You can’t go swimming without getting wet.
We’ve heard this truism countless times in the boxing world relating to the harsh realities of the sport we stubbornly defend. “To swim” is to fight, as “getting wet” is to get punched.
It’s a phrase that has often been used to justify the in-ring actions of a fighter. Often, a fighter who will display exaggerated machismo in the aftermath of engaging in a fight where leather is traded from the opening bell to last. A common blend of recklessness and bravery which catches the public’s attention, but which often undermines the “sweet science” of the sport that lays the foundation for any aspiring pugilist.
What if this phrase was empowered? What if getting “wet” in the developmental stages of your life meant you avoided drowning in the years that followed? This is the raison d’être of a Social Enterprise in the United Kingdom who are petitioning to reintroduce boxing into physical education as part of the National curriculum.
’Gloves Up, Knives Down’ (GUKD) are leading the fight against knife crime in the UK. Committing to supporting young people living in communities affected by knife crime, GUKD provides access to boxing training to help the most vulnerable in society lead fulfilling and healthy lives away from crime.
It’s an initiative that has gained support quickly throughout the UK. “One by one, we are attracting more higher-profile names,” co-founder David Edgell told me earlier this year. “Our Instagram features pictures of [David] Haye and [Tyson] Fury for example. We would like more old school sagacious worthies to get behind us, and the press and promoters for example.”
Having enjoyed a successful year promoting such a worthy cause, GUKD is now focussing their attention on schools, with the reintroduction of boxing into physical education lessons their primary objective.
Speaking to their Head of Communications earlier this week, their message is clear for how they want to help shape the future of the UK’s most vulnerable children.
”The objective of our petition is to urge the government to reintroduce boxing into the national curriculum for all children aged between 7-13.”
”In line with the paper written exclusively for Gloves Up Knives Down by Professor Joana Costa, a United Nations Child Psychologist, which advocates Preventative Intervention, we argue convincingly that exposure to boxing at an early age provides a child with an alternative healthy lifestyle, within a safe environment, rather than choose a life on the streets.”
Since the 1960s, boxing has gradually been phased out in schools with the concern of children’s safety at the top of the list of excuses. However, with supply, comes demand, and with the recent success stories of the likes of Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams – both achieving Olympic gold medals and subsequent professional world championships – reaching the wider public’s attention, participation rates in combat sports have steadily begun to rise over the past five years.
”This is the core of our charity, providing children with a free starter kit and boxing lessons, it is a method that works. Our sessions to date have provided instant positive feedback from not only the children but the gyms, the parents and social workers. We have high profile ambassadors and role models supporting us on our mission, which gains support daily.”
”The core values of respect and discipline, part of the art of boxing, provide a structured conduit for a child’s natural aggression, during which transformative journey they are able to exercise self-governance and become part of a nurturing and supportive family framework, whilst having fun.”
This principle of discipline within the sport is one that shouldn’t be overlooked. “You can’t play boxing,” is another phrase enjoyed by the sport’s inner circle, relating to the dedication and respect it takes to participate in boxing at any age. Boxing teaches you this respect. Boxing teaches you this control. Boxing has the power to shape lives at the earliest of ages.
Boxing doesn’t discriminate. Boxing doesn’t alienate. Importantly, boxing shouldn’t be pigeonholed. Assumptions that boxing lessons would depict two children standing in a ring trying to knock each other out is an outdated illustration of the sport, and one that is damaging to the overwhelming positives that can be drawn from such a versatile art.
From the cardiovascular challenges of three minutes on pads, a speedball or a heavy bag, to the intricacies of footwork and technical sparring, boxing has an abundance of non-contact alternatives that instil the same fundamental principles into a fighter which can be harnessed in later life.
”The benefits of boxing training, be it in which the child must think on their feet, focus, express themselves and communicate effectively, are self-evident in improving concentration and focus in other areas of their lives, keeping them not only from the street, but excessive exposure to devices and potential social alienation and bad influences. They are learning positive and valuable life skills.”
Children as young as seven in our society don’t carry knives because they are strong. They carry them because they are weak. They are scared for their future.
In light of the recent tragedy of Patrick Day, it would be amiss of me to ignore the dangers of the sport at any level. Whilst the sport continues to evolve to alleviate these inherent risks, much more can still be done to increase the safety of boxing at all levels.
Sport comes with risks, but quite often, the rewards far outweigh the risks that an unfortunate few suffer. Boxing will continue to save thousands of more lives than it ever takes.
”GUKD represents an ever-growing number of people who want to know what the government can do to effectively deal with knife crime. We invite the government to partner us in our implementation of Preventative Intervention, by reintroducing boxing to the National curriculum.”
With 2,500 signatures already, the petition to get boxing back into schools is gaining momentum. With your help, the most vulnerable in society can be given a chance to change their lives by lacing up a pair of gloves.