On Creating Action Scenes

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The protagonists in Shocking Circumstances and Sharp as a Razor possess their own unique talents and learned abilities. The one thing they all possess, though, is world-class boxing skills.

Feedback from test readers and reviewers have been very positive. Encouraging. Some of the most memorable scenes, I’m told, are the chaotic, knock-down-drag-out fist frenzies, where the only thing in control are disciplined minds and perfectly thrown punches.

Readers will experience scenes in Shocking Circumstances with Clarice teaching the fundamentals of the jab and straight-right.

In Sharp as a Razor, she teaches mental lessons of the Sweet Science. Just as she drills those lessons into other characters (and hopefully readers will get up and try them, as well), my coach drilled them into me.

I was 19 then. It’s been a lifetime since, but I’ll never forget how I met that old, rude SOB.

“Hey. Uh… When you have time, will you teach me a few things?” I said something like that to Fred not long after learning who he was.

“No. Go bother somebody else,“ he replied from his seat at the dayroom table. He ignored me, working on a newspaper crossword puzzle.

The jail’s administration had just let me back into general population after over a month in lockdown for attempted escape (I managed to cut four bars on a skylight before the snitches wrote the major. One guy was awarded a bond). I felt fortunate to land on a zone with a world-renowned boxing trainer. I had years of experience in Tae Kwon Do and some in Kickboxing, and each of those disciplines contain a fair amount of boxing, but I had yet to experience training from a bonafide pugilist guru.

“I’ll catch you another time, then,” I said.

“The answer will still be no.” He adjusted his glasses. Didn’t even look at me.

I learned right away that Fred wasn’t easily impressed. Living with twenty guys in an area designed for eight, it was hard not to know what everyone else was doing. So everyone knew about the grueling, high-intensity workouts I did every day. Several participated. This, along with my enthusiasm and persistence, impressed Fred enough to give me my first lesson.

“Put your hands up,” he said.

I did.

He thumped the air next to my face. Then he thumped my forehead.

I rubbed it, confused.

“Which one did you like better?”

“That one.” I thumped the air next to me.

“That’s your first lesson.”


It was a lesson I gave others many many times since.

Punch mitts, hand wraps, heavy bags, jump ropes – basic boxing gear is easy to make. We used doubled up shower shoes for mitts, rolled up foam mattresses for bags, and strips of sheet for wraps and to braid jump ropes. Every morning I got up and did a 50-minute cardio routine as a warm-up. Then came the real workout.

Endless punch drills to program muscle memory, while listening to him growl about the physics of movements, were a staple of my training in fundamentals. He always combined mental lessons with the physical. Everything was a challenge. Even talking about non-boxing topics – conversations with him were verbal jousting. Still are, although I can hold my own now; in the beginning I used to get so mad because I didn’t have the wit to keep up.

For seven months we trained. Punishing routines inside, running drills on the yard, and mental and life lessons in the evening in our cell that sometimes carried on until breakfast. He was relentless. Repetition is the key. He would make me do everything over and over, telling me my errors… over and over until I would get mad.

“If you quit on me, we’re done,” he told me.

“I’m not going to quit.”

“Good. Once a fighter quits the first time, it just makes it that much easier to quit again later. If one of my fighters quits just once, I tell them to find themselves another trainer and stop wasting my time.”

He tried to make me quit. In the numerous gyms he’s opened in Mississippi, and in dozens more around the world, he intentionally tried to run off the guys he trained. I asked him why.

“Because the ones who stay are gonna be champions,” he said.

He certainly has the credentials to back up this method. He’s had more state champs than any coach in Mississippi, had several national champs and a world amateur champion before coaching Team USA with Roy Jones Sr… then he went to the pros.

Donald “Tiger” Stokes is who Fred is known for training in Mississippi, though has worked with everybody, everywhere. The list of training camps he worked on feature boxing superstars such as Thomas “the Hitman” Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Evander “Real Deal” Holifield, Oscar de la Hoya, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, Lennox Lewis… So, yeah, he wasn’t easily impressed.

“Look at me, boy,” he told me one day on the yard. I was out of gas from a hard run and he wanted me to punch the mitts.

I looked. I didn’t want to do anything but rest.

“If you don’t want to be a world champion, then quit right now because you’re wasting my time!”

After that training got harder; every day he’d run me out of gas, and right before I squatted or flopped down to rest, he’d up the mitts and say, “Uh-uh. That’s right where I want you.”

I recalled offering to pay him somehow, one day, for training me.

“I ought to slap you, boy,” he said. “You insulting me? You don’t have enough money to pay me to train you. You’ll probably never have enough money to pay me. I’m training you because I want to. Don’t insult me again.”

Eddy, Clarice’s coach in Shocking Circumstances, is a character I created based on Fred. I couldn’t possibly have Eddy teach Shocker all the boxing and life lessons Fred taught me – that could be a book all on its own – though I tried to weave in enough to show readers what it takes to become a champion.

The late, great trainer Angelo Dundee with Fred at a training camp in the mid 1990’s. Dundee trained Muhammed Ali, and Sugar Ray Leonard along with many other all-time greats.

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