Dance Lessons for Boxing

November 23, 2011 November 23, 2011 by Johnny N Body Movement, Boxing Techniques 68 Comments

dance for boxing

PHOTO: this is my brother, Brian Nguyen, the tango champion.

My brother tried for years to get me to dance. I refused at first thinking “what the hell does dance have anything to do with fighting?” He was the lover, I was the fighter. Could dance and boxing have been any more different? Turns out, I was wrong. There’s a whole lot fighters can learn from dance lessons besides balance and footwork.

Dance taught me how to be a man

When I first learned to dance, I did everything my instructors told me. “Put your hands here, step your feet there, turn your body this way.” Etc and etc and while I followed all their instructions beautifully, I was still missing some magical ingredient. My dance felt over-analytical and awkward. I was more terrified than excited to dance with a beautiful girl.

My brother finally came up to me and said:

“Johnny, how do you expect to dance the man’s part when you’re not even a man?”

I was stunned. His words hit harder than any punch I’ve ever felt.

He explained, “You need to learn how to stand and walk like a man, before you can dance like a man.”

I thought I spent my whole life living manly: sports, lifting weights, fighting, computers, fixing cars. My friends looked up to me for manly advice, some of them joked “Johnny is a god amongst men.” And yet here I am…being told by my own brother, that I wasn’t man enough.

….and he was right.

I might have been man enough to beat up everybody inside the ring but apparently I wasn’t man enough to dance with a girl. I felt pathetic. For 2 hours a day for one whole week, Brian taught me how to stand and walk like a man. My brother made dozens of adjustments to my posture and the way I moved, even the way I looked at people. I have to admit it felt silly at first. This wasn’t just a lesson on how to stand straight or look confident. He was trying to change the way I saw the world. Little by little, my world did change and for the better.

I began to notice the way other fighters stood around the ring and how they trained. The difference was crystal clear, you could tell a “man” from a “boy” before he even entered into the ring. The way they approached training, the way they walked and talked. The boys trained to show off, the men trained for championships. Sure enough when sparring time came around, the boys fought like boys.

The boys fought with their pride and ego, no respect for intelligence or respect for their opponents. When their superior physicality and stubbornness withstood, they won fantastically. But when they lost, they went down in flames. Not just a loss, but complete humiliation and embarassment. Everytime a boy loses, he is reduced to nothing. When a man loses, he feels pain but eventually forgives himself, gets up, and improves himself.

I remembered an old saying, “Never send a boy to do a man’s job.” Can you imagine if a village sent out a boy, with his ego and pride, to hunt down a lion? The boy would be eaten alive. Other boys might even glorify his efforts, saying how brave it was to have died fighting a lion.

I still wonder to this day if boxing teaches you to become a man, or if you must become a man before you can box. The day you figure that out, is the day you can finally begin learning the sweet science. In my quest to become a man through dance, I absorbed 3 important principles: balance, perfection, and self-expression.

3 Lessons from Dance

BALANCE

The most obvious thing anybody can learn from dance, is balance. My experience with dance was no exception. I learned so many principles about balance I could fill a book. In fact, I intend to share some of the workouts and routines used by the top dancers in the world because balance drills in fighting are vastly inferior to what dancers are doing.

Why is balance so crucial to dancing? Balance is your body’s relationship to the ground, and controls your body’s ability to move along the ground. Balance gives you the ability to move your body with speed, power, and precision. You need all these things in dance because you are moving not only yourself but your partner. Everytime a boxer asks me how to improve his speed and power, I hear, “How can I improve my balance?” Now imagine how much better a boxer could fight with superior balance.

A few principles about balance to get you started:

  • balance is an action, not a position
  • to balance, you apply your balance muscles
  • to improve your balance, you must first increase your balance awareness, then develop your balance muscles, then learn proper balance techniques

PERFECTION

I never understood the meaning of perfection until I tried dance. When I first learned to fight, “perfection” meant just being good enough. In other words, a perfect jab was one that was just good enough so that I could move on to the right hand. A perfect right hand was just good enough so that I could move on to the left hook. A perfect slip was one that got me out of the way of my opponent’s punch. Everything that was just barely good enough, I would call “perfect”.

