However, there's also a reason boxing is called "the sweet science." Every blow delivered isn't necessarily intended to knock someone's block off. By using jabs, feints, and endurance, boxing is also about luring the opponent into a weak position, wherein a victor wins by utilizing strategy over strength. A successful fighter is the fighter who uses internal power--mental and spiritual control to dominate an opponent.
Shadow Boxers, the debut documentary by Katya Bankowsky, explores this idea by introducing us to a slew of America's up-and-coming women boxers. For a first-time director, Bankowsky shows a remarkably sure hand and sensitivity toward the subject matter that's rarely seen in boxing documentaries. Showing us clips of their fights, after-bout interviews and quiet reflections on why women climb into the ring, Bankowsky delivers not only a thoughtful defense of the sport, but a glimpse into what's needed to ultimately revitalize and rescue it.
And while all the women involved are inspirational, none stand out like the film's main subject, the Dutch boxing sensation Lucia Rijker. A four-time kickboxing champ, Rijker entered the world of straight-ahead boxing in the mid-'80s. She currently holds two world championships and boasts a record of 36 professional wins and no losses--25 of these wins were first round knockouts.
Known alternately as "the most dangerous woman in the world" and "Lady Ali," Rijker's speed and abilities are almost universally respected. However, what's truly amazing about watching her in the ring is her sense of stillness and calm. Fighting is frightening to everyone, even seasoned professionals; yet when Rijker steps into the ring, she is a model of self-restraint and control. While this may sound surprising, what's even more shocking is that this world champion fighter is also a practicing Buddhist.
Earlier, I had the opportunity to meet Lucia Rijker during one of her workouts, and over the din of jump ropes and punching bags, we talked about the dichotomy of busting heads and Buddhism.
"Buddhism helps with everything; not just boxing," she says. "Meditation is good for fighters, and it's the answer for those searching for confidence and the search for oneself."
Rijker was a practicing Buddhist for years before stepping into the ring, and she recognizes the similarities of facing challenges in sport as well as life.
"For me, the sport forced me to practice the spiritual path, because there's danger in boxing, and you get scared," she notes. "And when you get scared, what are you going to do? Who's going to help you? There's always someone bigger, someone stronger. So with meditation, you tap into power; you tap into a world where there's nothing to fear."
In Shadow Boxers, Rijker comes up against fighters with immense physical strength, but finds she must also contend with mental duress in the form of the male boxers she fights alongside. And it's here we discover the strength and happiness Rijker gains from her beliefs.
"I've seen boxers come and go; some were champions, and they thought they were happy," she says. "But once the fame was gone, the performance was gone. The happiness was gone.
"That's why I'm trying to build up my spiritual practice, so when all this is gone, I won't feel unworthy because I'm not a champion anymore.
"The power it's inside me. I know who I am, and that's what counts."