Muscle for the Middle: Solutions and Substitutions to Stay Strong! — Mark Brown Fitness

Mark Brown’s Muscle for the Middle When did we become the old ones in the weight room? For those of us dipping a toe into middle age, we are fortunate to be part of the first generation of exercisers exposed to the great value of strength training. Prior to the 1990s, the weight room was […]

Muscle for the Middle: Solutions and Substitutions to Stay Strong! — Mark Brown Fitness

I’m so pleased to repost and follow my trainer’s new blog. Mark is the real deal when it comes to knowing about strength and fitness. Twenty plus years ago, Mark taught me how to box – a passion I will continue until my last huffing breath.

If you are interested in staying fit and healthy, follow along with him!

Life Lessons from the Ring – Questions to ask yourself

I was too young to remember the times my dad came home with blood on his clothes. It was my older sister who told me how our non-violent mother would cringe at the sight.

Interesting that, even though I was two at the time, my father’s evening work would influence my life and expand my awareness.

The blood wasn’t my dad’s. Not then. His own blood was spilled years before when he boxed for the army.

The blood on my father’s clothes were from young men who, like my father, tried to prove something, make something of themselves in the boxing ring  “at a time when boxing mattered.” (Quote by Mark Brown, my first and continuing boxing coach)

Screenshot 2017-09-29 23.23.56

(My dad’s in the middle)

But hitting bags and pads matters to me.

Not only because of the fitness aspect, but to serve as a reminder of those who “toughened up” enough to be a better person in Life’s ring.

Participants of this sport or not, think of the lessons learned in boxing metaphors.


(I keep these 1950’s baby rattles in my boxing bag as a reminder)


Ask yourselves these questions:


— Do you feel trapped? Cornered? Are you UP AGAINST THE ROPES. 

Try maneuvering to the center of the ring.                                      

— Do you keep yourself from getting hurt, literally or figuratively? PROTECT YOURSELF AT ALL TIMES.                                    

Do this because, as my dad used to say, “You are your own best friend.”

Do you care about others? Then you are IN THEIR CORNER.

Make sure you find someone who will be in yours.

— Think you’ve hit bottom? Then you are DOWN FOR THE COUNT.

Do you have the stamina and willpower to get back up even if the odds feel against you?

— Have you gone too far with your criticisms? Then you’ve delivered an illegal A LOW BLOW.

Hurting others will eventually lead to hurting yourself.

— Are you thinking about THROWING IN THE TOWEL? Have you given up?

Sometimes we have to say “enough is enough.” Consider the towel carefully.

— Do you miss dangers coming your way? Do you LET YOUR GUARD DOWN?

How vulnerable are you willing to be?

— Do you ignore rude comments and take adversity in stride? Do you ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES?

Good! Backbones and self-confidence are sure wins.

— Were you luckily interrupted before sh..t hit the fan? Then you were SAVED BY THE BELL.

Who doesn’t love a blessing in disguise?


Are you a person who strives to be a better person?

Then you are a contender.

Be your own champion.

Because, at the end of the day when the rounds are over, you can kick up your feet and know that you fought even when tired, and you put up a good fight.



(painting by C. Dennis-Willingham)

The best of the bad asses

Years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and training with Ann Wolfe, known as possibly the greatest female boxer of all times. She was tough, no-nonsense. Three of us had the chance to get inside the ring with her. Of course, she wasn’t going to punch us. It was all about our own offense. Needless to say, in that small ring, she was so fast, I couldn’t get even close to her.

After I was commissioned to paint her portrait, she told me that it reminded her of her mother — a wonderful compliment since she loved her deceased mother with total abandon. She told me she hung the original above her mantel.


Here is a great, short documentary on Ann Wolfe and her struggles to become a boxer. If rough language offends you, don’t watch. But if you like seeing how a woman survived the murder of her father, the death of a beloved mother and rose to the top, then watch.

“Gotta protect yerself at all times”

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I see Dad when he eyeballs the Tombstone, staring at him like he’s already pinned him in a corner. They dance around each other like feral cats waiting to pounce on a rat. Even though I can see Better now, I don’t get what they’re doing. They look like they’re play fighting.

“What’s happenin?” I ask Aunt Nolie, who’s followed me up closer to the ring.

“The Tombstone is throwin’ a few jabs.”

“What ’er jabs’?”

“Well, see, a jab ain’t usually a hard punch, but it lets the other fella know yer in the game. Jabs kinda make the other fella pay attention. They’re holdin’ their gloves up by their heads ’cause in boxin’, ye gotta protect yerself at all times.”

The Tombstone jabs, trying to get Dad’s attention. Dad’s smiling like he’s watching a funny picture show. Aunt Nolie tells me more. The Tombstone throws another jab, then a straight right, but Dad easily ducks under it and comes up with a left hook to the jaw.

“Well, lookie there, he’s done it,” says Aunt Nolie.

