Andrew Flintoff has tried it, Rio Ferdinand has just announced that he’s giving it a go and so I, Caroline Kings thought I’d give it a try too …. well not really quite to the same extent as Fred and Rio but I was certainly game! Locally there is Olympia Boxing in Tonbridge which is boxing training designed for children from five upwards and the Sevenoaks Amateur Boxing Club (SABC) in Weald where two of my friends, one a man and one a woman, go to box. Intrigued, I was keen to have a go and try to understand the draw.
I decided to ‘throw my hat into the ring’ and immerse myself in the boxing experience: as pretty much a complete novice to boxing, I went along to SABC on the Gaza Estate in the gorgeous village of Weald to try out a Boxercise class at 9.30am one Friday morning. The gym is certainly no-frills but with egos left at the door, the mixed class welcomed me with open arms and gloved hands as I saw for myself what they later described as the ‘family’ environment at SABC. The father figure of the SABC family is the charismatic Paul Lynch, a 56-year-old former amateur boxer who has made boxing his life.
Paul’s boxing story began in Bermondsey, south east London as a boy aged eight. Encouraged by family members and progressing from light middle-weight to heavy weight during his career, he had 56 amateur bouts, winning the majority, although he’s rather modest on exactly how many.
Paul moved out to Kent in the late 1970s and after attending boxing gyms around the Sevenoaks area, he set-up in Weald about twelve years ago. He runs the gym alongside his nephews and with numerous other family members involved in the administrative side of running a gym – it really is a family affair.
The Boxercise class started with a skipping warm-up – I was channelling Rocky Bilbao for sure – and progressed to some Fartlek training involving light jogging, sprinting, squats, floor work and of course, punching that bag! Paul was helpful throughout, showing me the ropes, encouraging us, in his own way – “You look like your milking cows!” – and providing alternatives to some of the exercises due to some longstanding injuries of mine. After some persuasion, encouraged by my class-mates and inspired by the many famous boxers’ faces adorning the walls, I reluctantly had my turn in the ring with Paul’s nephew Andrew. I felt rather self-conscious but once I started, I realised that no one was watching, if they were they were being supportive, such is the environment and that I really enjoyed it! The pad work made me concentrate and focus and it was a fantastic way to relieve the stress of the week!
The class ended with the obligatory stretching and other participants telling me how much they enjoy it and how they’ve seen their fitness improve, losing weight and inches along the way. Lynn Kennedy told me how she’s lost two stone in two years through consistent twice a week training at SABC combined with running with her dog. “This has changed my body shape, I’ve lost about five inches around my waist,” she added.
As Paul and I sit down for a chat, two men from the class step into the ring for another hour of boxing, gloves on and ready to fight. One of them, Matthew Russell, a gin distiller, later told me that he really looks forward to his Friday morning boxing – it’s a way for him to increase his fitness levels, complimenting the running and swimming that he does on other days.
During our chat, Paul informs me that the class I endured had been an ‘easy’ Boxercise class, and reading between the lines, I think that might have been especially for me! Normally, he deviates from the traditional Boxercise lesson plans a little, using his experience and knowledge of the sport to make the classes more challenging. I confessed that I found the switch between exercises in the Fartlek section difficult (press-ups to sit-ups, for example, within a very short time frame) and he explained that as an amateur boxer used to three, three-minute round fights, he trains with the aim of anaerobic fitness, the fitness you need for the short bursts of energy required for that level of boxing.
“Professional fighters have ten, twelve rounds so they can take their time, but amateur boxers are in and out and so need to maximise their time in the ring.”
As the guys in the ring sweated some more, Paul and I talk about what else SABC has to offer. Seniors’ boxing is for anyone over 17 years of age who would like to take their boxing up a notch and this is where you’ll find the boxing stars of the future training: Lewis Syrett is a graduate of SABC and he would’ve trained alongside the likes of my friend who goes, such is the inclusive and encouraging nature of the gym. The Fat Dads’ Club is, as you’d expect, for mums, dads and children to attend on a Sunday morning.
Paul contributes to the Sevenoaks Pink Week in aid of Breast Cancer Care by taking along a boxing ring and for a donation, allowing the public to have a go at a punch bag. He also helps the Teenage Cancer Trust and Cheshire Homes in Chipstead, providing disabled residents of the home with a different outlet and exercise opportunities. And, of course, they train children too.
Both Paul and Wayne Smith of Olympia Boxing are in agreement that boxing may be perceived as a “thuggish sport” as Paul describes it, but that there is far more to it than that. SABC and Olympia encourage boys and girls to join classes where the children will improve their levels of fitness, enjoy pad work and a non-contact version of the sport whilst learning self-discipline. Wayne is eager to point out that although some parents think that once a child steps into a boxing gym, they’ll be in the ring straightaway, this certainly isn’t the case. As with any sport, the children are eased in gradually, learn the key skills of boxing, and if they want to ‘fight’ they’ll be signposted to a suitable gym, such as SABC.
Wayne himself started at SABC and after gaining coaching qualifications, went on to be a Kent County coach and England coach. He and three others started Olympia Boxing in Tonbridge to “bridge the gap between boxing and young people,” as Wayne evangelises.
He explained that some children might find it intimidating to walk into a boxing gym but by taking boxing to them, into schools in the shape of before, after and lunch time clubs, they’re introducing the sport in an environment where children already feel comfortable.
As well as working in schools across Kent, Olympia also works within the community, training youth offenders for example and partnering with charities such as MIND, the mental health and wellbeing charity and the Autism Consortium. Their programme allows participants to strive towards awards for strength and conditioning and core boxing skills which helps children see their progress.
Interestingly, Wayne tells me, England Boxing has seen the highest uptake of boxing in the UK in the southern English counties, such as Kent and they are crediting that increase to Olympia Boxing.
But Wayne isn’t limited to Kent or the south east, taking Olympia’s mobile boxing ring across the country – eight punch bags and a twelve-foot ring have been as far as Manchester in Wayne’s mission to “bring boxing to the people.”
I return to the thuggish nature of the sport with Paul and Wayne: Paul describes boxing as “the noble art of self-defence” and art, is how he sees it. He elaborates by telling me about how he used to like to fight, being light on his feet, ducking and diving for sure but putting on a show. He wanted to be in the ring as long as possible and not just for the ultimate goal of winning, entertaining his audience with the art of boxing. Wayne likens boxing to other physical sports such as rugby – he admits that boxing is a sport that is all about hitting people but tells me it’s extremely rare to experience a bad injury – he’s suffered far more on the rugby pitch!
Boxing receives a lot of media attention thanks to the big money attracted to the sport and the sport’s celebrities. But at the grass-roots’ level, it strikes me that boxing is all about discipline, fitness and like a lot of other sports, the community – providing young and old, the able and disabled with another arena in which to have a go and potentially excel. I can see the draw.
Sevenoaks Amateur Boxing Club – for details of classes and personal training with Paul, sponsoring the club or information about their ‘fundraising ball with bouts’ at Walthamstow Hall – please visit www.sevenoaksboxing.co.uk.
Olympia Boxing can be contacted at www.olympiaboxing.co.uk.
By Caroline Kings (firstname.lastname@example.org)