Boxing is an individual sport. Once you are certain that you want to be a boxer, you realize that you will need self-discipline like a doctor or a lawyer.

Learning to box is simple: roadwork to prepare and condition your body for training, exercise to develop coordination and strength, shadow boxing and developing your punches, bag work to increase your punching ability, sparring to develop your timing and competition to sharpen your skills.

I run several miles a day. Depending on your age and ability, start slowly, build gradually. If you are between 7 and 13, try running several blocks daily. If you are over 13, begin with that and extent it upward slowly to two or three miles. Run in the morning, before school, when the air is fresh and there aren't many cars on the road.

Running is important because it builds up your leg muscles. A good boxer needs strong legs to move through the late rounds of a bout. Muhammad Ali runs three to five miles a day. After you get to a certain point, sprint no more than 100 yards to build up your wind. While you are running, keep your arms in constant rotation. Practice the throwing punches in a left-right combination to develop coordination. Swing your arms from your shoulders. Move while you're running and don't be afraid to put your back into it.

Start a program of body conditioning to sharpen your flexes and improve muscle tone. I go through 150 jumping jacks, 50 deep knee bends, 50 windmills and 150 situps before and after a workout. Jumping rope, too, develops speed and coordination. They all have a specific purpose. Some develop muscle, some hand-eye coordination, some the heart and many motor skills.

Shadow boxing is important because it lets you and your coach see what mistakes you are making. Stand in front of a mirror. Now if you are right-handed, step slightly forward with your left foot. Stay balanced, draw your fists up close in front of your chin to protect yourself. Keep your arms and elbows close in front to the sides of your chest.

Footwork is very important. If you look back to the years 1920-30, boxers didn't really have the type of footwork we have today. They were just straight-up robots, they walked at you like robots. Today, though, it's different, boxing has become a martial art. Now being in a lateral position, just walking from side to side, without putting one foot on top of the other. This will keep your opponent off balance, uncertain about you where you'll be or where your punch is coming from next.

The jab is a short punch thrown from your shoulder, straight out, then returned with the elbow acting like a piston. It is an important punch because it keeps your opponent off balance, drawing him closer or keeping him farther away.

Extending your jab will bring you one step closer to the mirror. Always remember to keep the leg on the side jab with ahead of you to maintain balance. Like walking, never put one foot across the other. Balance is the main point in a boxer's career.

Use of the jab depends on the type of boxer you want to be. Joe Frazier very seldom uses the jab; He's not that type of boxer, he's a puncher. Ali uses the jab to build up points, keep his man away and off balance and he uses it to get inside. The jab will get you in closer to throw your right hand. This left jab, right hand is the most elementary combination.

The right hand is thrown from the same position as the left jab. From the shoulder, extend the arm outward, then bring it back, but as you begin to throw it, you twist your body at a 30 degree angle, just enough to get it off. Pivots slightly on the ball of your right foot. Keep your left foot in front of you to maintain your balance.

The left hook is thrown from the shoulder, with the elbow bent into a 90 degree angle. You don't want to get into the habit of throwing punches from all directions, that's not effective, so throw every punch from the shoulder.

Few fighters can throw a left hook without going off balance, but your next right is going to straighten you up. Everything in boxing is parallel, throw a jab, then throw a right to straighten you up. A lot of boxers, though, simply slap out the hook. Build it up on the heavy bag. Don't be discouraged with any of your punches if you don't get them right away. It takes practice. They're simple, but they're not easy.

Working on the heavy or speed bag will build up your confidence, because they're not going to hit you back. Working the bags you develop power and skills. The heavy bag develops your punch. You feel whether or not you are throwing them properly. The smaller or "peanut" bag is called the speed bag, because it is in constant motion, helps your hands develop speed and coordination. Once you can hit it three consecutive times, your speed is developing.

When preparing for the Olympics, I knew I was ready when I hit the speed bag 10 times in succession. Practice working on the small bag without blinking. Later, you can transfer this stare to your opponents hands, because they're what's going to hit you.

When you enter the ring for a sparring session, it's up to you to utilize these techniques. Take your time on the canvas. Learn, develop and concentrate on your basic punches. Starting out, a lot of kids like to get into the ring and be Ali, do the shuffle. But it took years of dedication to learn and perfect the shuffle. Some boxers have natural ability and their progress will be faster. But all progress is measured by sacrifice and perseverance. The learning stage is never ending, even talent needs training.

Seek help from an established program. Boys Clubs, YMCAs, schools and community recreation centers offer boxing programs.If you are fortunate, you'll find a good coach - one who looks after his fighters as something more than boxers, as human beings. A good coach will stress the importance of wearing properly fitted headgear and mouthpieces. He will emphasize clean fighting, teaching you to remain cool in the ring at all times, because an angry fighter is a dangerous fighter.