Image credit: Mathias Guillin.
My head is pounding. My muscles, well: to say they are like jelly would be to impugn the structural integrity of jelly. I’m incredibly conscious of the fact that this was the easiest week and I have 13 more to go.
I’ve never been an athletic person. The healthiest I’ve ever been was during my last years of university when I belatedly realised that fitness and muscle mass weren’t something you were born with but something you worked at. I suck at team sports, both because I’m inherently lazy, and also because I’m paralysingly terrified of my team members judging me and finding me lacking (thanks primary school gym class!). When I exercise, even when I exercise regularly, its generally just short of the kind of intensity that would get the results I’m after (providing the perfect excuse to pack it in). In three months, I’m competing in a boxing match in front of hundreds of people.
Brawl on the Bund is a 14 week training programme for white collar workers culminating in a three two-minute-round boxing match in front of a paying crowd. Profits from ticket sales go to charity (more on this later) and, since its inception in 2008, the event has proved incredibly popular, expanding to Beijing (Brawl on the Wall) and proving that people will never tire of watching bankers and lawyers getting punched in the face.
I signed up for Brawl on the Bund for three reasons. Because I knew it would be a good story (who doesn’t like to read about arrogant reporters getting their asses handed to them in a boxing ring); because it would force me to become fit (once this first column is published, short of breaking a limb, I can’t back out of this); and because deep down I’ve always wanted to feel like a tough guy. This is a pathetic thing for an adult to admit, but the psychological scars of growing up a small and skinny kid stay with you long after puberty.
This summer’s Brawl on the Bund takes place on June 15 at the Hyatt hotel. Around 40 people have signed up to participate in the training, with a gender split of about 70 percent men, 30 percent women. This group will be whittled down to 16 fighters competing one on one at the event on the 15th. Participants range from the completely inexperienced to those who know their way around a gym, but not the ring. One of the requirements of the competition is that those training have not boxed in a formal match before.
At 172cm (5ft 8in) tall, and 64kg (10 stone) I’m at the lower end of the group physically. In amateur boxing this puts me right at the bottom of the welterweight category (which falls in between lightweight and middleweight). Experience wise, I boxed a little in university, about once a week in the gym with no contact and no sparring. I also have about a year of Muay Thai under my belt, but again, without sparring or competition experience. I am disgracefully unfit, having lost any enthusiasm for exercise or discipline I had in the process of moving to China and starting a new job.
Image credit: Elliot deBruyn (Shanghaiist).
There is a reason the former Soviet republics have produced so many of the world’s top fighters. Few accents are as authoritative or command such subliminal obedience as the Russian accent.
Training sessions are an hour and a half long. The longest break we take in the first class is two minutes. Even rugby has half time.
Two minutes doesn’t feel long for your body to recover, and it shows. Form starts to slip as the class paces forward, punches one-two, and back, punch one-two. The exercises are structured into three two-minute rounds to help prepare us for the final fight. It’s embarrassing how tired I am by the third round, my arms nowhere near as high as they should be, leaving my face wide open.
Konstantin, our Russian pro-boxer turned coach, stops in front of me. “Raise your fists to your cheeks, bring your elbows over your chest.” My arms, full of lactic acid, are in a mockery of a boxer’s stance. If someone were throwing punches at me I’d be on my back by now.
Thirty seconds rest and then: “Box.”
Intensive exercise is a fantastic equaliser. While many people in the class are fitter than I (considerably so), after about an hour everyone is puffing and wheezing at a fairly similar rate. We all stare forward at our red faced, sweating visages in the full length mirror which stretches across the wall of the gym. The only noises, apart from the techno music keeping our heart rates high, is the sound of breathing, an occasional Serena Williams-like grunt and:
In the rare two minute breaks, we guzzle water and Gatorade, giving each other slightly wild eyed looks that say “I can’t believe I signed up for this either!”
Billion Yuan Baby is a regular column by Shanghaiist editor James Griffiths, focusing on his experiences and those of his fellow competitors’ training for Brawl on the Bund.
The next Brawl on the Bund takes place on June 15, 2013 at Hyatt on the Bund. The event is in support of Leo’s Foundation, which cares for newborn infants with respiratory problems.