The ill-equipped gym of Ukunda giving hope to budding boxers
- When the Kwale County Government in conjunction with Base Titanium Limited decided in 2015 to refurbish the dilapidated Ukunda Community Gym, it was an initiative meant to encourage fitness and healthy living within the immediate community. Instead, it stirred up something bigger and brought in a wave of enthusiastic young people wanting to take up the sport.
- For Diani Fight Club and its members, the Ukunda Community Gym represents a cocoon from which they hope to nurture their skills and come out as better, more accomplished fighters. For now though, the sky's the limit.
When the Kwale County Government in conjunction with Base Titanium Limited decided in 2015 to refurbish the dilapidated Ukunda Community Gym, it was an initiative meant to encourage fitness and healthy living within the immediate community. Instead, it stirred up something bigger and brought in a wave of enthusiastic young people wanting to take up the sport.
Boxing is an esoteric sport. Its critics view it with resentment and dismiss it as brutal and barbaric while the purists champion it as an art; an avenue to channel their day to day frustrations in a controlled environment, an escape from reality and subsequently an opportunity to better themselves.
On my visit to the gym at the invite of Ali Jasso Shindo, the captain of the Diani Fight Club, a group of boxers who use the facility as a training base, I am immediately taken in by the sheer tranquility of the place. I have come to expect most gyms to be rowdy places bustling with faux aggression. Instead the Ukunda Community Gym feels like an oasis of serenity in the ever growing chaos of Ukunda town.
Kevin Agolla, who first introduced boxing at the gym and who is also the founder of Diani Fight Club, welcomes me and informs me that training is in session. He has since taken to coaching in an effort to pass down his knowledge. “I used to be a fighter myself. These days I coach more and try to help the younger guys improve,” he states.
The captain, Jasso Ali, acknowledges my arrival and signals that he’ll join me shortly. I observe quietly as he works the punching bag; unleashing a flurry of punches and shuffling his feet as if dodging a vicious but imaginary opponent.
Ali is an adroit puncher. Every punch is calculated and apart from the occasional combination, nothing is too reckless. Aptly named after one of boxing’s biggest names, Mohammed Ali, I later asked him about this coincidence and if it had any influence towards his choice of sport. He laughed it off as just that – a coincidence.
As we sit down for our interview, I remind myself that my past experiences with boxers have taught me that I should be prepared to dig the answers out of him. Most boxers are quiet and unassuming.
I let him catch his breath before asking him to make me understand just why he opted for boxing.
He seems taciturn at first but after continuous probing from my end, he breaks it down. It immediately becomes clear to me just how indoctrinated into the sport he is. Every answer is calculated, straight to the point and intended to hit home in a way that resonates with me long after I depart.
He is disarmingly honest about everything. “I did not really choose the sport. I gradually fell in love with it. In the end I decided to try it out and with Agolla’s help, the rest is history,” Jasso explains.
In last month’s Nairobi Fight Night, held at Charter Hall, Jasso and another fighter, Hakeem Abdhallah, made their professional debuts for Diani Fight Club. Hakeem comfortably won his fight while Jasso battled to a draw against a more experienced Polycarp Ochieng from Kayole who already had four fights under his belt.
To many, boxing is a platform for malignant men to take out their ignoble feelings of pent up rage. Where ignorance predominates, fear invariably asserts itself and it seems to be the case with the sport.
However, according to Ali, it is in this apparent brutality that boxing separates itself from every sport out there. “Unlike regular fighting, boxing instills a sense of discipline and responsibility.”
I ask Agolla to take me on a brief tour of the place. Despite being a well built building, the gym’s facilities are nothing much to write home about. Other than a few basic equipment that they all have to share, it is mostly empty. When I point out to him the lack of proper training facilities, he acknowledges that they indeed face some problems. “There are 8 fighters including two women who share the facilities so resources are a bit stretched,” Agolla explains. He is however reluctant to romanticize their struggles. Instead, he proudly says that they revel in every little battle they face. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. We will share the little we have and hopefully the future brings us more. ” His sentiments are echoed by Jasso who jokes that tough conditions are what make better fighters.
As for the future, they insist they have nothing laid out. “We want to have more young people learn boxing,” Agolla remarks. “With people like Jasso, it will not be hard to galvanize the community’s youth around their love and passion for the sport.
As I get ready to leave, Mohammed Safari, one of the new fighters to recently join the gym, excitedly asks to demonstrate some of the skills he has learnt in his brief training period. As I watch him hook and jab at air, I finally understand just what boxing is.
Boxing is an art. The weaving and bobbing, the dodging, the counter punching. The perfect boxer is like a ballerina except in this case, they dance the blood ballet.
For Diani Fight Club and its members, the Ukunda Community Gym represents a cocoon from which they hope to nurture their skills and come out as better, more accomplished fighters. For now though, the sky’s the limit.
Ukunda Community Gym, the ill -equipped facility where budding boxers nurture their dream
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