Week Three: Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee. Shadow Boxing Like Muhammad Ali

Another week, another new experience. This week I decided to try shadow boxing.

Approximately twice a year, typically in January and September, UBC Recreation hold a Shopping Week, giving people a chance to try out some of the many classes they offer. The trial classes are open to students, staff and the general public, and there are a huge variety to choose from, such as yoga, dance, martial arts, boot camps, aquatic fitness and skating. Shadow boxing was the class that caught my eye, so up I signed.

I’ll be honest. Like the great Mr. Ali, I consider myself too pretty to be beat, in the literal, getting punched in the face sense. Or at least too concerned about preserving any charms I do have to seriously consider partaking in a sport with such side effects as cauliflower ear, black eyes, and broken noses. Unlike the former heavyweight champion of the world in his prime, I am a slow, uncoordinated creature, very much aware that my continued presence on this planet to date can be at least partially attributed to avoiding physical altercations at all costs. Therefore shadow boxing sounds perfect to me, offering as it does all the fun of punching things with none of the dangers of actual sparring. In other words, I only like to hit things that can’t hit back.


My dream opponent

Given that boxing is a predominantly male sport, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fellow classmates were all female, bar one. I hadn’t really relished the thought of wheezing along behind a group of strapping young men in their early twenties. No, it would obviously be far better to struggle to keep up with a group of fit young female students, all of whom clearly do more exercise in a week than I do in six months.

After the warm up, which consisted of some running and other cardio exercises that left me painfully out of breath, it was time to start learning how to jab and cross. According to instruction, I planted my feet at twelve and two, and glared menacingly at the mirror in front of me. My reflection was going to take such a pounding.

First with the left, making sure to put my weight behind it. Jab, jab! Then with the right.  Cross, cross! Take that, Mirror JC, you fiend!

It’s surprising how tiring a few minutes fighting yourself can be, but we were barely getting started. Next we had to get into pairs and practise our jabs on our partner whilst they wore hand pads. I ended up joining a petite red-head with winged eyeliner, called Katie. Katie was a student at UBC, and like me had also never taken a boxing class before. I was up to practise first. Conscious that I towered over my partner, and not wanting to face the backlash of accidentally injuring someone small and cute, I lightly tapped the pads. Next it was Katie’s turn. I smiled indulgently and held up the pads. With the first blow my smile faltered, and slowly slipped into a grimace. Katie clearly did not believe in pulling a single punch, and I will never underestimate the power a smaller person can pack into their fists again. As we danced around the dojo, I had a tough time keeping my pads up and straight for her. Luckily she was patient with me.

After learning how to throw a right and left hook, we went back to the pads for the final exercise. We started with one jab and one cross, followed by two hooks. Gradually we increased the number of jabs and crosses with each round until we had twenty in total, at which point we reduced the number back down again. Katie was about to learn about a tragic flaw of mine which first became apparent whilst trying to learn how to salsa dance back in my teens. I can either count, or I can step. I can not do both without getting in a muddle and going the wrong way. The same is apparently true of boxing, but at least Katie was nice enough to offer soothing words of encouragement, and bare-faced lies when necessary.

“Great job!” she cried on one of the rare rounds where I got it right, despite it patently not being a great job. “You’re almost finished.”

I liked Katie.

VERDICT: As suspected, I ached the day after the session, but it was absolutely worth it. I’d highly recommend shadow boxing to anyone who wants a fun, high energy workout. Just make sure you can still tell right and left under pressure.



  1. I went to a fight club in 2011 for my New Experience project. It was not shadow boxing, but real boxing. Very intimidating. Also very painful.
    Now I take kickboxing at least twice a week. I only do it against a bag, not a person. It is a great workout! (And far less intimidating!)

    1. ‘Fight Club’ gives me visions of a dimly lit, grimy basement with bare-knuckle fights, and blood on the walls. You’re a braver woman than I am! Glad you’re enjoying kickboxing.

      (Also, don’t forget the first rule of fight club…)

  2. Great stuff, great delivery!

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