to another mom in the boxing gym parking lot and she laughed and said, “Are you kidding? We need to box. We have 7 kids between us!” She has four kids and the mom she’s boxing with has 3 kids. It does help us be more patient when the kids come home after we’ve punched out our frustrations.

          I bet your mom would love a lesson! She must be very proud of you!
          Pragmatic Mom recently posted…My Path to Pugilism is Strewn With SkepticsMy Profile

          • Yes! It’s a common realization for people coming from other fighting arts. They don’t realize how much movement boxing requires. You only attack with your two arms but there are so many fine movements you have to make because you’re so close in the dangerzone and everything happens in combinations.

            Next up, we’ll have to put all the moms in a sparring club!
            Johnny recently posted…How to Throw PotshotsMy Profile

          • Hi Johnny,
            I am finding that moms are loving boxing in my town. My dad friend who is a Golden Gloves boxer introduced me to our trainer and he used to joke that we were the Real Housewives of Newton boxers because I don’t think there were any groups of beginning boxers who were middle aged moms. But then we kept coming back, and kept improving and now they stopped that little joke. Plus we are gonna punch them if they keep saying that.

            But I do have a question. I am naturally right dominant. After boxing for 4 months, I switched my stance to South Paw. My reasoning was that I wanted to switch stances during sparring to mix it up. Plus, the jab is the most important punch and I have a much better right jab and right hook. I figured I could improve my left cross to be close enough to my right cross. So, I’ve been training as a lefty for 4 months now. I thought the other punches (hooks, uppercuts) would be the same in either stance. It turns out that they are not, but it’s pretty similar.

            Since I am a beginner, I am now pretty comfortable as a lefty. When I start to get tired during sparring, I will switch back to right dominant. Is that a strange strategy to go lefty when I am right dominant?

            My trainer says that my left cross is pretty strong right now and that I can get that a jab then a sneaky low left cross to his navel in because he says a left cross is harder for a righty opponent to block.

            My original plan was to train until September as a Lefty and then switch back to Righty to train that way for a month, alternating each month. But now I am thinking of just staying a Lefty.

            Thanks Johnny!
            Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Undocumented Immigrants in Children’s LiteratureMy Profile

  2. Girlfriend i loved this! and no worries, you’ll be a power house at boxing as you are at blogging. they won’t be laughing for much longer.
    vanita recently posted…Speed Up WordPress Quick and EasyMy Profile

    • Hi Vanita,
      Thanks girlfriend! I hear there are some great boxing gyms in the Bronx! I’ll keep trying! It’s my 50th bday present to myself coming up in one and a half years to get fit from boxing.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…My Path to Pugilism is Strewn With SkepticsMy Profile

      • 50? 50? Mia’s almost 50…yeah that data does not compute. all this time i thought we were the same age and i’m 37. hot damn mama, looking good!
        vanita recently posted…Speed Up WordPress Quick and EasyMy Profile

        • Hi Vanita,
          I did a post a while ago, 48 Random Acts of Kindness. It was to celebrate my 48th birthday this past January. Yep, I’m staring down 50! Thanks for your kind words.

          I’ve been told for decades that because of my size (4′ 11.5″ and 94.4 pounds) that I have to be careful of osteoporosis. I’m trying to get more calcium and improve my bone density before menopause strikes. Boxing is definitely good for that. But the big surprise is how all the moms in my boxing group and finding that it’s the only workout we’ve stuck with. It’s never boring and we are all noticing how our core had become stronger.

          I’m hoping being fit will make menopause easier. Here’s hoping!
          Pragmatic Mom recently posted…My Path to Pugilism is Strewn With SkepticsMy Profile

  3. Interesting post….I learned a lot about boxing.

  4. Artchoo

    You’re making me want to box the more you post about your bad pugilistic self. It’s so fun to follow your progress…
    Artchoo recently posted…Creative Kids: Making Do With What You HaveMy Profile

  5. Mia,
    Good for you. Don’t let those skeptics deter you (know you won’t). The ‘sweet science’ of boxing is underrated. It is mentally challenging and physically challenging. Boxing teaches you to think while under pressure and is a great way to reduce stress. Don’t forget to add a mouthpiece and headgear to your equipment arsenal. Have you watched the giant Klitschko brothers from the Ukraine. Both are heavyweight champs AND Phd.’s.

    Great pics by the way. Kudos to your little light stalker! I love creating images of boxers and martial artists. The artistry and intensity often combine to make great images.
    Kevin recently posted…Photo of the weekMy Profile

    • Thanks Kevin,
      I actually do own a mouthpiece and headgear but, as you’ve noticed, I don’t need it as I never get hit though it’s not due to my slipping skills, I can assure you. I actually hate the headgear I own too. It blocks my peripheral vision so I probably should get a new one. What do you recommend?

      You are right about boxing teaching calm logical thinking under pressure. I’m working on that but can’t say I’ve mastered that.

      I will look up those brothers too, by the way.

      I was thinking the same thing about a boxing ring being such creative fodder for a photographer. There is a scholarship at Newton North High School for photography and typically the shots that win are stills of nature. I thought my daughter would have fun shooting in a grittier gym with lots of action and personality. It’s hard to get good shots with an iPhone because the shutter speed is so slow but maybe with a good camera, she could capture the drama. She’s game to try that and there’s always something interesting going on there!

      Thanks for your comment and encouragement!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…My Path to Pugilism is Strewn With SkepticsMy Profile

  6. Very inspirational! I love it that you do what you believe in.
    Natalie recently posted…Letting Your Children Do Things Their Way…My Profile

  7. This post made me laugh so much! I want to take up boxing now!
    Erica recently posted…Kid Science: Homemade Bottle ThemometerMy Profile

    • Hi Erica,
      Thanks so much! You should definitely try it! It is a lot of fun. We started because my friend Penny wanted to learn. Her brother lives in Larchmont, NY and has been training in the Bronx. When she saw him during the holidays last year, he was so fit, she was motivated to learn. And that is why we started the beginning of the year.

