Fisticuff Lit for bruisers and non-dainty ladies

Guest post by Josh Hanagarne, World's Strongest Librarian
~Thanks, Josh!

There’s nothing better than good writing—wait, let me start over.

There’s nothing better than good writing about boxing. Boxing seems to tempt every writer who ever walked the face of the earth. Sooner or later, regardless of what they usually focus on, many authors try their hand writing about boxing.

What’s the fascination? Why would literary personalities as diverse as Norman Mailer, Katherine Dunn, Jack London, Elmore Leonard, and more choose to write about what might simply consider “Two guys slugging each other.”

I’m not going to try to answer that question, but the fascination is real. I have it myself. With that, here is my short list for the best of the best in boxing writing. So real it hurts—so good it hurts just a little bit more.

The Pugilist At Rest by Thom Jones

Thom Jones writes about boxing, marines, rage, men, and pills. The Pugilist in the book’s title refers to Theogenes, a savage gladiator from ancient Greece. Boxing looked a little different back then. Theogenes and his colleagues would each be strapped to a flat stone within punching range. When whatever passed as the bell sounded, they would fight to the death, unable to circle, dodge, or clinch.

Theogenes never lost in over 1000 fights.

The questions raised by this savagery follow Jones through nearly all of his fiction. If you like The Pugilist At Rest, you’ll get a kick out of Jones’s other works, Cold Snap and Sonny Liston Was A Friend Of Mine.

For the record, Pugilist is my favorite and the best.

The Abysmal Brute by Jack London

The author of The Call Of The Wild and White Fang knew how to tell a story. And boy did he know how to tell a story about boxing. The Abysmal Brute is perfect, simple storytelling. It is the sort of storytelling employed by Clint Eastwood in most of the films he directs. The story starts at Point A and ends at Point B. Along the way a lot of great stuff happens.

The Abysmal Brute is the story of young Pat Glendon, a boxing prodigy trained in the woods by his father, a former fighter. Pat is a natural and moves to the big city where he quickly disposes of all challengers. The beauty of the story is that Pat is so innocent. He has no idea that the fight game has any corruption in it. He spends much of this short book learning unpleasant lessons about graft while dispatching the other champs with ease.

His speech at the end is fantastic and will leave a smile on your face for an hour. This book has a mood to me reminiscent of the film Cinderella Man. It’s simple, good, and real. Never confuse simple with simplistic.

Rope Burns by F.X. Toole

My favorite book of short stories of all time. This is the book that contained the stories which eventually became the film Million Dollar Baby. Toole (the author’s pen name) was a professional cut man for many years. His experience shows in his writing. His style is absolutely breathtaking in its brutal sparseness.

He doesn’t waste words and he doesn’t use two words when one will do. Toole writes about fighters and their managers, simple men and stupid men. Corruption and violence and training and some of the most sublime profanity you’ll ever find outside of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.

I can’t say too much about this book because my words will cheapen it. You can’t do justice to a book like Rope Burns by trying to describe it. Please read it and let me know how it goes.

Toole died before the movie was made. He had been submitting stories for over 40 years. Rope Burns was published shortly before his death when Toole was in his mid-70s. That’s perseverance. To hell with rejection.

Suggested further reading

  • One More Round by F.X. Toole, published posthumously
  • The Fighter by Craid Davidson
  • The Fight by Norman Mailer
  • Raging Bull by Jake La Motta
  • The Boxer's Heart by Kate Sekules (women's boxing story!)
  • One Ring Circus by Katherine Dunn (includes women's boxing. Read my review.)
  • Victory over Myself by Floyd Paterson
  • Charley Burley and the Black Murders Rowby Harry Otty
  • Shadow Boxers by Jim Lommasson
  • Katherine Dunn's review of Pound for Pound by F.X. Toole

Related links

Deadlift Virtual Meet 213#

Just getting around to posting this. From the May 2009 deadlift-only virtual meet.

Starting the Conceptual Program

June 23, 2009 Under Michael Conroy's guidance, I am beginning the Conceptual Weightlifting program. It will take me into competition season in the fall. Conroy is a former Olympics coach, now coaching at a high school in Idaho. He says his athletes have made great gains on this program, and they use it on a continuing basis. "This is a modification of a training program developed by top USAW Coaches Mike Burgener and Steve Gough and is based upon their application of "Bulgarian" Training,"(Idaho weightlifting).

