How to Take a Punch (by Billy Coffey)

Four years ago…

It started the way most good stories do, over lunch with a friend. This particular friend was named Charlie, an iron-fisted brawler disguised as a nerdy engineer who worked in the building next to mine.

“You should stop by tonight,” he said. “Great workout. It’ll make a man out of you.”

“I’m already a man,” I answered.

Charlie nodded and said, “Maybe. You ever been punched?”


He put his fork down, looked me in the eye, and said, “A man never knows what he’s made of until he gets punched.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded philosophical enough to get my attention. “I’ll be there,” I told him.

All true boxing gyms are located in much the same place—the nearest poor neighborhood of the nearest city (you’ve seen Rocky III, right?). Which made getting there from the quiet confines of the country an adventure in itself. Charlie had warned me that the gym was much more old school than new, and he was right. There was no heat, no air, and no bathroom. There was merely a ring, several punching bags, dirty mirrors for shadowboxing, and a bucket to throw up in when the trainers pushed you that far. Written in bright red letters above the ring were the words JESUS SAVES.

It was, in a word, perfect.

I met with Charlie, the fighters who were warming up, and the trainers. “Gotta hand it to you,” the head trainer said. “Takes stones to show up the first time on sparring night.”

“Sparring night?” I asked. I looked at Charlie, who had looked away. I could see the smile on his face, though.

“You’re getting’ in the ring, right?” the trainer asked me.

Gettin’ in the ring? No, I was not gettin’ in the ring. I was not stupid.

“Yeah, I’m gettin’ in,” I said. Because macho manliness trumps stupidity every day of the week and twice on Thursday.

“Good,” the trainer said. “You can get in with me, then.”

Charlie looked at me with a look that was part humor and part Oh, boy.

“What?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”

I stared at him.

“He won Tough Man last year,” he confessed. “But don’t worry.”

Don’t worry. Famous last words of rednecks everywhere. On par with Hey ya’ll, watch this!

So. Into the ring.

Charlie adjusted my headgear and said, “Move. Don’t forget that.”

I nodded.

“And keep your hands up. Block and punch. Make your defense offense.”

I nodded again.

He checked my gloves and wiped them against his T shirt. “And for the love of God Almighty, keep your chin down. You expose that chin, and you’re a goner.”

“I ain’t goin’ down,” I said, and smiled to prove it. “So what is this, sparring or more?”

Charlie looked across the ring, paused, and said, “He’ll let you know. And wipe that smirk off your face. This will not be fun for you.”

“What makes you think—”

And that’s all I managed to say. I was silenced by Charlie shoving my mouthpiece in and yelling “Time!”

We met in the center of the ring (“Hands up,” Charlie shouted. “Move…move!”), touched gloves, and nodded to one another.

I’d taken plenty of martial arts, and sparring in a dojo was very controlled and normally done at half-speed. But this wasn’t a dojo, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do.

“So,” I said to the trainer, circling him, “what am I—”


He threw a jab that managed to sneak between my headgear and connect with my nose. And it was not at half-speed. It was so fast I didn’t see his hand until he was pulling it away from my face.

“Move!” Charlie shouted.



“Don’t stand there, do something!”

Boxing is controlled violence. It is technique. It is the mastery of punches and angles that are honed to precision by countless hours of training. Anger won’t get you through ten rounds in the ring.

It will, however, get you through one. Because when that right cross snuck through my headgear and cut my eye, I got mad. Very.

He threw another jab, but I slipped it to the left and threw a hook into his side and another to the side of his head. His eyes widened a bit, and Charlie yelled, “Yes! Stick and move! Thirty seconds!”

I learned that night that thirty seconds in a boxing ring is a lot longer than thirty seconds outside of one. Because it felt like we stood in the middle of that ring pounding on each other for an eternity.

“Time!” Charlie shouted. Finally.

We stood there in the middle of the ring, smiling. “Awesome,” the trainer said.

Awesome indeed.

That gym was my home away from home for a while, but in the end family and a lack of time forced me to quit. But there’s still a heavy bag in our exercise room, and I still go a few rounds on it every night.

Because Charlie was right. You don’t know what you’re made of until you get punched. And whether that punch comes by standing in the middle of a boxing ring or the middle of a life, you survive the same way. You keep your chin down, you keep moving, and you never stop swinging.

We’re all going to get hit sooner or later. It’s a given in this world. But I know this. I can take a punch. I’ve taken many. But I can give one, too.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today

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42 Responses to “How to Take a Punch (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. JML June 1, 2009 at 2:27 am #

    >Funny enough, I didn’t catch that it was Billy right off, so I was picturing Kathy this entire time. All time best line. . .”macho manliness trumps stupidity every day of the week and twice on Thursday”

    So bloody true, it’s disgusting. I got a concussion boxing a guy that was a full eight inches taller than me, who also had about eighty pounds on me as well. It was sad.

