The second installment of The Old Ways of New Masters may seem to turn off course a little bit. Here is an interview with pro boxing coach and fitness pioneer Ross Enamait. While Ross is focused on the sport aspects of teaching and training, the workouts and nutritional advice he shares on his website are excellent for martial artists. He also provides a lot of inspiration not only to anyone hoping to improve their fitness, but also to all of us learning to live well. His books Infinite Intensity and Never Gymless taught me the importance of strength and conditioning and how martial artists ignore them at their peril. Here are his answers to my interview questions. Enjoy!
What made you want to start training? What was your inspiration?
I cannot say there was a single source of inspiration or motivation. I’ve been involved in sports my entire life so getting started in boxing was not all that unusual. I always did enjoy watching the fights however. I’ll never forget the excitement of watching Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns in their 1985 slugfest.
What do you think of the unique experience of growing up as a martial artist. How was your life different than your peers?
As a youngster, I did not consider myself as a martial artist. To me, it was all about boxing. Most boxers view themselves as fighters. I did the same. I was a fighter. That was my life.
As for differences between myself and peers, there were several. Preparing to fight was considerably different from any other sport. It wasn’t like playing a team sport such as baseball or football. When I was preparing to fight, it was all on me. One of my favorite sayings in regards to combat sports was that there are no teammates, no timeouts, and nowhere to hide. My trainer expected me in the gym every day after school. It didn’t matter what was going with my friends. I had a fight to prepare for so I was expected to train.
There are also considerable sacrifices that must be made outside of the gym. For example, I was often cutting weight as a youngster in preparation for an upcoming weigh-in. I actually remember my high school principle approaching me at lunch time. He was concerned that I could not afford enough food to eat. I had to explain to him that I was cutting weight for an upcoming tournament so the lack of food was by choice.
How has it influenced your body, mind, spirit?
I became more confident as a result of boxing. It is a lonely feeling to be sitting in the dressing room as you wait for your name to be called. You must then make that long walk towards the ring as you prepare to fight another well trained opponent.
There aren’t many young teens who deal with this kind of pressure and anxiety on a regular basis. It helped me in many ways. Whether I was preparing for a job interview or cramming for an exam in college, I always compared the feeling to what I had experienced previously through boxing. It was a walk in the park to answer interview questions when compared to what I had dealt with at the gym or inside the actual ring.
How have martial arts affected your personal life? Your relationships with family, friends, significant others?
I’ve been involved in boxing for more than half my life so it has become a significant part of who I am and what I do. My wife used to watch me box when we were younger (before we were married) and now she cheers on the fighters I train. My children have also grown up around the sport. They are used to seeing pro fighters running up and down my road and training inside my garage. My five year old son actually thinks it is strange that my neighbors have cars in their garage. He’s grown up to expect fighters to be training in everyone’s garage.
What was your relationship like with your master(s)? With other students? How has it grown and changed over the years?
I’ve developed lifelong friendships with almost all of my previous trainers. A few that come to mind include Rollie Pier, Harry Figueroa, Pepe Vasquez, Cisco Zayas, and Kent Ward. These are all men that I was around in the boxing gym as a young fighter. I certainly learned from them all and am happy to pass on the knowledge that they so willingly shared with me.
As for my own fighters, I’ve also developed close friendships with them. They put a lot of trust in me to help them in the gym and in the corner on fight night. It is a very close bond between fighter and trainer.
In what ways do you preserve tradition? In what ways do you change it?
There are training methods that have stood the test of time, but I wouldn’t label them as traditions. Therefore, I can’t say that I am trying to preserve or change anything. As a trainer, my primary interest is to better my fighters. I am not concerned with how my methods may be similar or different from those that have come before me. I study past fighters and trainers and add whatever I feel is necessary to achieve the desired result.
What are your views on teaching and learning?
