AS FITNESS EXERCISES go, a punching bag (maybe with the painted face of a hate object) can get you nice and sweaty. The object of the fitness program is to just hit this heavy object, usually swinging from a hook and having the rough dimension of the human torso or a sack of rice, and just dance around it. Loud music helps hype up the adrenaline for the swinging of the fists. It’s a bit more aggressive than yoga.

Maybe you can wear boxing gloves so you don’t hurt your fists as they smash into a heavy swinging object. (Never mind the expression “taking the gloves off” to imply administering a savage attack.) A trainer can assist you and hold the bag still, so you don’t miss it with your swings. He may be absorbing the blows too, but that’s his job. The bag after all is swinging around with each punch, no matter how weak. What if it swings back and seems to fight back. Still, it’s not a real boxing match. Only one side is raining blows. The object just takes them.

This simple fitness regime sheds calories faster than just jumping to conclusions or stretching the truth. It can also describe a leadership style. This is not limited to a particular boxer who had not completely turned in his gloves when he jumped into the political ring. In fact he is still keeping in shape for the next booking. Of course, this pandemic is not helpful in fixing a pairing, or a date.

In managing a crisis, the “punching bag” approach suggests lashing out with a flurry of fists and grunts at a heavy target not expected to retaliate in any way whatsoever. A bag swinging from a hook is expected to just hang in there. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s there to absorb blows.

The war freak or bully can work off his aggression on a punching bag. He doesn’t need to feel guilty that his blows, even if accompanied by invectives and shouts, are doing anybody any harm. Of course neighbors or others socially distanced from him at the gym, when they are allowed to open again, may be put off by the noise. But with the other grunting gym rats working on stationary bikes or lifting weights, who really pays attention to the shouting?

Hitting the bag is not intended to be a spectator sport. Where’s the thrill for the sports fan?  There is no contest between a man throwing punches and a target that does not even duck or wince. It’s too one-sided and predictable. But who can account for tastes? The fitness buff is enjoying himself and maybe his friends like to applaud his effort. And they may even join in with sticks and hammers.

There is no punching-bag lobby group, or even a party list representing inanimate objects of assault. (Well, there’s an idea some family might adopt — punch, punch, punch party list?) So, even advocates against domestic violence will find no torch to carry for a mere bag filled with sand, rags, and grains, sometimes some water too. It is designed to take the blows — bring them on.

As an approach to problem-solving, punching bags shows no effectiveness even in defining a problem, much less in providing a meaningful response to a crisis. Its limited appeal is probably to remove stress and work off unresolved aggressions.

More problematical is when the punching bag does not already hang from a hook and is placed there instead for sport. Even worse if the bag has arms and legs, and breathing heavily. This approach shows some similarity to the scapegoat. In biblical times, this animal is made to bear the blame for all catastrophes and is let loose in the wilderness to be devoured by predators. Or sometimes it is tied to a stake and left there for the same purpose.

The punching bag can be made to take the blows for a crisis, if only as a distraction. The mention of the name of the punching bag is a call for others to join in the attack. And then — there they go. It’s time to hit the sack.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda