Zen and the Art of Boxing

By Robert Ecksel on July 6, 2015
Zen and the Art of Boxing
He’s got the emotional sophistication, the poise, the philosophical cool of a Zen master.

“I’ve just been around boxing for a long time. I’ve been around a lot of old heads in boxing and I’ve stayed essential to the sport…”

On Saturday, July 11, at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida, in the inaugural Premier Boxing Champions fight card on ESPN, WBA World welterweight champion Keith Thurman (25-0, 21 KOs), from Clearwater, Florida, defends his title against former welterweight champion Luis Collazo (36-6, 19 KOs), from Queens by way of Brooklyn, New York.

When the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao appeared significant, some maintained that when they retired boxing would die. That boxing didn’t die when Dempsey, Tunney, Leonard, Walker and Marciano retired seemed not to matter, since most of the eulogizers had never heard of them.

But when skeptics were cornered and compelled to reply, one name that came up as to who might replace the seemingly irreplaceable Mayweather and Pacquiao was Keith Thurman. Not everyone is sold on Thurman, however. They have their reasons, which may have less to do with what he does in the ring than what he does outside the ring.

Thurman flies in the face of expectations. He is not grandiose. He is not narcissistic. He doesn’t eat raw meat, drink petrol, breathe fire, or soak his face in brine. He has long hair. He strums a guitar. He plays the shakuhachi. He’s got the emotional sophistication, poise, the philosophical cool of a Zen master.

During a recent teleconference call, Thurman was his typical easygoing self. When asked about his “reluctance” on being anointed the next big thing is boxing, Thurman was grace personified.

“Well, at the end of the day I’m just Keith Thurman,” he said, “and I just enjoy being the person that I am. I enjoy some of the spotlight but there are moments where it can be a little overwhelming. It’s in my dreams being one of the major champions in the sport of boxing. I’m 26 years old, a young guy, and we’re learning constantly in the ring and outside of the ring. I try to stay levelheaded. I try to stay humble and do the best I can. I’m looking forward to the career that’s ahead of me.”

Thurman’s not the only one who’s looking forward to the career that’s ahead of him.

“Each fight is a new experience. I’ve been on HBO, Showtime, NBC and now ESPN. I’m building my name. I’m becoming more popular. It’s really just a journey. Every fighter bears weight on their shoulders but it’s not weight that we can’t handle. If it was weight that we couldn’t handle we wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in. So it’s just growing and learning and evolving and understanding this world of boxing.”
Few expect Collazo to win Saturday night. He’s a tough competitor. He always comes to fight. But Thurman is in a class of his own.

“He’s going to do his best not allow me to look excellent,” said Thurman. “He’s going to do his best to make them upset in my hometown and he has an opportunity to become the world champion. He’s going to be as sharp as he can be. He’s going to be looking for the weaknesses that approach him in the fight. He has a lot of skills. He has a lot of knowledge. We’re looking forward to whatever experience Luis Collazo brings into the ring. But one thing is, out of all the champions, I believe that my punching power is still above anybody that he fought, so that’s going to be something new.”

Thurman’s rep as a knockout artist has been both a blessing and curse. The blessing is that people want to watch him perform. The curse is disappointment when he’s extended.

“At this level, no fighter is coming to get knocked out, they know what they’re up against and they know they’re up against dangerous fighters. The number one rule in boxing is protect yourself at all times and they’re aware of that. They’re trying to box hard, they’re trying to be crafty and outdo me, but we want the knockouts, for the fans and for the publicity that lives up to the name ‘One Time.’”

The fact that Thurman is well-rounded might be considered a drawback. But others believe it’s a virtue.

“I’ve just been around boxing for a long time,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of old heads in boxing and I’ve stayed essential to the sport. At seven years old I just saw boxing as a form of martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. I saw an opportunity for a young man to become strong man. I’ve used my abilities to learn and to evolve to be where I am today. So one thing that I know in life is boxing. Back in the day right before I turned pro I use to never watch professional boxing. It was like one of the last things I’d ever want to watch on TV. But now that is my career, I’m just more involved and more inclined to it. My whole life all I wanted to do was be a professional boxer and here we are world champion. I have more invested into it. I am investing my life into this sport and so I give it my all, inside the ring and outside the ring and I have a passion for it. Boxing has been great to me. It’s really a blessing.”

