My Friend Muhammad Ali Has Died, He was truly the Greatest

2016-06-04 06:56

I came in contact with Muhammad Ali during my secondary school days, and learned powerful lessons in life.

As a student at Tlhakanang Secondary School I chose boxing as my sport during school recreational times. (The school was one of the greatest in the region during Apartheid times but now it is lying in ruins).

There were several boxing stables in the school. A stable usually consisted of 3 to 5 students (boxers) who work and practice together, kind of a club. I belonged to a stable that was not that powerful. During fights we were often over-matched against more experienced boxers (fellow students) from powerful stables in the school. I still have fresh memories of having boxing lessons during Friday afternoons at the school.

We were three in the stable and we will sit in a room, and the coach (he was a school teacher) will come with cool drinks for us. Sometimes when his generosity was on an excitement scale he will also bring variety of seductive chocolates and other sweets. We will eat and drink as he gets on discussing his favorite topic: How to set up jabs to the body like Muhammad Ali. So the whole hour we will discuss and learn how to land punches on the body of the opponent just like the way Muhammad Ali did.

As a coach he acted as the glue for our small stable of 3 boxers. There was an avuncular gravitas about the man. That gift enabled him to hold our late adolescent idiosyncrasies in check and discipline us whenever we got out of line. He possessed an inexhaustible bank of jokes and had a raconteur’s gift for inflection, a style that made us a close family.

The basis of his coaching was shouting at us: Don't go for the head, you are just making your opponent to be angry and attack you back with consuming rage. Go for the body.

He was right. I came to learn that hurting the body, while not usually immediately obvious is a sure route to victory. Spectators always enjoy head punches, but body punches works better. Head punches receive plenty of media attention, spectators shouted with joy and great excitement when you landed a head punch.

But our coach taught us: When you hit your opponent with body punches he takes them for granted. He does not gets angry and retaliate like when you have hit him on the head. The effects of body punches are not immediate.

So in his demonstration of this boxing lesson and the power of body punches he will show us videos of Muhammad Ali. I don’t know how many long hours we spent watching those videos of Muhammad Ali, it could be hundreds of hours. There were also three thick sets of books about Muhammad Ali. We studied these books voraciously.

We were so close to Muhammad Ali in spirit.

Our coach further taught us: Most of the time when you land a series of close-up body punches you will not immediately see or feel the results of your efforts.  You may think it is a waste of time. But hold on it boys! Keep punching you will soon begin to hear occasional aches, grunts or groans from your opponent by and by. You will begin to see signs of tiredness, slowness both in punches and movement coming from your opponent. Eventually, obvious signs of total defeat will appear- buckling over, shaky legs, and the inability to catch breath.

After fighting Muhammad Ali in a fight that was called Thriller in Manila and later called the Fight of the Century, Joe Frazier the once undisputed heavyweight champion of the world later remarked about Mohammad Ali’s boxing doctrine: “Kill the body and the head will die.” I recognize these words as capturing the essence of Muhammad Ali's fighting skills, as the world mourns his passing this Friday, 3 June 2016.

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