Two weeks ago, I checked off my first bucket list item. I visited a boxing gym in my neighborhood and joined one of their regular Monday night training sessions.

The gym is a short cycle from our apartment in De Pijp, along the Amstelkanal. I arrived for the 7pm session about 10 minutes early. My first impression of the gym was a little jarring. It definitely was institutional looking.

The entrance to the first boxing gym I tried – Abov Amsterdam.

The entrance to the first boxing gym I tried – Abov Amsterdam.

I introduced myself to the grizzly old boxing instructor and said that I’m a beginner trying out the gym, and that I needed to rent gloves. Transaction completed, he walks away back into his office leaving me to try to figure out where the locker room is, where the showers are, or whether towels and water available. The front entry starts filling mainly with Dutch men, mostly in their 30’s and 40’s, so I follow the crowd into the upstairs locker room, get changed, and head out to the gym.

As the gym starts filling up, I don’t notice a lot of English being spoken, and I suddenly realize I never asked if the training is offered in English or Dutch. This ambiguity is soon resolved as the same instructor who checked me in enters the gym and starts barking warm up commands in Dutch. I follow along as best I can, usually looking around to see what others are doing with me following a couple seconds later.

At one point, we are broken into pairs to spar. Other than my general knowledge of what uppercuts, hooks, and jabs are from my time playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as a kid, I have no clue what the proper techniques are. This becomes plainly evident to my sparring partners. Thankfully, they speak English, and give me some pointers.

The one hour class was evenly split into thirds – twenty minutes of warm-up, push-ups, sit-ups, arm, and abdominal strength exercises, twenty minutes of sparring, and twenty minutes of punching bag work.

At one point during the class my insulin pump fell out of my pocket, and the instructor noticed:

– “What’s wrong with you?”
– “It’s an insulin pump. I have type 1 Diabetes.”
– “And you’re OK to do this?”
– “Uhh…I think so.”

He smirks and walks away. The class soon ends. I’m soaked and sore, and I cycle home.

Why boxing?

This seems to be the main question I get when I tell people I’m interested in trying boxing. Boxing is not a thing I would ordinarily do, and this is part of the attraction for me.

Reconnecting my mind with my physical body is a theme I’m interested in lately, and boxing seemed perfect for that. It’s hard to feel disconnected from your body, when you are trying to avoid being punched. You can’t overanalyze shit when you’re about to get an uppercut to the jaw.

This aspect of boxing is similar to my experience trying yoga. Among other things, yoga is an exercise in being present. It does this by demanding that you put yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable and physically demanding positions. You have no choice but to pay attention to what your body is doing.

There is also an element of challenging my self-identity that is attractive to me. I’ve never been a violent person. I’ve never really been one to challenge myself physically, and I don’t have an overactive masculine ego. So it’s fun to try this thing that is usually identified with all of the above. It’s a great exercise in recontextualization.

What now?

The first experience was great, but I wasn’t too interested in going back to that particular gym. So, with a Dutch friend, I tried a new boxing gym near Westergas Park.

First impressions were similarly disappointing, from a facility perspective. There wasn’t really a locker room, just a kind of waiting area where both sexes (there were more women in this class) got changed, and a kind of water trough to fill bottles.

The instructors were much better at the second gym. There were two for this class, both of them African, both of them a lot more fun than the instructor at the other gym. Much better music, and more energy, all around.

I found myself really enjoying the second session. I’m sure this had to do with having already conquered some first-timer nerves a couple weeks previously. I think it also had to do with the fact that I was there with a friend, which made it more fun, particularly with sparring.

On my ride home, I had an almost euphoric feeling. Is this what runners talk about when they report they feel amazing after pushing through the initial agony of running?

The training was still really hard, painful, and challenging, but it was also fun.

I think I’m going to survey some of the other gyms around Amsterdam to see if I can find a boxing-focused one with better facilities. If I can’t, though, I’ll probably end up back at the one near Westergas, even though it’s about a 20 minute bike ride away from my apartment.

If you’re in Amsterdam and want to check out a boxing gym with me, get in touch!