Some years ago, an eleven year old boy named James came into the gym to get involved in our youth boxing. He was nervous, and not sure if he wanted to learn how to box. His mom brought him to KC's for many reasons. She wanted to find an activity that would offer him exercise, self defense, and community. Her boy was suffering and much of his pain was due to the recent death of his father. The monumental loss of the person who was his hero precipitated a cascade of unwelcomed events and behaviors. The lad was lost, angry, confused, and finding school to be a challenge. He could not focus very well and his attention drifted away easily in school. As the months passed, so much about him changed so quickly and he became a different boy. Others saw his challenges and a few were not kind and bullied him. Sadly, hurt people often hurt others.
His entry into our youth boxing classes was fiercely resisted, but his mom knew that this was the medicine he needed. James begged his mother not to make him do this activity. James had many fears and believed that our little gym would be physically demanding, and he did not wish to look weak. Also, it was bad enough being pushed around at school, but now bigger kids with a year or two of boxing could pose a far greater threat to his well being. Well, the only fear that materialized was the physical challenge. Yes, it was harder than he had ever worked in his young life, but the philosophy and community provided a connection to something much larger than himself. In time, he took joy in his increased strength and new earned boxing skills. His mother noticed that his focus became better and he was more in control of his emotions. The most important contribution to his growth came from the community of young people and coaches. At KC’s Fitness, we believe in teaching what we need to learn so we teach it over and over until we learn it. More experienced people invest in new students and this investment is nothing more than an opportunity to work on our own skill sets. Yes, self defense, and improvements in strength, agility and coordination become better, but this gym ethos leads to teamwork, camaraderie and strong bonds with other kids. Everyone teaches each other and the teaching of this discipline solidfies our own practice and helps others. This investment produces a win/win scenario and the support for each other enriches all of the youth boxers. Folks come to know one another through the connections made in class. These small investments in one another make the community stronger.
As time went on, and our lad grew in strength and confidence, he apporoached me one day and asked about the shields that adorn the walls of the gym. Some have been painted by local artists and others simply look like they belong in a Braveheart movie. James inquired why there were more shields than swords on the walls. "Maybe, you should get more swords and battle axes!” He pondered all of the weapons for a few moments and then asked where I acquired them and why I liked battle shields so much? I told him that they are appealing from a visual and decorative standpoint, but that they served a special purpose for me. They are a reminder that all of us must be a shield in life for others. I explained what a metaphor was and told him that the shields remind me that everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about, and there is never a reason not to be kind. People often think of defending other good souls in a physical sense. They see themselves as coming to the need of someone when they are bullied or being assaulted in some way. This is a limited understanding of protecting others we come into contact with. I explained that protection could be asking someone if they are ok when they look sad, or siting with that person in the cafeteria who always sits alone. Even holding a door open for the person behind you, and not hesitating to smile and be polite. Never, ever underestimate the effects of small acts of kindness. He smiled and said he understood. In time, I saw great things happen to James. His confidence increased, and his grades improved. The bullying died away completely. James smiled more and took leadership roles at school and became one of the better students at the gym. He stayed for two years and then returned to playing baseball which was his first love. James left it behind when he lost his dad, but boxing enabled him to return to it. Losing people is part of life and everyone will lose people, and thats why we need to be a shield for other good souls in this world. Our protection or love is an investment in the lives of others in our community. These acts of protection give people hope and the latter gives us a boost to move on and through tough times.
Today, James is doing great and he returns to boxing when baseball season ends. His mother mentioned to me that the gym brought her boy back to her. He has sad days like everyone but he has integrated the experience and is saying yes to life. I asked his mother if she could define the most positive changes and benefits of the youth boxing had on her boy, and she joked that it might be a long list and it might be easier to write them out. This was her response:
"The boxing coaches inspired my son. They taught him self defense and how to train his body. He saw improvements in his strength, power, agility, endurance, and eye hand coordination. All of these things boosted his confidence and has made him a better baseball player. His baseball coaches told me that he listens better and is more invested. The discipline and focus have carried over into his academics because the boxing coaches constantly stressed that academics should always come first, and James looked up to the coaches so much and wanted to impress them with his improvements outside the gym. He knows how to set goals, work hard and overcome challenges. The respect and investment from the other kids improved his self esteem and he made new friendships and bonds with more kids. All of these things allowed James to respect himself more and others. All in all, I would say that his mental health was enhanced even more at KC’s than it was through counseling. The philosophy of the gym helped him to control his emotions and all of these tools have brought him success. He loves the gym and coming back to it after baseball is like returning home."
James is not the only person who has found success and strength through the gym over the last thirty two years. There have been many hundreds of young people in Buffalo and Orchard Park that have benefitted greatly from their efforts at this great place. One of our members of thirty years calls them small miracles. Folks come down to train and often stay for many more reasons than they started. They find fitness, self defense, and valuable life skills, but most importantly, they find connection to others and a supportive community of great souls that enriches them immeasurably.