"We coined the term 'conceptual' because none of the training is etched in stone. . . Here is the philosophy of this program. Week one is "Power Movements". Week Two is "Hang Movements". Week Three are "Three Stage Movements' ( or pulls to a lift) and Week Four are the "Classical Movements." Week 5 is prep week prior to a competition.

It's heavy, demanding, and gears the athlete specifically for competition. I started it last night, and immediately liked the lower volume, higher load approach.

Finished in September. Loved it. Got a PR in the meet. I plan to use this as meet prep from now on. It makes such sense to train specifically for meets.

Idaho Weightlifting Club is a fantastic online resource. They've posted several programs, even include Excel spreadsheets with Macros built in so you can enter your weights and have it compute your percentages.

Related link
Ivan Abadjiev and the Bulgarian Weightlifting System

Sarah Betram & Jessica Gee - Oregon weightlifters shine nationally

Two Oregon weightlifting grrls - Sarah Betram & Jessica Gee - triumph at Pan Am Games.

Here's a very nice piece on Sarah by the Eugene Register-Guard.

Here's KEZI's story, their local news station. They don't provide embed code, so use the link. And here's KOIN, the Portland station, using KEZI's footage for their own version.


This guy was down near the waterfront. But it looks like he's a Redstripe Ribbonsnake, which live only in central Texas. So what was he doing in Portland?

sign up for virtual weightlifting meet

ETA: Sign up has closed. Lifters from U.K., Canada and U.S.

Deadline to register for the June 26 - 28 Virtual Weightlifting meet is TODAY, Friday, June 19th. Come on and play!

Watch the last one

One Ring Circus review up on WBAN

One Ring Circus is a collection of previously published articles by author and journalist Katherine Dunn, who has covered boxing for thirty years. It is a moving tribute to the world of boxing and a rare cohesive sampling of boxing journalism.

Read my full review at WBAN, Women's Boxing Archive Network

weightlifting Twitterchat part II

ETA Chat was great. Thanks all who participated, and Scott for having me!

Wed., June 17th, I'll be guest hosting a Twitterchat on weightlifting for Straight to the Bar. This is part two, continued from last week. Drop by with questions, tall tales or just out of curiosity. It's at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST/ 1 a.m. UTC. Use #kroly

I'm at Twitter here.

Forums open at Straight to the Bar!

Straight to the Bar is becoming the #1 source of information for strength fans, and now it's sure to become the #1 gathering place as well. The forums are open, with subforums on all types of strength training, diet, recovery and more. We're already having a focused blast.

Come play! When you join, please fill in my username - mightykat - as your referral. (I wanna win a subscription to MILO!)

baby cougar

Cougar kitty, found orphaned and adopted by the Oregon Zoo. Doh!

geese on Portland waterfront

This is why you shouldn't play in the water... and should watch where you step on the grass...

Ohio dreams

um... I'm a state champ

Mighty Kat State Championships from The Mighty Kat on Vimeo.

U of O weightlifting gym

Best in the country

Nokia vs. Fuji camera

Here's a comparison between my Fuji FinePix real camera, top, and my Nokia cell phone camera, bottom. The shot was taken on two different days, so lighting and atmospheric conditions were different. Hey, how about it for me reproducing composition without looking at the original?

Portland marina

six tips for the overhead squat

Published with photo sequence at Weightlifting Exchange

The Overhead Squat (OHS) sits at the royal roundtable of the most efficient and rewarding weightlifting exercises. It works the entire body, increases strength, power, flexibility, coordination, and develops postural lean mass, which should be a priority for any intelligent bipedal.

The OHS appears deceptively simple; yet learning it can be very challenging. Even though it is designed, as all the Olympic-style weightlifting exercises are, to put the entire body through its most ergonomically engineered paces, it is nevertheless an unnatural movement. This article is both for the novice and the lifter already performing the lift who seeks some nitty-gritty details on form and technique, to give the thinking lifter some explanation and keys to executing this successfully.

1. Stick your butt out. It goes against everything you've striven for in general decency, but it's going to go out - way out. Focus on moving your backside backwards, away from your midline, and then focus on curling your lumbar up into extension, like a scorpion raising its tail. What this does is set your center of gravity, so you don't end up tipping forward or backward. Do it sideways in a mirror and try to keep your knees in line with/in the same plane with your toes; don't allow them to move in front of them.

2. Press into the bar. This is one of the biggest things that can improve your performance. One reason the OHS can be so counter intuitive is that the body wants to move as a unit through the dynamics of physics - in this case gravity - which means that as you descend, the muscle groups involved in keeping the bar raised tend to relax, hold, and depress. So the scapular group try to switch from elevation to depression. The upper traps try to switch from concentric contraction to bigger balance with eccentric, to brace the body to catch the overhead falling weight. Use the cue to be constantly lifting/pushing the weight, never just holding it.

Furthermore, there are far greater instances in work history that a person, if descending with an overhead object, needs to buffet it away in order to keep it from crashing onto oneself, than to catch it and return with it overhead with arms extended. So there is a certain amount of instinctive response and primal muscle memory that must be overcome.

To learn to press into the bar continually, focus on it through auxillary overhead work - overhead presses, the Jerk Support and Recovery, etc. - whatever exercises you're doing to assist in developing overhead strength. This means focusing on fully contracting every muscle involved in keeping a load overhead, at every moment. Thought cue: be constantly lifting/pushing the weight, never just holding it. This allows more muscles to support the overhead position. It won't look like a shrug, but it will feel like you're trying to perform one.

3. Keep your chest, neck and head up, while bending over. Building on the reasoning above, it's easy to let the chest and head fall slightly forward on the way up. Actively focus on keeping these up throughout the movement, especially when hitting bottom and beginning ascent. Fix your eyes on something straight ahead or slightly higher. Be aware of what your neck is doing. In order to keep everything tight, retract and elevate the scapula.

Now, don't confuse this with trying to maintain a vertical posture. It's not like a ball squat, where you try to keep your spine ramrod straight, like a chairback. If you do that, you'll fall down. You will fold a bit on the descent, basically bending over, but at the hip joint. So allow the angle of your torso to change, just don't round your back, droop your neck, unlock your shoulders, or look down.

4. Stabilize in the hole. When you descend in the squat, don't rush out of it too soon. Be sure you're ready to go. That means stabilize yourself and bar. Be sure you're flatfooted, shoulders and elbows turned out and locked. Then and only then will you be able to rise with minimal risk of losing the bar. This is not only going to help in the squat; if you're going to perform squat snatches, it's basic groundwork. Watch slow motion videos of the pros snatch and you'll see they take their time at the bottom, allowing their bodies and the bar to settle in before rising. Just don't hang out there until your muscles lose tension completely, or you could get stuck.

Once you start back up, think of your hip flexors as springloaded. By shifting your focus from taking your cue from the glutes to the hip flexors, you'll get a faster cue from your nervous system and be better able to detect the "bounce" point. You'll also consciously engage your anterior muscles. This is important because most people are trained to focus on engaging their posterior muscles in learning the basic (back) squat, but the OHS is more of a front squat exercise than back, so by focusing on the glutes instead of the hip flexors, your body is more likely to follow the neuromuscular pathways you've set up for the back squat than to engage the biomechanics necessary to maintain an overhead press while executing a squat. This means that you're likely to naturally fall into the pattern of leaning forward, which is what you do with a bar lying across your shoulders, and flex your elbows, which will lead to you tipping forward and possibly dumping the bar.

5. Use your wrists and hands. It takes every muscle involved in the OHS to maintain the proper trajectory of the bar for balance. The bar should be situated in line with a point just behind the ears. As the body moves through the vertical plane, each joint must make slight adjustments to maintain this fixed point. Be actively aware of what your wrists and hands are doing, for they are primarily responsible for holding and positioning the bar, so hold onto it! The fine-tuning points on this grip may mean adjusting throughout the movement, so that the fingers extend slightly and the bar rolls out toward the fingertips as the body becomes closer to the ground. This is the opposite of what would happen if you were buffeting or catching an object overhead when you hit the bottom.

6. Push with your feet. Your feet are your foundation. Assume your starting position by positioning your feet first. Your stance should be slightly wider than your shoulders, toes angled out. Note that if you're tall, and your stance is too narrow, you're going to have balance problems, so experiment until you find a secure width that you don't struggle in. Be sure your shoes have firm soles and allow the footbed to fully extend. Throughout the movement, be actively aware of the load on your feet, and when you transfer into the bounce, push your feet "into the floor."

Related links

Contributed photo by Bodytribe. Photo of Kat by Christine Ferreira

new Dragonboats

Decidedly more Western, more in the vein of cartoon caricatures than iconic archetypes, than their predecessors. Still, striking, fresh, and compelling use of additional color, especially on the mane and the boat body.

and, just for fun...