  2. Peter P June 1, 2009 at 3:30 am #

    >Nice Billy.

    I’d love to see you go a few rounds with Katdish….

  3. Beth in NC June 1, 2009 at 6:46 am #

    >Great as always Billy! You are so gifted!

  4. Denise June 1, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    >Woo Hoo, you go Billy, lol Another great post, full of much wisdom. Bless you my friend.

  5. Candace Jean July 16 June 1, 2009 at 7:17 am #

    >Hence, the gold-plated man card. Your words pack a punch, always. Great post, Billy!

  6. katdish June 1, 2009 at 7:44 am #

    >Jake – Dude, what were you thinking?

    Peter – I may be freakishly strong for a girl, but I wouldn’t stand a chance against Billy Coffey.

    Keystone – Wow. Great story. You should really write a blog.

    Candy – I know, RIGHT?

  7. Wendy June 1, 2009 at 7:46 am #

    >What I want to know is, what did your wife have to say when you came home?

  8. April June 1, 2009 at 8:03 am #

    >Sock it to ’em, Billy…way to go! I am very impressed with your grit and bravery! You deserve the Golden Glove, in my book!

  9. Keystone June 1, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    >Your words are kind Ms. katdish, and for that I am grateful.

    Single parent dads have no time for blogging, but the time was coming.

    On the other end, mom took ill and needed care more than kids. She died.

    With the resposibilities of both generations before and after me coming into checkmate, I suspect a blog is coming instead of comments exceeding the html mission.

    The words you chose this day, moved that effort into the “sooner” column, instead of residing in the “later” column.

    Thanks again.

    Best regards and blessings to you this day.

  10. Pete Wilson June 1, 2009 at 8:22 am #

    >I’m never messing with you. 🙂

  11. Matt @ The Church of No People June 1, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    >Great story, as usual, Billy!

  12. Billy Coffey June 1, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    >Wendy – My wife didn’t say anything, she just shook her head slowly and smiled. She understands me.

  13. Annie K June 1, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    >Awsome Billy.

    And I think, in life, when we take a hit, maybe we should get a little t’d off and fight back. Too many seem to just curl up in the fetal position and give up.

    You da’ man Billy Coffey. And I’m flying my Confederate flag today in your honor. (ok, I don’t really have a Confederate flag. But if I did, I’d fly it for ya Billy. No, really.)

  14. Beth June 1, 2009 at 9:15 am #

    >The boxing gym description is so spot on! We had a boxing program at the youth center I worked at. It’s not the prettiest building in the first place and, of course, it’s in a poor neighborhood. And the boxing room was in the darkest, dankest corner of the basement and had this huge metal medieval looking door with a big padlock on it, separating it from the rest of the center…

    I am unathletic, non-violent, etc. But boy, did I gain a HUGE appreciation for boxing by working at the tournaments we hosted. It gave kids who never excelled at anything else something to shine at. I don’t think I’ve ever cheered harder or louder for anybody than when one of our kids stepped in the ring. Just getting IN the ring is something to be proud of!! I have a whole new respect for you, Billy.

  15. Helen June 1, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    >I wouldn’t mess with katdish. She’s like an honorary Hungarian…she can kick @$$ with the best of them. Even I wouldn’t mess with her, and I am an actual Hungarian. Okay, half- Hungarian.

    Great post, Billy.

  16. Laura June 1, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    >Yikes, Billy.

    I’m off to somehow stunt the growth of my boys. Something I read recently by Angela Thomas, that she told her daughter. “I don’t want you to have a testimony people will pay to hear.” I just want my boys to have a nice, happy, boring life. Few punches thrown, even fewer taken.

    Wimpy, I know.

    But I am a mom, after all.

  17. sherri June 1, 2009 at 10:05 am #

    >Good stuff, as always. I’ve never fought in the physical realm, but have been punched unmercifully at times and landed a few myself in life. And I’ve raised a MMA cage fighter and a middle linebacker, so you know the fight’s in me!

  18. Jenna June 1, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    >Billy, your stories are always AWESOME!

  19. Sarah Salter June 1, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    >This kind of reminds me of the time I went home for Thanksgiving with my college suitemate… And her Dad (a Command Sergeant Major in the Army) got drunk and decided to give me a lesson in self-defense in the middle of the dining room, during dinner, in front of the family. When he grabbed me by the collar and lifted me up off my feet, I think I died a little…

  20. jasonS June 1, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    >Great story as always. I’m with Pete though, I won’t be messing with you (because I know you were worried).

  21. nAncY June 1, 2009 at 1:41 pm #

    >that one hit me right in the gut.

  22. Jennifer June 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    >I’m guilt-ridden. I laughed at your expense, Billy — repeatedly. Is that wrong?


    Great story.

