A knockout body workout
An increasingly number of women are choosing to throw punches to keep fit as the boxing trend hits Shanghai
Saturday afternoons can at times be an unusual affair for Zhao Qian and her four-year-old son. Instead of taking the boy to a park or an amusement center, the 31-year-old sometimes brings him along to the boxing studio that she frequents. Even at home, the child would create a makeshift ring using his toy cars and get his mother to spar with him.
Zhao picked up boxing just a year ago and it was, in a way, because of her son. She was desperate for a fitness regime to get back in shape after her son’s birth. Furthermore, she was also seeking something to break the monotony of parenting duties.
“Looking after a baby 24/7 can be depressing. Now I’m happy, especially on days when I have training,” quipped Zhao, who said she can now complete 15 push-ups using her fists in a minute.
“It has made me more patient with my son and I’ve also found a new topic to share with him,” she added.
According to Shane Benis, the founder of Golden Gloves Boxing Gym in Shanghai, there is a growing number of women in the city who are picking up the sport. Half of its customers are women with an average age of 29. Most of them are white collar workers, business women and stay-athome mothers. Half of them are Chinese.
“The boom in Chinese women’s boxing has been happening over the last 18 months. One of the reasons could be that many famous models include it as part of their fitness regime. For example, Chinese Victoria’s Secret models all use boxing to keep fit,” said Benis, who added that Shanghai is currently leading the way in terms of participation in the sport, and that Kunming and Beijing have vibrant boxing scenes too.
The Briton also runs white collar boxing events in Beijing and Shanghai through his other company CSP Events. He has arranged 20 events to date, with an average of 18 boxers participating in each event. “We always try to have at least one or two women’s bouts at each event,” he said.
Many women get into the sport because it has proven to be an effective way to lose weight. Because of the nature of the sport, boxing requires a great deal of cardiovascular activity, which makes for an excellent total body workout. Golden Gloves’ website claims that customers will be “burning up to 1,000 calories per hour and building more muscle definition than any other workout in the shortest amount of time”.
For others like undergraduate Liu Anqi and fashion editor Wang Kun, it is the mental aspect of boxing that has them hooked.
“When I practice, I just focus on my moves. All the other ‘windows’ are shut and that really helps to relieve stress,” said Liu.
“When practicing boxing you cannot think of work. Once you are distracted you might end up hitting your trainer,” quipped Wang, a fashion editor, who signed up for classes after just one trial session.
To cater to the rising interest in the sport, private trainer Tai Yifu said that more and more gyms in Shanghai, such as Will’s Gym, Tera Wellness Club and TideCaller, have started to offer boxing classes, many of which combine the Western style with other types such as Thai boxing and kick boxing.
Boxing can hardly be considered a popular sport in China, certainly not in the same league as basketball, badminton and table tennis.
It was not till 2004 that the country won its first ever Olympic boxing medal in Athens, courtesy of male boxer Zou Shiming. He went on to win two gold medals in the subsequent two editions.
Zou’s exploits on the world stage, and the recent inclusion of women’s boxing in the 2012 Olympics, are reasons for the elevated interest in the sport, said Gong Jing, the founder of Shanghai Princess Women’s Boxing Club, the first women-only boxing club in China.
Gong opened the club in 2010 to change the perception that boxing isn’t a blood sport meant only for men. She noted that business did not take off until 2013.
“Boxing has been classified as the 12th most dangerous sport in the world, after soccer and basketball,” Gong said, adding that boxing is not as dangerous as it seems and that it is more about concentration rather than brute strength.
Gong herself is a living example of how boxing can effect positive change. Once a constant target of bullying during her childhood days, Gong transformed into an athletic powerhouse after her dad enrolled her in boxing classes. Today, she weighs only 46 kg and doesn’t have a hulking physique but that can be rather deceptive — Gong is actually a former World Boxing Association boxer and a Chinese champion.
“When you box, your overall athletic ability improves. My teachers and classmates saw my change. The bullying stopped ever since I started boxing,” she said.
Over at Princess Women’s Boxing Club, there is a greater emphasis on toning and conditioning as Gong tailors the training to suit the physique of Asian women. She has also fostered a competitive spirit within the premises, offering her 300 members three training levels that differ in intensity.
Ascending the first tier requires members to pass fitness tests set by Gong, such as being able to perform 15 pushups using the fists and 45 situps, both within one minute. In addition to these stamina tests, members must be able to demonstrate proper boxing techniques and a solid knowledge of the sport.
Only members in the second and third tiers are allowed to fight in the ring. A member has to defeat three opponents of the same level and weight class in order to graduate to the third level.
“When you stand in the ring and are hit in the face, your selfesteem hurts. You’ll be driven to train harder so that you don’t get hit in the nose next time,” said Gong.
“Boxing is ultimately a confrontation between two people. You either win or lose,” she added.
Liu Anqi practices her punches during a training session at Princess Women's Boxing Club. Liu says that boxing helps her to relieve stress.
There are three tiers of training at Princess Women's Boxing Club and members are pushed to their limits in physical tests if they want to graduate to move advanced levels.