Learning to Know Thyself

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by Gordon Marino on boxing and philosophy. Although a little too heavy on platitudes like learning “to get control of your emotions”, there’s a deeper thought at work, which is stated best in the introduction:

“Know thyself” was the Socratic dictum, but Tyler Durden, the protagonist in the movie Fight Club, asks, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” Although trainers of the bruising art wince at the notion that boxing equals fighting, there can be no doubt that boxing throws you up against yourself in revealing ways. Take a left hook to the body or a trip to the canvas, and you soon find out whether you are the kind of person who will ever get up.

Boxers like Mohammed Ali, Joe Louis, and Max Schmeling (Hitler’s hope for Aryan superiority, who paid for his rejection of Hitler’s ideology and his refusal to join the Nazi Party by being drafted and assigned suicide missions, and who gave ex-rival and then friend Joe Louis financial support throughout the ex-champ’s life, including paying for his funeral) have shown time and again the willingness to fight outside of the ring — albeit not with their fists. I’m not a boxing fan and don’t completely buy Marino’s dismissal of the violence inherent to the sport (Marino seems too willing to overlook the way its promoters portray big-money matches), but there’s a lot to admire in the kind of men (and more and more women) the sport has produced.

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