I never even took ownership of my jab. I was only proud of my jab because it was better than everyone else’s, not because it was mine. I never treated it as if it was MY JAB! You see, the moment you realize that something is yours, you will find ways to perfect it. You will always want better for yourself. Everyone wants a bigger house, a faster car, a better body. That’s the meaning of perfection right there, always trying to have better. A dancer will practice the same move a thousand times and still try to make it better because it is HIS (or her) move. I imagine all boxers could learn a decent lesson from applying this same approach to their technique.

The next time you throw the left hook, remind yourself that this isn’t Joe Frazier’s left hook. This is YOUR LEFT HOOK. YOURS! So make it the best damn left hook possible. Practice it forever.

SELF-EXPRESSION

I always knew that dance was a form of self-expression. Dancing was an art for you to express yourself to the world. It took me a while to realize boxing was the same thing. Boxing was also an art, a form of self-expression, but expressed through offensive/defensive moves. Instead of expressing ourselves to music and sounds, we reacted to the movements and rhythm of our opponents. Each fight was a unique dance, that would never be performed the same again.

You will NEVER become a great artist boxer
until you learn how to express yourself.

Authenticity, uniqueness, identity were the keys to self-expression. When it comes to art, it’s ridiculous to copy others. Can you imagine yourself singing the exact same song as someone else? Writing the same poem? Or painting an exact copy of the Mona Lisa? Boxing, as an art, is no different.

I see nothing wrong with being inspired by great champions and trying to learn from their moves. New boxers should always learn by copying more experienced fighters, the important thing is not to be an exact clone of someone else (e.g. Mike Tyson). Learn from great fighters but always with the end goal of learning how to be yourself. Can you imagine how sad it would be if you died and your wikipedia said that you fought EXACTLY like another great champion?

Boxing is an art! This is your chance to be yourself. It’s not a math test where there’s only one answer, and everybody is trying to find the right answer (or the right technique). There is no right technique or best technique. This is an art, you get to show the world what a wonderful personality and unique quality you have to contribute to the beauty of the sport. You owe it to yourself, to show the world and yourself, your greatest capacity as a human being before you die. I believe it is this sole artistic capacity that sets us apart from all other living creatures on Earth. To live, to box, to fight…you must be an artist. And to do that, you must be true to yourself.

Becoming a Dancer, Becoming a Man

A week after being taught how to walk, I was finally taught how to dance with a woman. In that glorifying moment, I realized myself a man at last. Becoming a man isn’t something that just happens when you turn 21, or take your first drink, or take a girl home. Becoming a man is an attitude that changes the way you think, the way you move, and the way you live your life. Being a man changes the way you fight. If you’re going to do anything, do it like a man…with meaning, intelligence, and respect.

Brian Nguyen, my brother – a man of all men.
2010 & 2011 US tango champion & 2011 3rd place in the world.

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68 Comments

Radd November 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm

This article gave me the motivation that i need for participate the “Dancing with the Stars” and show all the world my unique dancing skills :) Joking apart this is an very good example of how arts,sports etc. related and support each other. I watched a movie few years ago and a football player improved his skills there with practicing samba, similar stuff. Congratulations to your brother and thanks for another mind opening article j.

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Johnny N November 24, 2011 at 1:34 am

Hahaha, very funny Radd. What’s the name of the movie you saw? I also heard of a football player (American football) who did ballet and was well known for being hard to tackle.

