A photograph is worth a thousand words, but it will take more than 1000 words to describe to you the smelly emotion of boxing.
“It started of as a joke,” says Koya KuSe, the club president. “Initially it was called fight club.”
When Koya started university in autumn 2014, he saw that there was no boxing club, so he made a Facebook page to reach out to people. The word spread and through the group he found interest and coaches — one of whom was Toto.
Toto, a five-time second-class middleweight champion, is a very good character for coaching. “He pushes you,” says Joe (picture later on), after expressing his fascination and admiration for the 18-year-old coach. When I first met him, he told me he is very mixed, and had lived in many places over the years. It intrigued me so I asked him how living in the different places has affected his boxing.
“Starting from Azerbaijan, boxing is considered to be as one of the most important ways of living, it is conceived to be a school not a place where you go to throw punches, everything that involves boxing in Baku (capital city) involves huge amount responsibility and respect, in Azerbaijan boxing taught me to be aware of skills that I’m learning, it teaches you how to know your limits your strength and how to never cross the line and think of boxing as something to brag about.”
“Turkish boxing influences in a way that you learn defensive boxing, most of the time in Turkey and in Championships I only was defending myself something that I haven’t done in Azerbaijan or Russia, waiting for my opponent to exhaust himself and then run basic and several sets of combinations to finish off. To this day I have felt pride of training and boxing in Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia (partly in the UK and Australia) because the skills that I have now attained that project towards the students in U of T boxing club is all amalgamation of defense taken from Turkey, “wall-to-wall” working off of techniques from Russia and most importantly for me, the ethical and moral lessons taught and brought from Azerbaijan.”
He does not let excuse go in between training and learning. If you train well, you will learn, but if you train badly, you will not. He does not let the latter happen.
Koya started boxing 5 years ago when him and his mother decided to take a Kickboxing class together. “I did it to lose weight” exclaims Koya with slightly outstretched hands and makes a little shrug. I was flabbergasted and exclaimed ‘There are so many ways you could lose weight!” he responds with “I don’t know. It’s really not that special.”
He may not think it special, but you the effects of his actions cannot be denied.
“Boxing, the thrill of being able to interact with your opponent. It’s really interesting because there are no words. All that it is is just your stare and you pretty much talk through your fist. And I think that kind of communication is unique, different form the usual verbal interaction that you would experience.
One day, when one my friends — he has been boxing since he was little — decided to pull me over. He brought me into a ring and he just started hitting me. Hitting me, showing me all his techniques. That sort of sparked something in me, all at once, that he was this tough person that he could just sort of punch so elegantly. That he could communicate his techniques with me in such a way and I began to learn from him and that is why I continue to box today. And I just want to one day match him. To be able to fight one on one.”
Koya is a local of Paris — half French and half Japanese.
“You can feel the difference of culture when boxing, the social background too. My Italian teacher was more expressive in his boxing style. I trained in Japan at a club that was in the middle of the financial district so it was very clean, almost too clean.
The trainings were planned in advance and there was no spirit whatsoever I was very disappointed but I guess that I learnt that some people consider boxing solely as a way of relaxing and that’s it. Almost like a tool you know? It had to be cost efficient… Boxing was not supposed to bring you a feeling of pleasure but relax you as much as it could before returning to your shitty salary man in the financial district life. Which is not our point of view.
But in Japan I also trained with a former world champion (I train with him each time I go back) and in one hour I learnt more than the week I spent at the other club. The world champions level is outstanding. The French way of boxing is well illustrated by this sentence, I’ve always heard “if you punch expect to be punch too”. French people love martial art and combat sport, after Japan the country where judo is the most practiced is France for example. They just love fighting!”
I created a scenario: “What if a shy girl who knows nothing about boxing and not physically comes to join the club? How would you treat her?” and asked the men what they would do.
I was thoroughly impressed with their answer:
“These people come from different families and different cultures. And on the first day they were different, they weren’t socialising, they weren’t connecting. After one hour, they became part of something unified. One. We didn’t care about age, culture, languages, race; everyone was one. Same age. Same culture. Same jokes. Everything was the same.
The gender difference isn’t really relevant. We usually pair people according to their height, body size, so I don’t know see a problem. A tall guy and a tall girl, they will be together.”
We don’t want to separate boys with boys or girls with girls, what we’re doing is integrating them both. Teaching them the education, life education. Sometimes you will be ain a situation, I hope not, where a girl might fight a man. She has to know what it will feel like. Also from the perspective from the 21-century, it is wrong to pair and girl with a girl. It is right to integrate them both.
Feminism at its best . . . Equal.
“When I see them being bored. I think I have failed as a teacher. The biggest fear is to see them be bored. That’s it. That is the hardest.”
“We try different things to overcome boredom. Music. Yes. Yes. We have play a wide range of music, get different moods in place.”
“Right now, they have six coaches and they would like to have a female coach. We would like to find someone this year and next year so that when we graduate we can pass it on. Our legacy.”
What we want from the university: At least opening up a dialogue.
Please visit this link for more photographs.
Photographs and text by Sandy Ma.