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The Spine of an Irishman

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

Of the Celtic values of honor, loyalty, hospitality, honesty, justice, and courage, Irishman are most known in my walking circles for their courage.  Think about it.  When you think of the Irish, what do you think about?

– “Drinking.”  Okay.  I understand.  Nothing more to say.

– “Fighting.” Me too.  I may operate in more pugilistic venues than the average person, but I think everyone has met that Irishman that couldn’t say no to a fight.  I’ve met dozens.

When the ship hits the shore, when the plane wheels touch down, when that pasty-white face full of scar tissue walks through the entrance of the boxing gym, a fighting juggernaut has been planted into our American soil.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an Irishman just off the plane find his way to our gym like a bloodhound at the end of his trail.  Straight into the ring they walk and straight out of the ring they walk a half-hour later, face full of blood and bruises.  “Ahhh…no big deal.  I could go longer…” they say in their thick Irish brogue.

A milder, less metallic wolverine

Two months later they’re fighting competitively and their opponents faces tell the stories.  It’s not the bruises on their opponents faces that grip you.  It’s the look in their eyes.  It’s always the same – “What have I gotten myself into?”  When you’re fighting a man that can be beaten, can’t be broken, can’t be slowed down, as a fighter you’re now truly afraid.  It is the worst feeling you ever have, because you know you’re in for a war against a man with a spine carved from a steel like the Wolverine’s claw.


If you want to see what this looks like, catch Nick Diaz on a UFC pay-per-view or re-run.  I don’t think Diaz is one bit Irish, but he has that spirit and his opponents all wear that same look on their face.  Diaz is portrayed as a trash-talking thug from Southern California, but his mental toughness is undeniable.  He will walk straight through your pinches with his hands down, asking for more until you’re too tired to resist.  Then you’re done.  Diaz ending a fight is a brutal, but beautiful work of art.

My karate teacher once said that he believed the Irish have a stronger central nervous system than the average man.  I haven’t found hard research proving that point, but I can believe it anyway based on my own experience and my own spine.  Lately, I’ve tried to avoid getting in the ring.  I’ve been practicing martial art

s for seventeen years and taken my share of thundering fists to the skull from Golden Gloves boxers to just plain old “big dudes”.  I don’t mind getting punched in the face.  Some of that I had to learn, but it didn’t take long and I almost like getting punched in the face.  It gives me energy and I know I can give you that scary “What have I gotten myself into?” feeling.  The rational part of my brain values my intelligence more than that feeling of strength, power, and adrenaline I get in the ring and all the research on concussions leaves me no room to remain ignorant of the long-term consequences.  Still, why does the ring call my name?

James J. Braddock
James J. Braddock

Maybe it’s the years of fighting, oppression, and societal warfare the Irish have endured.  Maybe it’s the lineage of famous Irish boxes like John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, and James J. Braddock.  Maybe it’s just me.  I don’t know that makes the spine of an Irishman so strong and I doubt that everyone of Irish descent has the same gifts that I have.  I know that one of my true gifts in life is my ability to endure pain.  It’s a strange gift to cherish, but it lets me smile in life when others would fold.  For that I’m grateful to be Irish.  I’m grateful to be me. 



To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

– Sun Tzu