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Anthony Jian Chan November 28, 2011 at 3:15 am

Hey Johnny,

Just wanted to say this was a very beautifully written article; very inspirational. Your brother sounds like an amazing guy! I’d love to learn how to tango one day. I’m just beginning to train as a boxer, and I’ve been reading a lot of your articles lately. They’re all very helpful! If you don’t mind me asking, where is your gym? Would you mind if I came and trained there some time? I’m a student at SF state but I go down to LA once in awhile to road trip and stuff. I’d love some pointers in boxing.

Anthony

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Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 3:52 am

My gym is in Los Angeles and you’re welcome to visit if you stop by LA. Send me an email, Anthony.

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mark January 4, 2012 at 10:42 pm

lynn swan of the pittsburg steelers did ballet

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Christopolis December 2, 2011 at 10:58 am

I believe its Rashard Mendenhal

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Radd November 24, 2011 at 4:00 am

It’s not a serious sport movie, kind of funny movie, i watched on TV when i was sick lying at home.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1gur3b0suA#t=6m15s

The football player you tell i guess “Lynn Swann”; look at the fifth comment of this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1NzOCftlow

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Johnny N November 26, 2011 at 2:14 am

I saw the clip, very athletic stuff.

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Spaniardguy November 24, 2011 at 6:47 am

Congratulations on your skinful brother… and your inspiring post!

“You will NEVER become a great artist/boxer until you learn how to express yourself”

what a wonderful sentence!!!!!!

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Anthony November 24, 2011 at 8:56 am

the boys trained to show off, the men trained for championships. <-much better quote.

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Johnny N November 26, 2011 at 2:17 am

Thanks, spaniardguy! Inspiration is one the highest honors of teaching people.

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Anthony November 24, 2011 at 8:53 am

Great article and video. NOW COUGH UP THOSE DANCER’S BALANCE DRILLS! Thanks and keep up the good work bro happy thanksgiving

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Johnny N November 26, 2011 at 2:15 am

I hope you had a great thanksgiving, Anthony. The secret balance drills will be released….errrrr….when the time is right!

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Blair Edwards January 23, 2012 at 7:33 pm

The time is now Johnny!!!!!! Release the drills!!!!!! Please.

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Johnny N January 28, 2012 at 12:14 am

I want to! I currently don’t have a place to film the drills with good lighting. I’m also super busy training and working with fighters. If I could explain the drills in words, I could. In time, I will share some.

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Blair Edwards January 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I totally understand. I would rather you take the time to make it quality rather than rush it. Anyway love the site keep up the good work it is the best site on the net, no joke!
Blair Edwards

Tyson granger November 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

this kind of has akartae kid theme too it(the origional one with mr.miyagi) everything has to do with fighting art,dance fighting everything too do with self expression. also dunno why but reding ur articles makes me want to start training on the spot or watch a boxing/mma fight(or movie) btw if u wanna see amovie about self expression in dance and a good dancing movie watch Step up 3d.

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Tyson granger November 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm

i wish there was a site like this for mma but this is an asome and ALWAYS after readin on of ur articles johnny my stand up game dramatically improves. thank you soooo much man :)

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Johnny N November 26, 2011 at 2:21 am

I’m glad to be a part of your stand-up game. You’re welcome anytime, Tyson.

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J November 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm

“The boys trained to show off, the men trained for championships. Sure enough when sparring time came around, the boys fought like boys.

The boys fought with their pride and ego, no respect for intelligence or respect for their opponents. when their superior physicality and stubbornness withstood, they won fastastically. But when they lost, they went down in flames. Not just a loss, but complete humiliation and embarassment. Everytime a boy loses, he is reduced to nothing. When a man loses, he feels pain but eventually forgives himself, gets up, and improves himself.” (I feel with having self discipline focusing on your craft, dealing with down falls and getting back up and try to avoid those same setbacks and improve as a person has to do alot with maturity. maturity meaning fully developed) THE STATEMENT YOU MADE IS TRUE ABOUT LIFE ITSELF!

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Johnny N November 26, 2011 at 2:16 am

J, I guess we’d have to say boxing is so much like life in so many ways. It’s a very philosophical sport.

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Manex November 24, 2011 at 9:41 pm

“Ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself” … Bruce Lee

Hear quote at 5:31

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpC5kLKAZmg&feature=related

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Johnny N November 26, 2011 at 2:15 am

Manex, I’ve heard Bruce Lee say that quote before but the video link you gave is awesome. I’ve never seen this one before.

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leen November 26, 2011 at 3:39 am

Great … i like when you said that “You will NEVER become a great artist boxer
until you learn how to express yourself.” cuase what many fighters dont understand that boxing is not only about knocking someone down and huting him or her…But how about belly dance?dose it accunt? :D in belly dance you dont have a partner but you need BALANCE and self control ..thank you

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Johnny N November 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I’ve never done belly dance but I do know that being skillful in other things will always help you accomplish other things in life. Dance definitely improves your balance and self-control. I’ll have to try belly dancing in the ring, Leen. ;)

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eli November 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I’ve never read anything like this article nor received any advice in real life similar to these words this is advice many trouble dudes out there need to read/hear. Johnny aside from all the great articles you’ve posted hands down this is the greatest of em all. If ur older bro teaches dance classes where n how much and yea Bro drop those balances drills and of course with a how to do video. Thanks so. Much for this site.

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Johnny N November 27, 2011 at 5:33 pm

My brother teaches seminars and workshops all over the world, the prices will vary from group classes to private lessons. He’s pretty famous in the tango world so if you can take a class, I highly recommend it. I will leak the balance secrets in due time. I’m still learning them even as we speak. You’ll be the first to know, eli.

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Johnny N November 27, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Oh and btw, he’s my LITTLE brother. I’m the oldest of 4, haha.

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Saber khan November 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Wow very poetic viewpoint. I gotta tell ya when I read the ‘you’re not a man’ bit I thought u would put the dancer to sleep , then the next line I learned he was your bro (lucky for him). I took dancing myself I wish I had put such a macho spin on it. I did feel that partner dances were sort of like infighting and dancing focused heavily on great balance specially for the man. But that was it and by the second week i totally stopped trying to relate it to guy sports. My time would have been much less boring if i had the view you took. Next time I have to go dancin I’m going to examine the bit based on ur ideas I’m very curious what awesomeness will be unleashed. Very inspirational stuff ure turning into a regular mr wax on wax off =D and my left cross is landing much better now the index finger tip was on the spot. I dont land with the index but the space between middle and 4th finger and i got me just that spot. Thanks coach, and if there are secret balance or dance drills u won’t forget ur old pal aye :{D

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Johnny N November 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Hahaha, everybody on HBO 24/7 is going to be dancing now! The balance stuff is awesome but I did promise my brother that I wouldn’t share it with anyone. Or at least not all of it ;) Soon enough, soon enough!

I’m glad to hear about your left cross. I use to have that same problem myself and my hands were hurting for so long. I almost quit throwing jabs until one trainer noticed my problem and showed me how to correct it.

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TJ Ramadoss November 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Sugar ray Robinson was a great dancer.
Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that’s in rhythm or you’re in trouble.
—Ray Robinson[55]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd70iqK_bsU

People of different athletic pursuits were also knows for their artistic expressions. Like Bruce Lee was a great Cha Cha Dancer.

Johnny has covered the rest in this wonderful article.

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Johnny N November 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Great quote, TJ and awesome video. I did not know Bruce Lee did cha cha!

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TJ Ramadoss November 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Yes he did. I was surprised too, when I read about him. I’m sure you can draw inspiration to your future articles from Mr.Lee’s philosophy in approaching any art form.

Whether it is for a recreational purpose or mastering an art; the emphasis relies on understanding, expression with grace(application) and self-discipline in pursuit.