The Tombstone went down fast, laid out flat on his back, out like Lottie’s eye. The fight is over before the first bell had a chance to ding. Dad had been paying attention alright.

The Ranger folks, some who like Dad and some who don’t, hoot and holler that one of their own just beat a stranger, a foreigner on Ranger soil. My dad is a hero.

Dad doesn’t brag though. He smiles without his teeth showing while he stares down at the bloodied man. The referee counts to ten. The Tombstone twitches his eyeballs. Knowing he’s not dead, the referee raises Dad’s right hand up in the air and declares him the winner.

Walking home, I think about how good it was to see Dad do something good like that, something Better than drinking Pearl beer and ignoring me.

The next morning I ask, “Were ye scared Dad?”

“Naw, I ain’t afraid ’a nothing. Besides, that pissant couldn’t fight the gnats off his butt.” I laugh at the picture of the Tombstone trying to swat gnats off his hind-end while wearing bandages on both hands.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story


That Fightin’ Instinct


My Dad

I yelled, “fall out!” But, there’s one in every crowd. His name was “Johnson,” an ex-merchant marine with big old biceps who thought he could fight a circular saw and come out ahead. He pulled the cover over his head as if that was gonna protect him from someone who knew better.

Everyone was watching me, so I knew I had an impression to make. I walked over, and said, “Well, aren’t you smart?” Then I took that cot and flipped it right in the middle of him.

He stood up, towering over me like a big gorilla, stared down at me and drew back. Now, the thing about big ole boys like Johnson is that they might have a lot of muscle and power, but for a lightweight class like me, they move like molasses. So that’s the last he saw. When he drew his big arm back, my fist landed square on his chin before his pea brain could register what hit him. He dropped like a loose button, out cold as a cucumber.

When Johnson started to stir a bit, he looked at me with surprise and reached up to feel his mouth, like he was making sure all his teeth were still there.

“It’s okay,” I told him. “I know a couple of folks without any teeth and they can still eat almost anything.”

He sat there glaring at me and I kept talking.

“And if you keep puckerin’ like that, pretty soon you’re your face is gonna match your asshole. Now get up!”

Everybody laughed except for Johnson. I guess he didn’t think it was funny. But he did stand up and, so far, Johnson and the rest of the cooks barracks have been looking at me in a different light. I don’t count on Johnson looking down on me ever again. Besides, he couldn’t fight the gnats off his butt.

I suppose the fighting Instinct was born in me, like red is born into a beet. Maybe because I started fighting in first grade when I had to stick that pocketknife into the thigh of Tommy Burns so he wouldn’t take my marbles.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story




A Boxing Tradition-Thanks, Daddy

So recently, my one-year-old granddaughter came to watch me box (see picture below). As many of you know, I love boxing. Not competitively, of course. I do it for fitness. We hit pads and bags, practice defensive, etc. We kick, too, but being a good kicker is not in my DNA. Let me explain.

My paternal grandfather was a carnival boxer in the early 1930’s. That meant he would seek out the carnivals and would box the “main” contender. If he won, which he usually did, he earned 5 buckeroos.

In the later 1940’s, my Dad boxed for the Army as Kid Dennis. I still have his boxing bag, gloves, and trunks that read “Kid.” (The story of Dad’s boxing retaliation against my grandfather is a major plot thread in my novel, No Hill for a Stepper.)

Dad quit boxing when he married my mother but continued the sport by becoming a referee. When my sister was born, he gave her little blue boxing glove rattles. After my parents died, and when my sister and I had to sort through the house, I found them! I told my sister, “I’m keeping these!” (she didn’t fight me for them).  Now, I keep the little rattles in my boxing bag for inspiration.

Here’s my granddaughter holding one of the little rattles.


Baby and Me

Do I think my granddaughter should continue the tradition? It matters not. What does matter is that she learns to defend and stand up for herself. And, as Dad often reminded me, “pay attention to your surroundings at all times.” Sound advice.

Thanks, Daddy.

Boxing Tradition and life metaphors

(Featured image is my play on words)

Yes, it is Boxing Day. But in my life, it means I wrap my hands and plunk on my 16 oz. gloves. But it means more…


Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn

My grandfather boxed whenever a traveling carnival came near his town. If he beat the headliner -which he usually did- he earned 5 whole dollars (a lot back then).

My dad boxed in the Army and later became a ref.


My dad at 18

I’ve been boxing for almost twenty years. I don’t hit people. I hit bags and pads. But I hit like I am boxing myself out of a corner. What I’ve learned are a few metaphors on life.

-protect yourself at all times (stand up for yourself)

-don’t be the one who goes down for the count (stay alert)

-roll with the punches (go with the flow)

-don’t let down your guard (be aware)

-don’t pull any punches (be honest)

-don’t hit below the belt (stay kind)


A painting I did after seeing a match at Madison Square Garden


Joe Louis, of course