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In 2011 I took part in a white-collar boxing match to help raise money for Help for Heroes, a charity that helps raise funds for ex-service men and women.

Boxing truly was an incredible experience. The whole journey was. The nine months of training, the weeks and days leading up to the fight, fight night itself and not forgetting the after party. For one night only, I felt like Rocky Balboa. I never beat my opponent, but no one will ever be able to take away my memories of walking out into the ring with everybody chanting, “Parkesey! Parkesey! Parkesey!”.

I learned so much from boxing. More than I ever realised. Still to this day, I apply a lot of what I learned in the ring to business, marketing and creativity.

You’ve got to be really strict with your diet when you’re training to fight. What you put in to your body has a massive effect on your ability to perform and recover. When I first started training, my boxing coach soon discovered that due to the ‘sociable’ side of my job, I was drinking more days ‘on’ than I was ‘off’. You try training with a hangover. If you’re not sick, you’ll be wearing 20 or 30 punches before you know it.

You’ve got to be disciplined with your food. Too little food before training and you run out of energy – which is often hard to manage when you’re training at 6.30am. Too much food too close to training, and you throw up. You need to get it just right.

You’ve then got to feed the body after training to help it repair. Don’t get me wrong, I love food, but when you’re training before work it’s hard to find the time to train, shower, get ready and eat before running out of the door. So I improvised. I came to a little arrangement with the guy who ran the newspaper stand at my tube station who brought in a couple of cold boiled eggs every morning in addition to my morning coffee and paper.

You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve got to create your own regime. Healthy body, healthy mind. Stay focused. Get up early. Train early. Get up early, go to work earlier. Win whilst others are sleeping. Tired? Go to bed earlier. Focus. Stop coming up with excuses. You want to lose weight? Eat less, train harder. You want to be successful at work? Turn up earlier and work harder than anyone else. Stay focused.

Getting fit takes time. Or in my case, ages. No matter how hard you train, you never feel fit enough to box. I thought I was fit. I ran pretty much every other day. I’ve run marathons and half marathons, no problem. You try shadow boxing. After 30 seconds you’re blowing out your arse.

Then you’ve got to master the art of punch combinations. That’s a whole new level altogether. Learning effective punch combinations takes time. It takes practice. It takes patience. You’ve got to slow it down, memorise the moves before you even think about adding speed. Repetition, repetition, repetition. One wrong move to the left too fast, or to the right too slow and you’re getting a ‘punch pad’ to the ear…believe me, that hurts, especially when you’re training in the freezing cold.

Learning to fight takes even longer. When you first take up boxing you think its easy. We’ve all seen Rocky right? Wrong. The key to fighting is patience. It’s about knowing when to, and when not to throw your next jab, hook or uppercut. When to block, duck and move. Got to keep moving, all the time. Let loose too early and you’ll run out of energy. That’s when you’ve got to be prepared for the rain…and by rain, I mean the rain of punches that are going to come at you when your opponent realises you’re out of gas.

You’ve got to be patient. It takes time to learn a craft. Ask a watch maker. Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want. Learn from every experience you encounter. You want to be the smartest person in the room? Sit next to the person who inspires you the most. You want to be the most liked? Sit next to the water cooler.

Learn from those around you. Surround yourself with people who are experts at what they do. Watch them, and learn from them, because one day they won’t be there. That’s your opportunity.

You will not get what you want or where you want to be without working hard. You’ve got to dig deep, because you’re not the only one who wants to succeed. Hard work takes effort and time, and it often goes unrewarded.

Don’t be afraid to fail. And when you do fail, be sure you fail forward. At least that way, you get a glimpse of what you could have achieved when you get it right next time. You can only fail if you’ve tried. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

You learn a lot about reading people in boxing. I could tell within the first two minutes of meeting my coach in the morning what sort of mood he was in that day and how hard the training session was going to be. When he was grumpy I knew I was going to hurt.

In boxing, your read of someone matters big time. You constantly have to second guess your opponent’s next move before they have even considered it. You’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to you.

You’ve got to know who your competition is. Never assume you know your competition well enough to claim to know what they are thinking or doing. Just know who they are and what they are capable of. Study them. Admire them. Understand their strengths and prepare for them. Understand their weaknesses and be ready to take advantage.

To succeed, someone, somewhere will have to suffer or make a sacrifice. Ask yourself what you are prepared to sacrifice to succeed. Recognise what you could lose if you are not prepared or don’t succeed. Recognise your strengths. Play to them. Always stay true to yourself. Never try to be somebody or something you’re not. Otherwise you’ll soon be found out.

Know your reach. One of the first things you learn in boxing is the art of constantly moving. Keep moving, and you’re less likely to get hit. Get hit, get hurt. Simple as that. But most important of all, you’ve got to own the ring. Learn to gauge your opponent’s reach, their speed, their power, their strength, their combinations. And that one big shot they’ve got in the locker, that they’ve rehearsed a million times in their head that they intend to knock you out with. But it all starts with the reach. You’ve got to know the difference between your safety zone and your danger zone. Get too close without being prepared and you’re wearing punches.

You are responsible for your own success. Your career is your fight, no one else’s. Good people and bosses will help you with your development, but your ambitions are down to you. You determine who wins the rounds in your fight.

Keep moving. Stay sharp. Don’t get too comfortable, otherwise you’ll become complacent. Get complacent, you get taken out. Know your safety zone. But don’t be afraid to step into the danger zone. Fortune favours the bold.

Boxing will take you to a level of fitness you never knew existed. In the lead up to my fight, I was fortunate to have a training session with an ex-England rugby player. An elite level international sportsman, this guy had over 55 caps and was a Six Nations and Rugby World Cup champion.

We were training one morning, and he took me through a couple of drills. Putting one hand behind his back he asked me to hit him as hard as I could, and as many times as I could for one minute. He was not wearing any head guard or gumshield. He didn’t even have any boxing gloves on. So I went for it. The guy didn’t even flinch. He just stood there, rigid as a tree. The harder and faster I tried to hit him, the more he shouted at me to try harder. After 30 seconds, I was completely done. Nothing left in the tank whatsoever. And then he taught me something that I will never forget. He taught me how to flick my ‘switch’.

Your ‘switch’ is something elite athletes use when they have nothing left in the tank. You negotiate with your body to find the strength to keep going. You find this inner strength and energy from somewhere that you never knew even existed. But I was able to muster the energy from nowhere to continue fighting for another minute and half. It is very easy to waste time, money, energy and effort on the things that don’t count. Do less but do it better. Make your punches count. Find your switch.

Copyright © Matthew Parkes 2020

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