Btw, here is Bruce Lee’s Cha Cha video. I’m sure you would have Youtubed it by now; Just adding it for the convenience of other readers.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sztK7mBuwGM

Cheers Johnny. Once again, appreciate your article on letting boxers know about the connection between dancing/expression arts and other athletic pursuits.

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Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 3:47 am

Thanks for the video and info. I remember Ali doing ballet and also Van Damme doing ballet. Both said if you can do ballet, you can do anything.

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sicnarf November 28, 2011 at 1:37 am

good article johnny…this thing hit me mang..it changed the way i think about fighting and live life.

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Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I’m glad for you, man. It made a huge difference for me too and so I had to share it.

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beta kung fu November 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Hi, thanks coach this was awesome!

Hey have you guyz ever watched Guillermo Rigondeaux in the Olypmics 2000 & 2004, this is what dancing and self expression is all about, this guy was a pure artist and seemed as if he was having all the fun in the world in the ring while his opponents were busy trying to take his head off and all his wins seemed easy. The guy is too humble to say he never had an easy win and all his opponents were tough.

Man i saw this Cuban guy in action and i fell in love with boxing twice, Muhammad Ali, Ray Robinson and Mario kindelan these guys were also great artist.

Hey Jonny Boxing is the greatest art of all – The Better Kung Fu!

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Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 3:48 am

I’m a huge fan of Guillermo Rigondeaux. I’ve got a picture with him at the Pacquiao/Margarito fight. Hhis sparring videos are awesome, they did a documentary on him, too.

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Ron November 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Great article, Johnny. Undoubtedly a lot of deep, soul material to think about here. Self-expression is indeed the essence to life!

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Eva Bui November 30, 2011 at 4:32 am

i love this line: “He was the lover, I was the fighter.” Are you both now Johnny?!?! =p

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Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 4:42 am

2 words… ExpertTango.com — launch date 2015. hahaha

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Radd November 30, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Dear Experttango.com; I have a problem, cause of my boxing background when i see my tango partner’s openings in front of me, i can’t control myself and execute 1-2-3-2 to her openings. So my dancing partners always in hospital and i can’t practice enough and that’s break my focus on being a world champion of Tango. Do you have any advices on this ? Thank you very much for this great site.

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Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Dear Radd, I believe you’re on the wrong site. Please stop hurting your dance partners.

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Radd November 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

haha situation looks very serious without smileys :) Bytheway man, i’m searching for an hour what is the meanings and values of WBC Silver Belt- Interim Belt- Vacant Belt. Do you have some words for them. How they functioning, for example what steps required for a WBC silver world champion to fight with golden world champion. And isnt it bad that there is too many titles and belts.(and now im realize i guess there is a lot of silver belt champion, confusing stuff :)

Johnny N November 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Haha. There belts are confusing to me too. Basically some of them are international recognition, others are just national or just regional. Some are contender belts. Basically, fighters are paying for recognition. It’s like a local restaurant advertising, “Voted as #1 mexican food restaurant”. Makes you wonder, “Voted by who? And recognized by who? And who were they compared with?”

Prince December 1, 2011 at 1:14 am

This by far the purist boxing site.I enjoy your articles and incorporate alot of it into my thinking.Boxing as life is mental .My opponent is me and me alone if I’ve properly prepared I will not be defeated.A defeat is mental not a record of wins and losses.Did I do all I could to properly prepare?The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare-Vincent Lombardi.Proper conditioning is first mental then physical.THANKS THANKS THANKS KEEP UP THE GRRRREAT WORK.

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zz topman December 1, 2011 at 3:21 am

Man i gotta ask how do you look at somebody like a man…not much to do wid boxing but a good skill none the less!

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mehran December 1, 2011 at 3:51 am

heyy johny ,, great article ..
u mentioned great fighters who can dance ,,, but forgot the most recent one ,, ernesto hoost ( 4 time k-1 champion ) had a dancing ceremony after each victory right after his opponent was down .. :D

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iron boy December 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm

won the fight jonnhy have a look
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoJrqlPPDdQ

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Johnny N December 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

iron boy, that was awesome! I saw great head movement, endless right hands and some clever smothering tactics. Your high-pressure high-power fighting style is quite fun to watch. Your opponent wasn’t a bad fighter himself, he just missed everything that’s all. ;)

I’ll be sharing this on the ExpertBoxing Facebook, btw.

