When I was eight, I remember my father asking me to join him in watching a boxing match on TV after dinner one night. The images that flashed across my screen both scared and appalled me – I couldn’t fathom my father’s almost fanatical love for watching two people knock each other out. And yet, today, I watch Youtube videos of Mohammed Ali flitting around the ring with the absorption of a scientist observing her own experiment.

Something largely misunderstood about boxing is that it is viewed as “legalized violence” But after several months of training and observing others at my boxing gym, I’ve discovered that people box not as a sanctioned means of hitting others, but as a way to challenge themselves and overcome internal conflict within a surprisingly supportive community.

The professional boxers at Beaver Boxing club in Ottawa, Ontario caught my attention from the moment I first stepped into the club. Seeing the aggressive way they worked on the heavy bags, the powers flowing through each punch, and the intensity in their eyes raised questions of doubt in my mind. Is boxing really just a battleground for naturally violent people?

This was before I watched the boxers climb into the ring. I could see it in their stance— the way they managed to be both loose and coiled at the same time, the careful shift of their shoulders, and the dart of their eyes as they searched for the most strategic approach. These boxers were controlled and disciplined. Inhibited violence had no place in the ring.

Joining boxing lessons helped to further rectify this point. In the first five minutes, there were twenty pushups, fifty squats, and a hundred jumping jacks just as an intro to the course. “You have to instill a hard work ethic right off the bat,” said the instructor of the beginner class. “Show students that the club is serious, that it’s a step by step process and that no one is a superstar in the beginning. Get rid of their egos.”

Put a bloodthirsty fighter in the ring against a professional and mentally disciplined boxer and, like an angry bull against a matador, the most unhinged and violent competitor is not going to be the one who walks away. In fact, the audience is usually far more bloodthirsty than the boxer.

From the armchair of my home, I looked at the TV screen and saw boxing as “man vs man.” From inside the ring, boxing is “man vs himself”. A boxer stepping up to the stage is already fighting the worst fight of the night— the fight against his own fear. While an athlete in other sport can learn to master her equipment, a boxer can only rely on her skills against an opponent who could potentially dominate and thus humiliate her opponent. Every boxer must be trained to maintain an impenetrable concentration, employ patience and overcome internal conflict.

Another aspect of boxing that surprises me is the level of kinship between boxers. Although boxing is not a team sport, it’s not individualistic either. When asked why he signed his children up for his high contact sport, a parent replied, “I wanted [my kids] to feel like part of a community.” There is a certain camaraderie between boxers in training, particularly more competitive boxers. Boxers will not hesitate to help each other reach their maximum in skills.

Boxing is a misunderstood sport. Its name conjures images of unrestricted violence, but a boxer could never make it far on brutality. A boxer must be mentally disciplined, she must learn to overcome internal conflict, and she will always have support within the community.

I consider myself a pacifist – I don’t support war, violence, or even schoolyard fight. However, I believe in boxing.

Feature photo courtesy of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaFBedKUwsM