RAPID CITY — “Eddie Martinez was more than just a coach,” said Rapid City Boxing’s Jeremiah Janis. “I went through some dark times in my life, and he was there for me, without question. I love the guy. He was that father figure for me. In my opinion, there would not be boxing in Rapid City without this guy.”
Martinez is now retired, but Janis, one of his best boxers, has now stepped up to help direct the boxing program at Rapid City Boxing. After years of low numbers and weak funding, club President Tony Cleberg has confidence the boxing program is going to blossom and Janis is the man to head up the dayto day interaction with the fighters: “Jeremiah is a lot younger than me and enthusiastic and he does a good job. He’s not only a coach, he’s a lit bit of a cheerleader, and that’s what these kids need.”
Over seventy kids signed up for USA boxing at the gym this year, and 52 are still active. Those numbers will probably pick up as boxing heads into its winter season. The funding part, too, has been fixed, according to volunteer Jim Bickett: “Tony took over the club about five years back and he’s done a lot. A little while back he asked me to be on the board, and I just thought that there needed to be a way to raise some money because I was on the board 13 years ago and that was our biggest problem. I was at a baseball game one night, my grandson was playing pony league, and I looked out on the field and they had all them signs. I have a business, Bickett Construction, and we have a sign at Post 22.”
Bickett decided to use the sign strategy to raise operating funds for Rapid City Boxing: “We had about nine signs, and seven banners and we have about the same amount coming in the next batch. If it regenerates itself, it’s about ten thousand dollars a year.”
“The way, I see it,” Cleberg said, “we are in the second year of a three-year process to become a really good, sophisticated gym, where you have a stable of five or six fighters that can compete at the national level and right now we just have a couple, maybe three.”
Setting a standard of excellence, at every facet of the program, whether training, mentoring, raising funds, is a top priority for the folks currently heading up Rapid City Boxing.
“I think the big thing is,” Cleberg said, “we’ve gotten a number of volunteer coaches, and good coaches, people who really know and understand boxing We’ve got eight people that coach on a regular basis down here. Most of the time we have about three every night. We’ve spread out the responsibility to run the gym, and then we’ve got a few more people on the periphery, like Jim Bickett, who led the effort to get the advertising done. He owns a construction company so when the toilet broke he had a guy in today to fix it. Just general maintenance and support of the gym. We’re putting together a good all volunteer organization, run like it should be run.”
Janis is systematic in the way he introduces a green recruit to the program at Rapid City Boxing: “Boxing literally starts from the ground up. I wanna see footwork, I wanna see legwork. As boxers, we never pick up our feet. If we pick up our feet we can get blown over by a single punch, so we stagger and slide.”
Janis took a boxing stance, moved his body accordingly, and it wasn’t hard to see that it takes practice, practice, practice, and years of high quality instruction, to move through the boxing mechanics as seamlessly and effortlessly as Janis can.
He brought a recruit over to the heavy bag, and asked: “What do you see when you look at this bag? There’s no wrong answer.”
“I see an opponent,” the recruit said.
“Exactly,” Janis said. “What I try to get people away from is throwing senseless punches.”
Janis says to make movies in your head, like Rocky, picture the bag as a person trying to hit you back, and then you will take the heavy bag session seriously, apply effort and focus, and sharpen your power and technique.
Janis moved onto the next station. “Your jab will be the most important punch you are ever gonna have,” he said.
The jab is not a powerful punch, but it is bothersome, keeping your opponent at bay, and sets up all your punches. The jab must be thrown regularly, consistently, and Janis has a line of tape arranged in successive squares, to teach a fighter to move and reset while they jab.
Chad Thompson is called over for a demonstration. Thompson is a sophomore at Rapid City Central and has developed into a quality fighter.
Janis had Thompson put a card is in his mouth, and then Janis attempted to snatch the card out, forcing Thompson to move his head, but unpredictably, if he wanted to keep the card. This helps train a fighter to move his head, presents his opponent with angles, so he can’t find his rhythm, and start teeing off on you, and so you have the angles to start opening up on him.
“What we do here is hard,” Janis said. “Boxing is not for everyone. We can’t all be champions, but we can sure train like one. That’s what we do on a normal, normal day.”
Janis has established an easy rapport with the fighters as a group, but he also has an individual relationship, tailored to that fighter’s skill level, personality, and current development: “My style of coaching is brash, but I am very honest; if something’s not up to standards then we’ll fix it, but we’ll fix it together. Its not my job to babysit. It’s my job to get these fighters in top shape, to not only go in there and just compete, but do well, become a champion. That’s one of my first three questions I ask, are you down here to work out, get in shape, get your six pack back, or are you down here to compete, down here to become a dang champion. Which one is it, there’s no wrong answer. That tells me right there, how to approach this particular fighter.”
But because this is a comprehensive program, for the entire community, Janis has to run the operation accordingly: “We have a coach for everyone who comes through that door, everyone. When I do have other coaches who come to town, it’s a rule in my gym that you have to work with the other fighters and vice versa. We start with footwork, and then jab, and then weight distribution, with muscle memory, I can’t stress that enough. My gospel is throwing a correct punch but also having the muscle memory to back you up, so your muscles will know what to do when you are tired and don’t want to be in there.”
Janis encourages fighters to continue their training when they are away from the gym, by keeping their cardio up and working on technique: “Away from the gym—the more you put in the less you bleed. I’m sorry to say it like that, but it’s the absolute truth. My coaching can only go so far in the hours I have these kids. Work always beats out talent in my mind, and that is what I stress to my fighters, too.”
Chad Thompson started boxing when he was ten. “I am fighting at 132,” he said. “But I am trying to get down to 125. I just love the competition, I love the sport, it’s fun.”
Not knowing Janis had already revealed his strengths and weaknesses, Thompson revealed he is on the same page as his coach by agreeing with him one hundred percent: “I am very good at counter striking. My defense is okay, but I think I am better offense wise; after they strike I will counter it and I just go from there, combinations, work the body, and then I work up to the head. I love throwing a straight right and following it with a left hook. When they throw the one-two, I’ll slip it, go under, and just throw the left hook to the body.”
Thompson ran out of gas in his last defeat, so he is committed to picking up his cardio: “I been running everyday, a mile or two miles, and sparring.”
Janis has more than just high schoolers at his gym: “(South Dakota) Tech’s coming down. I have the starting defensive end, I have the starting wide receiver, I have the starting safety and cornerback that are coming down, and there’s two of them that want to compete. There’s one, his eyes just light up when he talks about being champion. That’s the stuff that I love.”
“I don’t get paid to do this,” Janis said. “Eddie never got paid to do it, but I am making lifelong friends. Once you come in here, and you bleed with us, you sweat with us, you listen, you learn, you show me you got heart, I will never give up on you, ever. One promise I made Eddie is I would always follow the rules, that I would never bend them, not even for my own children, and that I would always instill that Eddie Martinez way of training in a fighter. I think I’m doing a pretty good job so far.”
“I think there’s something happening down here,” Bickett said. “And the community is getting behind it; the signs have been an easy sell.”
Cleberg summed up the purpose for all this effort, beyond the sport, beyond the trophies and championships: “We feel, if we can get kids to work hard here, that’s gonna pay off the rest of their life. They learn how to work hard, they know how to pay the price to achieve goals, that’s really more important than anything else.”
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@ msn.com)