Janet Goldman has always been a physical fitness enthusiast who worked hard to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. She has also been a somewhat daring individual who only got bolder as she got older. Although she had taken some kickboxing classes in the past, she had never taken an actual boxing lesson. When given the opportunity to do so in mid-January, the 47-year-old construction project manager jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve always been a little ambivalent about boxing,” she said. “I figured, what is the point? I have some trouble with two people hitting each other in the head. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
Being the open-minded, free-spirited individual that she is, she decided to accept an offer of a one-hour lesson at the fabled Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York. Her instructor was 58-year-old David Lawrence, a veteran of six professional fights with a Ph.D. in literature who had also been a Wall Street insurance mogul who served two years in federal prison for income tax evasion, a white collar boxing champion, and a somewhat successful hardcore rapper whose moniker was “The Renegade Jew.”
In his most recent incarnation, he is a full-time boxing instructor who plies his trade daily at Gleason’s after spending his mornings writing poetry in his expansive apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He has already published several books of prose, and the next is scheduled for publication in March 2007. He credits boxing, which he began as a hobby in 1984, and his prison stint, as being the defining factors in his life.
“As a businessman, I was burning the candle at both ends,” said Lawrence. “I was making millions of dollars, but I wasn’t happy. Boxing was a very simple alternative for me. Whatever pain I experience in the ring, I understand. It is a risk I am more than willing to take. When I leave the ring, I leave the pain behind. I am not devastated. No one has foreclosed on my house or raped a family member. There has been pain, but no cruelty.”
Going to prison made me take stock of what was important in life,” he continued. “I wrote a book of poems while I was inside and worked out three hours a day. It was a very positive experience for me because it enabled me to sit back and realize what is really important and what is not.”
For one hour, Lawrence, who at first glance looks more like a harried executive than a two-fisted ex-convict, put Goldman through a frenetic workout. She shadowboxed, hit the mitts, banged the heavy bag, slammed the uppercut bag, awkwardly tried to master the speed bag, and even tried to keep pace with the swivel bag.
“She was really good,” said The Renegade. “When she hit the heavy bag, it made a great sound. The first time she threw a jab, it was obvious that she had done this before. She threw it with authority. There’s nothing sweeter than hearing the sound of a properly thrown punch hitting a bag—or someone’s head.”
Although endorphins were raging through Goldman’s well-toned body at the end, she knew that she would be paying a heavy price in the days ahead. And she was right.
“I couldn’t write, eat or walk without pain,” she joked. “Every inch of my body ached. The Renegade was a tough taskmaster, but I was happy to get in such a good workout.”
Although Goldman, who is Jewish, is not particularly religious, she was very surprised at how well represented Jews were at Gleason’s that day. The second she met gym owner Bruce Silverglade, she realized that they shared a heritage. Lawrence is also Jewish, as is his protégé, 15-year-old Todd Mondschein, who Lawrence has trained for a year and a half.
When junior welterweight prospect Dmitriy Salita, who wears the Star of David on his trunks, was pointed out to her, she was perplexed.
“What gives with all these Jewish fighters?” she asked to no one in particular. “I thought those days were over.”
She didn’t feel any particular sense of pride over the fact that Jews were well represented in the boxing game, and she didn’t suddenly become impressed by the level of work boxers put forth to excel in what is unquestionably one of the world’s toughest vocations. But she was intrigued by some of the nuances and ambiguities associated with the people she met.
She was amazed, for example, at the dietary choices of Lawrence, who despite his streamlined, sinuous and well-muscled body doesn’t seem to put a lot of thought into what he eats. After the workout, she looked somewhat aghast as he chomped into a turkey panini (flat Italian bread) that was oozing with a yellow substance purported to be cheese.
Goldman wasn’t able to see the turkey meat under the cheese, and seemed incredulous when she asked him, “What is that, a Cheese Whiz sandwich?” Sensing a judgmental air about her, Lawrence responded with casual and light indifference. “There’s turkey under there. And it’s on panini.”
The way that Lawrence stressed the word panini, it was as if he was comparing it to whole grain or whole wheat bread.
When Lawrence pulled out a chocolate bar for dessert and washed it down with a Diet Pepsi, Goldman again playfully took him to task. But her moral indignation was defused by Lawrence’s even greater jocular ribbing. “At my age I can eat anything I want,” he said in a way that suggested he’d been admonished about his consumptive choices before.
It was obvious that, regardless of what his trainer ate, Mondschein had immense respect for Lawrence, who has worked with him every day since his mother brought him to the gym so he could find a healthy outlet for his aggressions. As a Jewish youngster growing up in Brooklyn, Mondschein wasn’t particularly aggressive in the streets but he was growing weary of being picked on for his interest in all things scholastic.
Unable to take any more verbal or physical taunting from his peers, he began acting out with his fists. His natural power left a trail of wounded carcasses in his wake. His mother, thinking he might be enjoying his newfound aggression a little too much, took him to Gleason’s in the hope that Lawrence could tame the beast. He has done just that.
“Ever since I started boxing, I have no desire to get into street fights anymore,” said Mondschein, whose 1-2 record belies his bone-crunching power. Both of his losses were close decisions to much more experienced opponents in major New York State tournaments. “A lot of people think I’m a pacifist. But I don’t have anything to prove anymore. I know that if I get into a fight, I’m going to win. That is enough for me.”
In some ways Goldman, Lawrence and Mondschein are kindred spirits. All carry with them a sense of history, all have an interest in Eastern philosophies, and all are somewhat in tune with their mind, body and spirit.
Goldman is a few months away from completing an intensive 10-month program at New York’s Institute for Integrative Nutrition. As a future holistic health counselor she will work with clients to make improvements in diet and lifestyle through internal and external means.
While she might not agree with Lawrence on a lot of things, she agrees with him on at least the first part of his philosophical views about the travels and travails that one experiences during the course of their lifetime.
“Life is all about attitude,” said Lawrence. “Going through life with a good attitude is a skill, a skill that comes from hard work and introspection. It is very important to remember that nothing can ever go wrong for a person with a good attitude.
“A good attitude enables you to handle whatever life throws at you,” he adds. “I’ve been a lot of places in my life and the best overall attitude I’ve found has been with boxers. There is no dishonesty in the violence and, as violent as boxing can be, there is no inhumanity. Everyone’s role is clearly defined.”
While Mondschein wholeheartedly agrees with his mentor on such integral matters, Goldman had some issues about the latter part of Lawrence’s assessment. This was glaringly apparent as she watched the badly cut WBA super flyweight champion Martin Castillo eke out a split decision over Alexander Munoz on the January 21 undercard of Erik Morales-Manny Pacquaio pay-per-view bout from Las Vegas.
“This is barbaric, how can this be condoned?” she screamed as Castillo hit the canvas for the second time and his face was lacerated with two wounds that looked as if they had been inflicted with a blade. “You can’t pay anyone enough to justify what these two guys are doing to each other. One fighter will be victorious tonight, but at what price down the road? I’m going to bed.”