  23. katdish June 1, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    >Sherri – I I were an electrical meter outside of your home, I would be terrified of you.

    Jason – Dude, you’re 6’5. Even if you fight like a girl, I still wouldn’t mess with you.

    Jennifer – please feel free to laugh at Billy’s expense here. I know I do.

  24. The Things We Carried June 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    >I enjoyed this and think the quote is true of being grown up. I recently found I was not the grown-up I hoped by now, with one well placed punch of sorts to me. So I still discover what I am made of. Great post!

  25. mandy June 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    >This was one heck of a story. I think the same can be said for our spiritual lives… We don’t know what our faith is made of until it takes a REAL hit.

  26. lynnrush June 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm #


  27. Funnyrunner June 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm #

    >you are BRAVE !!!

  28. gzusfreek June 1, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    >beautiful. you always seem to write things that help me where I am right now! This is one of my fav’s billy!

  29. Joanne Sher June 1, 2009 at 5:04 pm #

    >Yup. You’re a grownup now. Incredibly apt analogy, and characteristically engaging narrative. I am NEVER disappointed when I read your stuff.

  30. Liz June 1, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    >Oh so true…we don’t know what we are made of until we are punched. I love the story. You are a brave one…someone would have had to throw me into that ring. But, I get it.

  31. Alison Bryant June 1, 2009 at 5:40 pm #

    >I’ll second JML that the macho manliness was the best line. I laughed out loud. Can’t wait to tell my husband that one.

    And now I must go listen to “Eye of the Tiger.”

  32. Anne L.B. June 1, 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    >[shaking head]

    I’ll stick to sword sparring, thank you. (Ask Travis about that).

  33. Tamela's Place June 1, 2009 at 7:31 pm #

    >Allright! so i must be a woman because i have taken a few punches and even dish out some myself yeah! 🙂

    Great post Billy as usual. Keep moving forward.. keep moving forward.. oh yeah and keep your chin down 🙂

    Good advise!

  34. Gotta Have Faith June 1, 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    >I am pretty new to Blogging so I am checking out all of the sites my lovely wife had suggested. I am glad I did! This was a great post about boxing and the lessons you can learn from it. I have never stepped into a boxing ring, but I have been in quite a few fights in my past. So true are the comments in here that they should be set in stone.

    Great Post!

  35. Tony York June 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm #

    >Ah.. Billy.. yes. You don't know what 'type' of man you are until you take a punch. The type is determined by how deal with that punch.

    You know… its one thing to take a punch when you are expecting it like when you were standing across from the trainer. You even had some gear and instruction for that situation. You were also able to strike back.

    Its much different to be sucker-punched. To be hit from behind when you are unprepared.

    How you handle either determines much about the character of the person.

    Great story.

  36. Tina Dee Books June 1, 2009 at 11:00 pm #

    >You have such a gift with words, Billy. The only thing I don't enjoy…when I reach the end of the blog post. Want more!

    I'm so glad you write bro, it's truly one of the best times of my day, to sit & read whatever you have to say.


  37. FAPORT International June 2, 2009 at 12:37 am #

    >You are God gifted person….really nice post.(-:

  38. Billy Coffey June 2, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    >Tony – the worst type of punch imaginable is the one that comes from behind. Unfortunately, it’s the one I’m most often hit with, too.

  39. Lisa October 18, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    >Billy, I just found this post and I just loved it.

    I took Martial arts for 10 years…Achieved the status of Black Belt in Kempo Karate and Kick Boxing ~ I have fought in tournaments and in the ring. I even won more then my fair share.

    My trainer was a many time world champion…and tough man contest winner. In his school you hit to win. ((No touch sparing here.))

    You are so right when you say…..

    "You don’t know what you’re made of until you get punched. And whether that punch comes by standing in the middle of a boxing ring or the middle of a life, you survive the same way. You keep your chin down, you keep moving, and you never stop swinging"

    I can take a punch!!!! and know to glitch my fist and pivot when I give one.

    Great Post ~ Loved It

  40. Anonymous October 21, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    >Excellent. Really good work. I saw somewhere that you've written a book, and I expect it will be well received if this is a sampling of your writing. Glad I found you. Hope you'll visit my site sometime: Also trying to wrap up a book myself, so I kinda know what you're going through. I really enjoy your writing. donkimrey

  41. Sandra March 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    >Boxing is a great sport to watch and am SO glad it's a guy sport; I do not Ever want to get inside the ring. Ever.

  42. Lynn A. Davidson January 21, 2014 at 7:01 am #

    Billy, I haven’t commented in a long time, but this post is so in line with what is going on with me right now– not boxing but being determined to keep moving– that I had to respond.
    Last evening a friend and I were talking about this sort of thing, about not giving up, about taking the next step, about stepping out of what holds me back. This is timely and encouraging.
    Thank you. I look forward to reading (and reviewing) your newest book. Blessings!

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