Every male freshman (plebe) entering West Point has a mandatory class that few other colleges offer much less require. Boxing.
Each morning that boxing was on my schedule I woke up thinking about it. I would sit in calculus, chemistry or computer programing class thinking about boxing. It didn’t matter that I had tests or other graded exercises in those classes. Boxing dominated my thoughts.
I knew that day, no matter how well I did when I stepped into the ring, I was going to get hit multiple times in the face. What did I learn during plebe boxing that prepared me to lead?
What Plebe Boxing Does For Future Leaders
Most 18 year olds entering West Point have never faced this type of fear. It is the fear of physical pain. I had to face that fear multiple times a week.
I had to step into the ring, fight a classmate, and maintain proper boxing form. I had to be aggressive yet keep my composure in spite of the fear and the anger that always arose.
As my father, the man who ran the Physical Education Department at West Point for 24 years always said, “This is the closest a cadet can come to feeling the fear they will feel prior to battle.”
Part of our grade was based on our boxing prowess. The other part of our grade was based on our ability to hold our ground, fight back, implement the boxing skills we were taught and maintain our cool.
As a young officer, about to face the enemy the requirements were similar. I had to function despite my fear. I had to step forward into a dangerous situation and fight using all the skills I learned during training. I had to make tactical decisions and maintain my cool despite the fear.
The one big difference was that if I failed in the boxing ring, I got yelled at, failed the course and possibly could be separated from the Corp of Cadets. As a young officer the consequences were higher. People could die.
Looking back on plebe boxing I see that this was a pattern of training West Point used to build leaders of character. West Point trained us by building habits that would build our character.
My habits determine my character. Habits are formed one decision at a time. Every other day for 8 weeks, I had to choose to face my fears and box. Each time I chose to react as I was trained to react in the ring, I was creating a habit of facing my fears.
The Bottom Line:
Courage is one critical aspect of character all leaders need to develop. Plebe boxing was one tool West Point used to build this character trait into each cadet.
There are other habits that I need to adopt in order to be a leader of character: Integrity, Humility, Service, Responsibility are a few. Each of these positive habits develops one decision at a time.
With each choice I make, I make it easier to choose that same path again. The same can be said for negative habits as well. Our habits stem from the choices we repeatedly make.
Plebe boxing teaches cadets more than how to take a punch. It teaches them how to develop the positive habits they need to be a leader of character.
If habits form my character, then I can begin to make new choices today to change those habits and thus change my character. This is how West Point develops leaders of character, by training them to create habits with each choice they make.
What new choices can you make today to build new habits and thus strengthen your character?