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Article by David Leck | 12th April 2019

Boxing Is Packing A Punch In Kent

It used to be confined to traditional ‘spit and sawdust’ gyms but boxing – in its myriad forms – is now proving to be an adrenaline-fuelled, effective and addictive fitness pursuit for both sexes and all ages

There is nothing, within a gym or fitness setting, quite like the ‘high’ you get from landing a successful boxing punch. It also comes with an addictive quality so, when you consider consistency is the Achilles’ heel of many a failed fitness journey, getting in the ring hits the spot on numerous levels.
It’s one of the most effective cardio workouts, it builds confidence and self-esteem, sharpens reactions and reflexes and, here’s the killer punch – it’s fun!
In the UK, boxing has, in recent years, undergone a transformation. The growth in popularity of MMA (mixed martial arts) and Muay Thai (Thai boxing, which is set to become an Olympic sport at Paris in 2024) has been joined by children’s classes, ladies-only sessions and high-end London gyms dedicated to boxing as a route to both fitness and competition.

Top class coach
Tommy Kotrla had an impressive amateur and professional boxing career in his native Czech Republic and, after retiring in 2007, now uses more than a quarter of a century’s experience teaching others. And with 282 contests (of which 229 were wins), two years in the Czech national team and a raft of belts, he’s the man to turn to if you’re in the Tunbridge Wells area and fancy donning a pair of gloves.
“I believe boxing is one of the best forms of exercise for the whole body. It has so many benefits – and it burns the most calories per hour,” says Tommy, who is based at the town’s Halo Gym.
“My clients say the mental focus means it completely distracts them from day-to-day stresses and clears the mind so it’s not just the obvious physical benefits they love but the mental stimulation too. You have to be completely ‘in the moment’ so it’s fantastic for de-stressing.
“And boxing is for everyone. Whoever you are outside the ring is irrelevant once inside. I’ve met amazing men and women from all walks of life,” adds Tommy, whose clients include former England ladies’ champion Jamie Johnson who has also fought in the US and sparred with Laila Ali’s daughter.

Image: Above left: Jamie Johnson; Above Right: Jamie Johnson with Olympian Nicola Adams

Community focus
If you want an example of how a boxing gym can be integral to the fabric of a local community then spend some time at Swanley Amateur Boxing Club (SABC). Established 40 years ago, it serves as an important focal point for many regardless of age, gender or if they roll-up to get fit or are working towards securing a place on a fight card.
SABC trainer Ricky Chaplin echoes boxing’s numerous benefits and the breadth of people who simply love the feeling of “getting on the pads”.
“Of course, we cater for young males you’d traditionally expect to see in a boxing gym but we’re about so much more,” says Ricky, who gives voluntarily of his time to promote a sport he’s been passionate about since a boy.
“We have people who fight but we also have sessions for children and ladies. One of the most rewarding things is seeing a seven or eight-year-old being brought along by a parent for the first time when they’d rather be at home on an iPad and, then within a few months, they improve and become hooked. But it’s not just that – they also learn valuable life skills such as dedication, discipline, respect for others and team working.
“Boxing, and sport generally, can be life-changing,” adds Ricky, whose day job is as a London firefighter and who was a highly regarded competitor himself before a shoulder injury ended his boxing career.
“We have a member who works with people suffering from depression and mental illness so we set up a boxing group for them and it has been fantastic to see the difference it’s made. And one of our star students is 23-year-old Bradley Aiano, who shed an amazing seven stone by discovering a passion – and a talent – for this sport.”

Give it a go!
For most of us though the sheer thought of walking into a boxing gym for the first time can be terrifying.
“I think everyone feels a bit intimidated trying something new, but my classes are really friendly and we always look after a beginner,” says Tommy Kotrla.
“Any good boxing trainer or club will always welcome you in for a chat and help you overcome any anxieties. Some people prefer a one-to-one session with a coach, but you can also join a class and I’m always delighted to train friends or work colleagues who like the idea of boxing in a small group.”
• You can contact Tommy Kotrla at Halo Gym (halogym.co.uk) or call 07827 781929. Find Swanley Amateur Boxing Club on @swanleyboxinggym

The King of Martial Arts & The Martial Art of Kings
At the age of 19, and on the cusp of starting a building apprenticeship, a friend talked Rory Crawford into visiting a Thai boxing gym. That apprenticeship? Well, it never happened!
Twelve years later Rory has more than 30 fights under his belt and a packed diary of clients who come to him for high-level coaching in a sport dubbed ‘the king of martial arts and the martial art of kings’.
“I’d done boxing and karate as a lad but from the moment I discovered Muay Thai I was hooked. I wouldn’t say I was instantly a natural, but I had a fighter’s instinct, a capacity for dedicating myself to learning and – because I loved it so much – the hard work always felt like fun,” says Rory, who lives in Sevenoaks.
“Because Muay Thai uses hands, elbows, legs and knees (they call it the art of eight limbs) it features more moves and combinations than traditional boxing and can be, for some, more interesting or challenging. Muay Thai was originally used in battle and is steeped in thousands of years of warrior culture, tradition and ritual so many also find that appealing.”
What does Rory feel is the appeal of Thailand’s national sport? “There is something highly addictive about boxing generally. Once you get started, learn a few techniques and start to improve, you get sharper and want to do more. It also builds confidence and, like many other forms of exercise, is incredibly good for mental wellbeing. I’ve trained people of all ages and abilities and it’s very rarely someone doesn’t get what I call ‘the bug’,” adds Rory.
“I understand that for some the thought of walking into a boxing gym for the first time could be very scary, but I’d urge anyone who’s interested to just have a go. What you find about this world is that there is a real sense of community, people are supportive, and there’s a respect for anyone who is trying their hand.”
• You can contact Rory Crawford on @rory_crawford87, on @rorycrawford, or via the website fighterchoice.com

Main image © Sport England

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