      We are noticing our bodies are changing if we train 3 times a week. Our core is strengthening, our middle is tightening, and we are getting the most awesome arms ever with well defined biceps and triceps. I never had such well defined triceps doing yoga, even when I did it 3 or 4 times a week.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Undocumented Immigrants in Children’s LiteratureMy Profile

  8. Oh Mia you are just munchable and inspiring all in one. I used to love Tai Bo, but little person has brought a few obstacles to getting back into high impact exercise. And I knew what a pugilist was LOL, hurrah, keep those hands up…..
    Julie Grasso recently posted…My Squee!!!!quel is hereMy Profile

    • Hi Julie,
      Hee hee. You are probably in the vast minority for knowing the word “pugilism”! Kudos to you also for doing Tai Bo. It is so hard to do high impact martial arts with a child. I didn’t do it for years and then I got back into it as a kickboxer after I read about a horrifying rape incident a few towns over on Christmas Eve at a Target store that involved a mom and a 3-year-old boy who were accosted at knifepoint. It made me so paranoid that I started training for self defense again (though I had wanted to do it for fitness for about a year). I guess it was good in a way since it was motivating.

      One way to get back was to put the kids in a martial art and then train too. Now that my kids are older (8, 11 and 13), it’s been such a pleasure to train with them. With their karate training (Chun Kuk Do), it’s translated very nicely to boxing. I think we are going to keep training together this winter. My kids really like my trainer and it is has been great for mother/daughter and mother/son bonding time.

      Yes, now that I saw that video, I am going to try to 1) block and counter and 2) keep my hands up as my intention. Ugh. It’s so easy to let those hands drop!!

      Thanks Julie! What fun to find other children’s book lovers who also like MMA! Not a typical combination I suspect!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Undocumented Immigrants in Children’s LiteratureMy Profile

  9. If you’re right hand dominant, it’s especially important to keep the right hand in back. There are many reasons which I go into detail here: But the short answer is….putting the strong arm in back makes you more effective at fighting with both hands. If you put the strong arm in front, it’s easy to become a one-armed fighter and rely on the strong arm to do everything (offense

    • Thanks Johnny,
      Well, I guess I will finish out August training leftie as I had planned and then go back to righty in September when I fire back up my classes with my mom boxer friends. Your article was very compelling! My Golden Gloves boxer dad friends said that he switched it up so I thought it would be ok. You have convinced me though. It was actually fun though to try boxing Southpaw. It’s similar but different.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Summer Reading Fun and Giveaway from GenZ!My Profile

      • Kevinka

        Regarding which hand should be forward, yes tradition is to put the strong hand in back. Keep in mind though, that none other than Bruce Lee advocated for fighting strong hand forward.

        • Thanks Kevinka,
          I love Bruce Lee. I have a plan where I started Righty for 4 months, then Lefty for 4 months, then switching back and forth more frequently. My idea was to switch it up during sparring but I only really spar my trainer so it’s not really an issue of strategy. But I was also thinking that it evens up my body by getting both sides punching more equally. I find that I am pretty comfortable lefty right now and my trainer says my left cross has enough power since I’ve been working really hard on that. I dunno. It’s just for fun anyway. My right hand also doesn’t get so tired with all that jabbing the way my left hand did. It’s not for a powerful jab, just a jab that can last a few minutes during the round because my arms get so tired!
          Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Summer Reading Fun and Giveaway from GenZ!My Profile

  10. You’re doing just fine, and may I commend you on even being able to get up in the morning knowing how many loving comments from your children you’re about to receive. It wasn’t until I gave my kickboxing instructor a bloody nose by accident that I felt I was making progress. My punches didn’t seem like a big effort for me, but apparently they were still good enough to inflict damage, so victory!
    Chris Eastvedt recently posted…Should I Stay or Should I Go?My Profile

    • How awesome Chris that you bloodied his nose. My boxing trainer has promised all of us a free lesson if we are able to draw blood. So far, no one has. I did manage to kick him several times in the groin though when we sparred and I negotiated MMA for myself. But after that, no more kicking. He does not like being kicked in the groin, even protected.

      You must have pretty good punching technique Chris! Where do you train and how often? It’s so hard to find kickboxing in the Boston area. It’s just not as martial arts oriented as California where I used to live. Great boxing though!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Multicultural Starting School Books for KidsMy Profile

      • Alas, I used to train at a little karate place in San Rafael (East/West Karate) that encouraged kickboxing, but that was years ago. My punches seemed to improve, but my footwork never did so I eventually gave up.
        Chris Eastvedt recently posted…Should I Stay or Should I Go?My Profile

        • Hi Chris,
          It’s so great when you find a training gym that works for you. You might like boxing for footwork. We do a lot of footwork drills, much more so than in kickboxing. Another simple thing to improve footwork, I’m finding, is jumping rope 15 minutes 3-4 times a week. I can’t do 15 minutes continuously at all!! But just doing it for 15 minutes stop/start is helpful for enduring, footwork and timing. I never had to do jump rope for kickboxing but it makes a lot of sense for footwork. This is the video I like for how to jump rope from Johnny of Expert Boxing.

          Then, he shows you tricks to work up to.

          Also, I was using the wrong rope and the wrong height. He goes over that here:

          I just bought that twirly jump rope and it arrived today. Still to long so I need to cut it down but I think it will turn out to be the best $15 I’ve ever spent! I bought it at Amazon.
          Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Multicultural Starting School Books for KidsMy Profile

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge