Right hook, left jab - Boxing in the evenings.
"You ain't Mayweather - none of my boxers should do this," the trainer drops fists to his side. "It leaves you open, leaves your head open."
He snaps his arms and fist into a shield in front of him. This stance, he explained, probably for the thousandth time, protects you. Your opponent can jab at this all day and you can take it. But put those hands down? You're inviting an instant loss.
The youths listened with rapt attention, their breaths short and their muscles burning. It was just another Sunday evening at the Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club.
The evening started with the members warming up. The gym was mostly quiet, save for the symphony of grunts as the youths shadow-boxed. First, their fists close to their faces and chest - then a quick jab forward. Then withdraw. Rinse and repeat. The trainer walks around, warming up as well but also instructing those under him the correct form to take.
Once they were done with shadow boxing, the gym was divided into two.
"Alright. Half of you go to your bags. The rest will be sparring in the ring." The members picked up their gloves and got set to their task. There was no space for distraction here - whether you're sparring with your fellow member or taking a go at the bags, discipline was the underlying code for all those that joined this community boxing club.
The Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club was first set up in 2008 by firefighters who wanted to give back to the community. There was an unused storage unit behind the fire station - so Nigel Travis, a firefighter, and his two other mates decided to convert it into a boxing gym. In communities where youths are in danger to be enticed by drugs or gangs - it's here where community effort and connectedness is most pivotal.
The wall above the boxing ring speaks the ethos of the club in three words: Discipline. Respect. Courage. Under the ethos of 'Respect' laid these five foundations:
- Respect the gym.
- Respect the coaches.
- Respect other gym users.
- Respect yourself.
- Respect the community.
In fact, in 2015, a young member of the boxing gym who turned his life around won the national title. He entered the gym at a point in his life when things were unsteady and his confidence was low due to life events. The supportive community at the boxing gym kept him straight and gave him both the motivation and discipline to improve, eventually earning him a Class A belt in the under-65kg category at the National Association of Girls and Boys Clubs Championship.
That ethos of respect was clear among its members. If one were to look around at the members of the gym, it would be immediately clear that your background did not matter once you set into these doors. Or for that matter, even when you step outside of it. It was clear that boxing was not only for men, as one would traditionally assume - there were a number of women members present.
And in the ring, you were equals.
It was mesmerizing to watch the boxers spar. They would circle around one another, dodging and countering with rapid precision. Left jab. Dodge under. Right hook. Manevour aside. The boxers exchanged these blows and jabs - communicating with their feet and fists. An intensity drawn into their eyes as they narrowed their focus on their sparring partner.
And during the whole time, the trainer would walk around, observing their form. Commenting and instructing them on how to improve. Always, it was the same: "keep your arms up here!" his two arms and fists forming a barrier between the space in front and his face.
Each spar lasted for a minute, which by the end, the partners would swap and move to the shadow-boxing the bags - giving everyone a chance at it.
By the time it was 6.30 P.M., the trainer had gathered everyone. Today's session was done. Surprisingly, he didn't remind them of the hand-guard position. The members left the gym, reaching for their duffel bags and hanging their gloves, red and blue - on the ropes. The gym smelled of sweat; a strong focus and determination that seeped into its very being.
The posters of boxers and past boxing matches served as a reminder of that goal. It wasn't the medal; it wasn't the glory. It was rising above yourself through the lasting values of discipline, courage and respect. This was what the Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club was all about.