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The dreams of Lyon Woodstock

Leon Woodstock
James Chance/Getty Images
Lyon Woodstock has a story to tell and it’s one that deserves to be heard. Terry Dooley introduces you to the inspirational boxer

WHEN Boxing News caught up with Lyon Woodstock, 12-2 (5), he wanted to talk about a dream day he experienced recently. It was perfectly normal and perfect in its normality, and it has changed his outlook on everything. “I woke up, got out of bed and got ready for training,” he recalled.  

“I remember thinking it is such a nice day,” he continued. “Everything felt so real. I could really feel the breeze on my skin. My coach, Ajmal Butt, tells me that I look a lot better and that I can bring everything together in my boxing. I trained, I didn’t get tired — it felt beautiful, man. Then I sparred well.

“Walking home in the sunshine was so great. I told my mum it had been perfect. Then there is a knock at the door and my five-year-old daughter is there, she says: ‘I’ve come to see you’. So I take her in to see her nana. We’re just playing and talking. The day ended perfectly.”

You may have done a double-take at the mention of a small child travelling on her own to see her father. That is because Woodstock’s picture-perfect day came to him in a dream he had after an intense period of meditating led to breakthroughs that helped him assess who he is, where he has been and, crucially, where he wants to go.

It happened on January 24. The beginning of the start of Woodstock’s new life. It also helped him draw a line under the bad times that followed in the aftermath of his defeats to Archie Sharp and Zelfa Barrett (decision defeats for the WBO European, his first defence of that title, and Commonwealth super-featherweight titles in 2018 and 2019 respectively).

“You look back and think to yourself: ‘Why did I think that? Why did I say and act that way?’ People need a mirror on themselves, I never had that back then. Since the Archie fight, even before it, there was a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t face and address at the time. I had a lot of troubles with my relationships. The one with me and my coach was slowly starting to deteriorate. 

“When things happen slowly you often don’t notice. I’d always been close to him as I never had a male role model in my life apart from my grandfather (his namesake Lyon Woodstock Snr). Ajmal is a father figure to me. I hit a brick wall mentally. I realised that if I wanted to attain what I’d asked the universe for I had to lose against Archie or the message would have never come through.

“The day after that loss I broke up with my girlfriend and then didn’t see my daughter for three months. A lot was going on, I was wondering why so much was going wrong for me. I was acting in the wrong way. It was the arrogance and petulance of youth driving me. I was waking up with mad thoughts. I didn’t want to eat, brush my teeth, do my hair or do anything. I was consistently at home in my thoughts and feeling like s**t. I’m not trying to say there was any mental unwellness going on, as people self-diagnose and throw that about too quickly, but I was low in myself.

“Then you do stuff for yourself like eating better, meditation and just thinking positively, and it reacts with the atoms in your body by giving them positive energy. You can be positive or negative, if you are positive you start effecting your anatomy and your mind. You learn how powerful the mind is, how it can affect the material world, and you start to change how you view and live your life.

“The life of an athlete is a complicated one as you go through things that people don’t have to go through in their life,” he added. “I was so confused. I was in a in a dark, wet, and bleak hole, whenever I got near to the top of it, I’d fall back down. If it is one thing at a time you can cope a bit better, but all of that happening at once makes you think: ‘What is all this?!’ It changed when I learned how to meditate properly.”

Lyon Woodstock of England looks on after knocking down Ignac Kassai of Hungary Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

There is a skill to meditation. Some like to clear their mind completely and texts such as The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying can help you find techniques for that. On some occasions, though, the best form of it is when you fall into a reverie. Everything feels and sounds differently, almost ethereal, and you are thoughtless while also being lost in your thoughts.

For me, Samuel Beckett described it best in Krapp’s Last Tape when writing, ‘We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side’, in reference to an idle, idyllic day from his past that haunted him after he had slipped into the vale of years.

The Mandukya Upanishad uses the sacred syllable AUM to illustrate it, too, by stating that meditation draws our minds into consideration of the four states: waking (A — the gross body), the dreaming mind (U — the subtle body), the state of deep sleep (M — the causal body). If you are lucky you reach the fourth state, Turiya, which is pure consciousness and transcendence of the previous states. You are at once within and without yourself. Woodstock hit this point on the day of his low-key epic dream.

“This voice was telling me that it loved me, that I needed to carry on, and it was a comforting experience to know that we are not left to our own devices, something is there encouraging us. I felt that I was speaking to my consciousness for the first time, and it was so loving and caring. I’m an over-thinker, I was struggling to sleep and I wasn’t dreaming. Then this experience happened and took a massive weight from me. For the first time in years there was just silence, a silence only I could break if I wanted to speak to myself and hear myself. It was surreal and poignant at the same time,” he said.

The 26-year-old also dreams of titles and success in boxing yet he believes that he was holding himself back mentally as well as physically due to the maelstrom of thoughts he was carrying around. He told me that his improvements will be on display when he features on a Clifton Mitchell-promoted bill, although he is still guided by Frank Warren.

“I wouldn’t say I found my perfect style, but I felt good in my fight after Archie [a decision win over Sergio Gonzalez last March] and that it was all coming together in my boxing. I’d found this new confidence then felt I didn’t have enough time living with it before going into the Zelfa fight.

“If there it was a bar that goes to 100 per cent I was probably only at around 60. We all have different ways and timescales when it comes to the evaluation of ourselves. I wouldn’t say it was too early in terms of my skill, ability, and fitness. It was more about where I was mentally, I wasn’t the complete package yet.”

Woodstock’s introspective states have also highlighted parts of his past that he had tried to turn his back on. Due to its very nature domestic violence lurks behind closed doors. Like the bruises it leaves, it can be hidden from sight, shrouded in the mystery of what happens between two people when the world is not looking.

“I used to watch my dad beat the s**t out of my mum and I’m not angry at him,” he revealed. “I don’t know why he was doing what he was doing. Then I found out that he’d been through a lot of stuff in his own life and childhood, and things made more sense.”

Ultimately, his mother, Zenita, took the necessary steps by relocating from London to Leicester after striking out on her own when Lyon was eight. “My mum kicked him out in the end,” said Woodstock. “It was building up slowly over time.

“She didn’t want a controlling, dominating, and aggressive presence in our lives. He wanted to control everything with aggression and violence. I remember her telling him: ‘Get the f**k out my house!’ Dad was shocked. He didn’t realise that she meant it this time.

“My mum is a strong woman, I don’t know if I could do the job she did in the situation she was in. She had been in an abusive relationship previously and must have started to think it was normal, just like I thought all that stuff in my head was normal until I came to the realisation that things had to change. I respect how strong she was.

“Subconsciously, I blocked a lot of stuff out and only remembered them when I went deeply into myself. I’d ask my mum if stuff really happened and she’d say ‘Yes’, and I couldn’t believe how much I’d locked away in my consciousness and why my childhood mind had not remembered something in order to protect myself.

“Allowing them thoughts and memories back allowed me to understand myself and who I am. A lot of people don’t like to be with themselves, they need to be surrounded by people, friends and family, and don’t get to spend time alone with themselves. I went into the deepest depths of my consciousness to try to find myself. I spent a lot of time with myself.

“I don’t judge people. I feel like that empowers me, allowing me to sort out the s**t that is in my head and say it out loud. My dad is not a stupid guy, he knows that people know what he did and the part he played in my life. For a man who holds himself with regard in his own right — and he must do as we all have an ego — to go out to my fights knowing that he is in a room full of people who know, this takes something massive. I don’t know if I’d have been able to do that.

“I love the fact he supports me, and that my mum and dad talk now. That is what life is about, learning on your journey and helping the people who are standing still. Don’t push those people away even if they’ve made you feel a certain way. They are the people who need our help.”

The icing on the cake for Woodstock is the fact he now has access to his daughter, Kiola, and despite a difficult split with her mother he can now enjoy quality time with her. Something that seemed a long way away at one point during more turbulent times.

“I got a FaceTime on my phone from my ex, it turned out it was my daughter because she knew how to use it. It was during the period where she wasn’t made accessible to me. I answered and was like: ‘What the hell?’ My daughter wanted to see me and talk to me. She went downstairs, her mum asked who she was on the phone to and then hung up when my daughter told her.

“In my head, though, it was a sign that she got the iPad, knew how to phone her dad and she was calling because she misses me — it blew my mind that a five-year-old could even work that thing. I knew it was only a matter of time before she asked certain questions about why she wasn’t seeing me. It is beautiful to see my daughter. The way she is progressing in life, the way they look up to you, and the way they develop their own character and personality is an amazing thing.”

Moving forward, Woodstock wants to be a successful boxer then help other people who are going through tough times by becoming a counsellor or life coach. Boxing called to him early, his grandfather boxed as a youth, and so too did the desire to help others overcome life’s obstacles.

“I like to think that people can talk to me, they can be open and transparent and feel safe,” he said, his voice dripping with purpose, pride and passion. “When I was in year five, a kid was having family s**t and all that. He wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. I remember we had a lesson on a Tuesday we could miss so we’d go to a room in the school where there was games and puzzles. He’d talk to me and I’d talk to the teachers. I thought I was just chilling with a mate, but in hindsight I was an empath at the age of nine.”

Woodstock’s psychological, physical and psychic self-audit led to a clearing in his mind, and with a busy 2020 diary in prospect his fans should see the fruits of his flights of transcendence. Whatever happens, it is the journey not the destination that defines us, and Woodstock is now enjoying every step of it.

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