I’ve always been a fan of the following Bruce Lee quote, “If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”
This quote in many ways summarizes my thoughts on training. A young fighter needs to get inside the ring and develop experience. There is absolutely no substitute for experience. Experience for a fighter isn’t just about running and hitting the bags. A fighter needs actual ring (or cage) time. Sparring is where it all begins, and then eventually the fighter must rack up competitive experience.
What are your views on competition?
If a fighter is serious about advancing, competition is a must. There is no other way to prepare for another live, thinking opponent who has trained specifically to defeat you. That kind of experience cannot be replicated through sparring partners that you know and train with regularly.
Conversely, competitive fighting is not for everyone. No one should be forced into it. There is nothing wrong with training for fitness. It is important to recognize the differences between the two however.
Did you ever want to quit? What kept you with it?
I would never want to quit something that I am so passionate about. I was never forced into fighting. It was always something that I wanted and enjoyed. It’s the last thing I’d ever think about quitting.
Do you have any regrets?
My biggest regret is my own impatience as a youngster. I had several hand injuries as a young fighter and never took the time that was necessary to heal properly. I always rushed back into action and subsequently paid the price for it. My hand injuries eventually forced me to transition from fighting to training others. My hands failed me as a younger fighter, largely because of my own impatience and ignorance.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise however as I may have never started to train others if I didn’t endure the injuries.
What challenges has martial arts helped you overcome?
I can’t say that there is a specific challenge that boxing has helped me overcome. I’ve certainly become more confident as a whole however.
As a teen, I remember sparring with Angel Vasquez who at the time was ranked #3 in the world and on his way towards a world title fight. Angel was one of the biggest pound for pound punchers in the world. I was just a teenager sparring with him at the gym in Hartford. After the first round, I thought to myself that I could do anything. Nothing could be as bad as dealing with liver punches from Angel Vasquez!
What advice would you give to a kid just starting out? What would you say their parents?
I would advise them to give it a shot if that is what they really want. No one should be forced to compete in a sport that they do not enjoy. I’ve unfortunately seen many parents push their children into boxing in hopes of them becoming future world champions. The end result is almost always the same. The child eventually rebels.
Passion cannot be forced. The individual must want it.
As for parents, many are initially apprehensive. I understand and respect the apprehension. I simply encourage them to see what the sport is really about. Don’t listen to everything to see on television. Amateur boxing is for the most part quite safe. Athletes are matched competitively and everyone is there to encourage the safety and fairness of all events.
What are your thoughts on martial arts and their relationship with violence?
Many of the best fighters I’ve ever known are the most peaceful outside of the ring. The boxing gym has always been like a big, diverse family. These are not raging lunatics who cause trouble in the streets. The athletes learn to respect the sport and each other. There is no tolerance for anything else.
How do you think martial arts are portrayed in the media, and how are they perceived by our culture?
The media has certainly portrayed the athletes to be more violent than they really are. Violence sells however so don’t expect the marketing campaigns to change.
I will say though that fighters such as Manny Pacquiao offer a welcome change from the norm. At the time of this interview, he is arguably the best pound for pound boxer in the world. Yet despite his success and dominance inside the ring, Manny remains a gentleman at all press conferences and media events. His excitement and positive energy are impossible to ignore. I’ve known fighters who have sparred with him who say that he brings that same positive attitude with him to the gym. That is the real Manny. It isn’t something that has been created for the cameras. He’s shown that marketers don’t always need to cast one fighter as the villain to generate public interest. At the end of the day, fans want to see high level action. Action is what the fans pay to see, not pre-fight antics and trash talk.
Where do you see your art/sport in ten years?
Boxing will likely be in a similar position to where it is today. The sport isn’t going anywhere. While there may be occasional ups and downs, the sport has stood the test of time for good reason. Even with crooked promoters and managers, fans are still able to appreciate the complexity and brilliance of the sweet science.
Where do you see yourself as a martial artist, athlete, or coach in ten years?
I don’t expect any major changes from where I am today. My guess is that I’ll still be in the gym training fighters, as that is what really drives me each day.