By Amber Baillie, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published February 10, 2015
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- When cadets step into the boxing ring here, they don't senselessly knock each other around; they hone their defense drills, their guard position and footwork, so when they think they can't go the distance, they find a way to survive and win.
Lt. Col. Matthew Glover, interim head boxing coach here, said the skills cadets learn from boxing and combatives courses at the Academy are relevant for the modern warfighter.
"Courage under fire and grace under pressure translates directly from the boxing ring to combat," he said. "It's better to start here, where there are no real bullets. Some cadets have never been in a fight or had to take a punch. This course familiarizes them with physical stress in a controlled environment, with the best safety equipment available."
At the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, all male cadets are required to take boxing during their freshman year, Glover said.
"A (West Point) study concluded, 'without real or perceived danger, courage cannot be measured,'" he said. "Boxing is a great way to provide some amount of 'danger' in a controlled environment, to give future officers an experience of being under duress before they experience combat."
Female cadets here take Introduction to Combatives, PE 114, and male cadets take Boxing, PE 110. In boxing, cadets must complete 10 hours, eight lessons and two graded reviews to pass the course.
"Cadets need to know how to defend themselves and others, and boxing class is an excellent baseline for this," said Academy boxer Cadet 2nd Class Peter Coote. "While some of us may never get into another fight the rest of our lives, as (future officers), we need to have the basic knowledge to defend ourselves in case it comes down to a physical altercation."
Glover said boxing injuries are generally minor and not common at the Academy, despite the sport's hard-hitting nature.
"The most common boxing injuries across the sport are bloody noses, strained wrists, elbows and shoulders, sore jaws and the chance of sustaining a mild concussion," he said.
Ed Weichers, who coached boxing here for 38 years, said during his time at the Academy, no cadet ever lost their medical qualification to become a pilot or commission into the Air Force due to a boxing injury.
"The Academy has the best equipment, providing cadets with form-fitted mouth pieces, gloves, head gear and groin protectors," he said.
Weichers said coaches closely monitor the cadets in the ring and make sure the boxers face properly-sized opponents.
"Size is critical to keep cadets safe - you don't have the smallest cadet box against the tallest," he said.
To be on the Academy's official boxing team, cadet athletes must complete the course and enter the Wing Open Tournament, held here annually. From there, cadets are selected by coaches to compete at the intercollegiate level. There are 24 spots on the team's roster; the Academy has won 19 team championships since 1980.
"The winners of the Wing Open typically go on to represent the Academy at regional and National Collegiate Boxing Association competitions," said Glover, a Class of '94 Academy graduate, who won the 172-pound division at the 1994 NCBA Team Championships.
"The voluntary recreational cadet club shares training facilities and equipment with the men in the cadet gym," Glover said. "Right now there about a dozen female cadets in the women's boxing club. It's an exciting change."
Weichers said there's more to boxing than its stereotypes.
"People confuse amateur college boxing with professional boxing such as Mixed Martial Arts fighting," he said. "I think people get infatuated with the sensationalism of professional boxing. At the Academy, it's a strategic sport and a way to learn to protect yourself. Boxing teaches self-confidence, self-esteem and humility."
Academy boxer Cadet 3rd Class Brett Hagen said boxing requires technique and confidence.
"In a match, you need to focus on head movement, footwork, precise combinations, defense, and many other things, instead of just running at your opponent with no game plan," he said. "Nothing is better than getting your hand raised after winning a bout because it's just you in the ring. No one can take it away from you and you know you earned it."
He said boxing is about the small details.
"Whether rotating your hip on a punch, keeping your hands up when you're exhausted, or properly maintaining the weight requirements for each weight class, boxing requires a high-level of discipline," Hagen said. "Handling the nervousness, the crowd and executing the things you've practiced for months in the ring against another cadet requires great mental toughness."
Having to fight through fatigue and pain in a boxing fight is unlike any other sport, Hagen said.
"Many cadets push themselves physically and mentally to levels they've never reached before," he said. "I guarantee this class will prepare cadets a little bit more for any challenge they have ahead of them."