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iron boy December 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm

cheers man.now i got 1st one out going to improve more and try become as good as i can.got alot of tips and help from your site!! ..thats wicked a honnor realy! thanks johnny

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Johnny N December 8, 2011 at 3:53 pm

It’s an honor to share your victory with you. Thank YOU!

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Johnny N December 11, 2011 at 2:36 am

A lot of people “liked” your video on the Facebook page. Good stuff, man!

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curtis c December 17, 2011 at 1:33 am

just a suggestion but why dont you write a artical on boxing brains. who do you think were the smartest boxers of all time? I’ve heard about chessboxing what do you think of that, do you really think it would make a better fighter in the ring?

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Johnny N December 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Chess boxing is playing chess and boxing. I think it takes away from the fighting ability because you have to divide your training time into two different disciplines.

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Roey January 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm

While I agree with most of your articles, this is an exception. The technical things dancing teaches you are valid and are immensely helpful in boxing. But all that “being a man” stuff is crap. There is no one right away to achieve masculinity. It is apparent that you love your brother and was more affected at the thought of letting him down rather than achieving this higher manly state you talk about. Sometimes Johnny, you really can’t tell who is training, a boy or a man. Because as you have said yourself, you need to learn how to express yourself, and boxers have their own styles of doing so. What matters is the end result.

But nevertheless a thought provoking article and maybe I’m too harsh on you as you are only recounting your personal experiences. But I hope you see your flaw in logic.

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Johnny N January 2, 2012 at 10:34 am

Roey, you make me laugh. The article isn’t about masculinity, it’s about maturity. And no, it’s not “crap” logic because fighters with a purpose will train differently from those who don’t.

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curtis c January 6, 2012 at 2:08 am

is this footwork or isn’t it? And what range could this help me with?

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ArifG January 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Dear Johnny
Once again thanks for another thought provoking article. Could you elaborate on the changes in posture etc. your brother suggested and the differences you noticed in the approach of the ‘men’?

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Johnny N January 18, 2012 at 9:51 am

Great question, ArifG. I’m actually going to release articles in the near future to teach how to stand and how to walk. These are the basics of learning how to use your body which in turn will develop your body awareness for more complex footwork.

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Damian F March 17, 2012 at 5:00 am

I didn’t believe this article until I saw this! :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE8XKeN0zk4

Great website Johnny, keep up the good work!

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Chase September 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

Great article. Bruce Lee believed in this.

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omer April 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Damn Johnny I thought you were Hispanic, never woulda picked Viet. I live in a really heavily Viet populated part of melbourne, Australia.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks. I’ve watched all your videos on YouTube & now I’m starting to read all your articles on here.

Really appreciate your passion & dedication for putting this knowledge up for free for us to learn.

Appreciate your efforts my man, keep doing you

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Johnny N April 26, 2013 at 10:51 am

Thanks, Omer. Keep on boxing and let me know when you fight!

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Kelz July 19, 2013 at 2:45 am

Johnny, I love your articles and thoughts man and wanna say I appreciate you taking time out to write for us. You should so do an article about “how to stand and walk like a man” and the things your brother taught you for that one week man. Would love to read about it. Thank you bro!

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Johnny N July 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I actually might consider doing that but it would require a video for me to fully explain and I’m sure all the subscribers are going to be like WHAT THE HECK?

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Clay July 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Hey bro,
I would like to say your article is great!, but i have a question though
how do you dance like Muhammad Ali??

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Johnny N July 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Dance to music like Muhammad Ali? Or dance around the ring like Muhammad Ali?

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