I had been practicing how to pronounce “arrondisement”(district) and searching the internet for images of Parisians practicing Tai Chi in the Luxembourg Gardens. Then, a volcano in Iceland erupted, and our plans for vacationing in Paris went up in smoke—along with the volcanic ash. Unable to reschedule time off at a later date this year, we were forced into default mode. Fortunately, we were able to book a Caribbean cruise for the same dates.

This threatened to be a complete 180 logistically and physically. We packed lightly for Paris, having rented an apartment in the 7th arrondissement complete with a washing machine. We planned to burn off excess pastry, croissant, and baguette calories by walking along the Seine, visiting the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc, etc. The cruise required substantially more clothing, and I knew from prior experience that no matter how much I exercised, I would be good for a solid ten pound weight gain during the next two weeks.

Once on board, I headed for the spa/gym to stake out a taiji practice area. All the usual equipment was there, weight machines, treadmills, bikes, stair climbers, free weights, and a surprising addition, something that I hadn’t seen on any previous cruise—-a regulation boxing ring. There was a huge flatscreen along the wall at the entrance of the spa. It displayed a menu of the various gym classes, one of which was boxing. I clicked on that and on came a short clip of a presentation by a boxing coach whose claim to fame was that one of his fighters had the” privilege” of going against (and losing to) Roy Jones. I definitely wanted to meet him. My (ahem!) martial horizons needed some expansion.

The next day I hit the gym early enough to practice my set and finish before the yoga/pilates people showed up. A few arrived earlier than I expected and without seeming regard for my artistry, rolled out their rubber mats, necessitating an inflight course correction on my part. I would have to show up earlier the next time. After finishing 2 sets, I went on deck to the jogging track, and walked for 30 minutes,

occasionally receiving compliments from 80 yr olds, on how fast I was.

I went back to the spa to get more information about the boxing activities. There was a choice of either group classes or individual sessions. I chose the latter. The spa receptionist introduced me to the instructor. It wasn’t the coach. Was this the classic bait and switch? My pugilistic mentor was “Izzy”, a non steroid buff gentleman in his late 20’s. He said that he had been watching my early morning taiji sessions, and was impressed. Excellent customer relations on his part. We arranged to meet the following morning.

The first challenge would be getting into the ring without tripping over the ropes. Izzy graciously spread the ropes apart for me. We started off with some stretches—Izzy style. I wanted to tell him that my stretching regimen consisted of a few few vigorous yawns upon arising in the morning. Satchel Paige, the legendary pitcher of the Negro Baseball League had advice that I find very reasonable when it comes to exercise in general. “Keep the juices moving by jangling around gently as you walk.” Izzy probably never heard of Satchel Paige.

Stretching over, we donned the gloves. We started with stance fundamentals. The word “stealth” came to mind. Make yourself a small target. Face the opponent at an angle, not head on. Chin tucked in, hands guarding jaw. Trunk inclined forward , similar to Wu style. Once the proper stance was more or less established, Izzy had me shuffle forward/backward, left/right—repeatedly. The first of many rest/water brakes commenced. I was embarrassed by my lack of conditioning. “ You’re sixty-two years old, and it’s the first time your doing this! You’re doing great!” Iz was buttering me up for a big tip.

We switched to punching. First individual punches, then combinations. Since I’m a southpaw, everything was the opposite. Right jab, left cross, right hook, left uppercut. Izzy put on his focus mitts, and I went hunting. The time outs became more frequent. I was getting my money’s worth. I felt somewhat better knowing that I was using my body, instead of arm punching, thanks to my taiji practice.

We changed gears and worked on defense. I blocked, ducked, bobbed and weaved. I would occasionally throw an “oops” counter punch. Fortunately, Izzy had a sense of humor. Thankfully, the session came to an end. We shook hands and he invited me back for a future session. I told Izzy to give me a couple of days, knowing that tomorrow I would feel like I’d been hit by a truck.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t any worse for wear the next day. I began to wonder if Izzy knew Muy Thai. Maybe I’d been taking in too much sun causing my thinking processes to go askew. I signed up for a rematch.

Of course Izzy knew Muy Thai and was thrilled that I asked. Lucky me! I climbed into the ring without Izzy’s assist. We commenced stretching. Then he tried to show me some ground work that had nothing to do with Muy Thai. He wisely cut it short when he saw that my body was absolutely clueless attempting to duplicate his moves. We reviewed the previous session’s work then transitioned to Muy Thai. The stance was entirely different, with more frontal exposure. I threw punches, elbow strikes, thrust kicks, round house kicks(sort of). All of this included the usual water/rest brakes and frequent peaks at the clock. Mercifully, time ran out. Nothing against Izzy—he was great. Two sessions were enough. I had enough versatility (LOL). Now I could add Western and Thai shadow boxing to my limited “Chinese shadow boxing” exercise regimen.

I continued to do my Taiji set in the gym, arriving earlier in order to avoid being accosted by the Yoga/Pilates crowd. I got occasional complements from passersby wanting to know if this was yoga. I preferred to practice my new “skills” in the privacy of my stateroom, not wishing to alarm anyone (LOL—again). The next day, I went online and ordered some boxing dvds from Amazon. Freddie Roach, Manny Paquino’s trainer would be waiting for me when I got home. I’ll probably be able to “tweak” what I learned and make it more user friendly for my clinic patients, just as I had done with Taiji in the past.

In retrospect, although we were disappointed about losing the trip to Paris, my wife and I realized that the cruise was the vacation that we really needed. I fell somewhat short of my prediction, however. I gained seven pounds instead of ten. I’ll have to eat more dessert next year in Paris.

Gary Shapiro

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