Family & Education

In the Ring: Some Advice From Boxing Champion Joe Louis

TIMEDecember 17, 2021

We’re all in the ring. Each and every day, there we are, gloves up, bobbing and weaving, taking the punches, throwing punches, and, meanwhile, just praying we end the day’s bout points ahead of whatever opponent we’re facing.

Whether we’re the guy looking for a blowout triumph in software sales or the high school basketball coach wanting her players to push themselves as hard as they can, we’re looking for a victory.

All too often, though, the bell sounds, and we step from the ring and collapse into bed punched out and beaten down, leery about going through this whole dance yet again the next day. We wake in the morning, shake off our sleep, and gloomily ponder the coming day.

Time for some coaching tips from one of the greatest pugilists of all time.

Joe Louis was heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949. When he retired, he’d won 68 fights and lost only three. He also left behind some nuggets of wisdom that might help the rest of us step back into the ring with a new attitude.

“He can run, but he can’t hide,” Louis said about one of his opponents.

If we change his warning to “You can run, but you can’t hide” and apply it to ourselves, we are reminded to face up squarely to our troubles rather than trying to distance ourselves from them. To take responsibility for our actions, to refuse to give up, and to meet each new day with a renewed determination are signposts of adulthood. No running, no hiding—just keeping our hands up and moving forward.

As Louis also said, “You have to be tough and stick it out, or you wind up being nothing.”

“A champion doesn’t become a champion in the ring, he’s merely recognized in the ring. His ‘becoming’ happens during his daily routine.” The key takeaway here is “daily routine.” Some people I’ve known regard routine as anathema, equating it with boredom, although routine is how most of us get things done and so become champions ourselves.

Routine also allows us to develop good habits. Nearly every day, I see a little old man walking up and down our street, head always down, arms swinging back and forth. He’s a funny sight, but the more I’ve watched him, the more I’ve admired his determination to exercise daily. He’s a constant reminder to me that I need to add more exercise to my own regimen of work and living.

“I can show you how to box. I can teach you every technique and trick I know, but I can never make you a fighter. That comes from inside, and it’s something no one else can ever give you.” Louis was talking about boxing here, but his point about being a fighter applies to everyone. When we do battle in life—striving to raise virtuous children, offering emotional support to a spouse, seeking to better the world through our work or volunteer activities—we are fighters for the good.

And as Louis observed, “That comes from inside.” It’s that sacrosanct place within our hearts and minds, where there’s no such word as defeat and where self-pity is in permanent lockdown.

“I hope they’re still making women like my momma. She always told me to do the right thing. She always told me to have pride in myself; she said a good name is better than money.”

Doing the right thing, taking pride in what we do, maintaining a stellar reputation: these qualities rouse admiration while we’re living and are praised after we’re gone. These are the virtues that allow us to look in the mirror every day and not cringe. Those of us who have done wrong and fallen on our faces know full well the importance of doing “the right thing.”

No pain, no gain. Keep on punching.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See to follow his blog.