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  1. Boxing 09:50pm, 07/07/2015

    Good and it should be learn by the boxers.

  2. KB 05:13pm, 07/06/2015

    Thurman does way too much trash talking to fit the image of someone who is a boxing version of Phil Jackson, I get the Zen stuff but Thurman, I sense, is talking about it more than he might practicing it. You do Zen, you do it without letting the world know about it.


  3. bk don 05:08pm, 07/06/2015

    Collazo! Collazo! Come on! The Pbc can do better than that. I didn’t expect Thurman V Mayweather on ESPN but Collazo is getting too much credit for ko’ing No Longer Vicious Victor. The last time Collazo was in against an active, world ranked competitor he was whitewashed in a dull fight that saw him get knocked 2 or 3 times. I wanna see Thurman fight, b/c he’s one of the best and most exciting young guys in the game, but he needs to be matched better. This is underwhelming.

  4. peter 02:34pm, 07/06/2015

    There seems to be a major disconnect in Thurman’s thinking when, in this article, he states, “Back in the day right before I turned pro I use to never watch professional boxing…My whole life all I wanted to do was be a professional boxer and here we are world champion.”  I didn’t read “Zen and the Art of Archery.”, but I did labor my way through the tedious “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance” by Robert Pirsig. I enjoyed reading “Zen and the Art of Boxing” by Robert Ecksel much more. And it was a lot shorter.

  5. Robert Ecksel 01:27pm, 07/06/2015

    Yeah, man, I like it.

  6. Koolz 01:19pm, 07/06/2015

    Here is something:

    The mind “consciousness” can slow down and manipulate time.

    An example is a projectile coming towards you.  As you look at it the mind slows it down.  In Kung Fu exercises the speed of a punch does not matter, the minds eye sees, and changes time.  The Punch appears to slow down and you react correctly.

    This is why in martial arts you do exercises where in a given time you can do moves that form on move, so in 1 second, 2 seconds what happens.

    This is something that is hard to comprehend for most people.

    But I am sure people in sports have also encountered this. 
    Another way of looking at Zen is the creative side.

    You do not try to be creative you let your “mind go and are creative”
    To try is to fail.
    You just are.

  7. Koolz 01:14pm, 07/06/2015

    Zen is not something limited to one form of task.

    As for martial arts I advise reading the book “Zen in the Martial arts.”
    Of course this is something you can apply to all your activities.
    One of the Secrets is Mind before Body.

    The Archery was good example.

    As Bruce Lee said, “I don’t not hit, it hits.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:48am, 07/06/2015

    Kinda’ like Carli Lloyd when she took a bead on goal from mid field in the World Cup yesterday….in her mind’s eye, even from that distance the goal must have seemed as big and inviting as all outdoors to her. She had visualized four goals in the run up to the Final and just missed the fourth goal with that header.

  9. Robert Ecksel 10:44am, 07/06/2015

    I guess I’m the only one who has read “Zen and the Art of Archery.” Written by Eugen Herrigel, a German philosophy professor, and published in 1948, it recounts his experiences studying Kyūdō, a form of Japanese archery, when he lived in Japan in the 1920s. This excerpt may be too highfalutin, or too obscure, for some tastes, but there’s a connection to boxing which I believe Keith Thurman would understand.

    “The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art…”

  10. Koolz 10:23am, 07/06/2015

    sorry don’t see any Zen in One Time Thurman.

    In fact it is Zen that is missing from martial arts in this day in age.  People have boxing and UFC But have forgotten about the heart of martial arts.

    Zen and Boxing what?

  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:37am, 07/06/2015

    Ditto for Spence the guy he should be fighting….no more target practice on human beings in these set ups that are little more than glorified versions of the KO Game!

  12. KB 09:19am, 07/06/2015


  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:06am, 07/06/2015

    “Few people expect Collazo to win Saturday night”.....that just about sums up this so called sport of boxing. “Zen” ? His success thus far is all about his “punching power” and his quick reflexes that enable him to land his punches….period.

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