“OK, everyone. Arms out to the side. Palms up. Opening and closing your fist. Go.”
Alright. That sounds easy enough. I can do this.
We’re upstairs in Peak Fitness. Jess Staffen stands in front of a semi-circle of about eight sweaty but stoic individuals ranging in age from 16 to 50+.
His charges are breathing heavily, their faces are red and the veins in their forearms are bulging, but there is a look of determination chiselled onto their faces that is unmistakable – jaws set, brows furrowed, eyes ablaze … “Bring it, Jess” their expressions seem to say.
I’m among them, but the expression on my face reflects a slightly different sentiment at this point in the workout, something between a wounded “Why do you hate me, Jess? We just met” and an accusatory, “Assassin!!”
At 30 years old, Staffen is exactly the kind of guy you want as a fitness instructor: he’s knowledgeable, thoughtful, intelligent and friendly. He’s also the kind of guy who makes you wish you’d never met him every three minutes …
“Hands up. Still opening and closing the fists.”
What’s that stinging feeling in my forearm?
A former elite amateur boxer himself who now focuses on helping others develop the skills and get really, really fit in the process, Staffen presides over twice-a-week classes that draw a range of young men and women interested in competing in boxing … and older men and women who don’t necessarily want to climb in the ring with anyone, but who love what the workouts do for their bodies and minds.
When pressed for his thoughts on who should come out for his classes, Staffen asserts that there’s no “perfect candidate” and that everyone is welcome – no matter their current level of fitness or competitive ambitions (or lack thereof).
I can confirm that I was warmly welcomed to the class. Staffen and his crop of “contenders” were happy to have me and generous with tips and the odd cautionary warning: more than once I was discretely told, “He’s taking it easy on us because he doesn’t want to scare you away.”
This is “taking it easy” on us?!?!?
“OK, jab/cross/jab then jab/cross/cross. Continuous. Find a rhythm.”
Torture. That’s gotta be three minutes. Halfway?!? Are you kidding me?!?!?
The first half of the class unfolds in a series of drills calmly led by Staffen and performed in three-minute “rounds” with one minute of recovery between each.
The exercises are not the toe-touches of your high school gym class.
They involve your fists.
By the last 30 seconds of each round they’ll have you crying like a six-year-old who just found out the Easter Bunny at the mall is actually just a guy in a suit.
Staffen provides encouragement and tips for improving your technique and avoiding injury throughout.
“It’s too quiet – make some noise when you punch,” he urges at one point, to which I promptly respond, “Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow …” until he clarifies what he actually wants me to do is breathe out forcefully on each punch to develop the habit of maintaining a flexed mid-section to weather any counter-blows.
Next to me, Roslyn Woodcock provides a striking contrast to my flailing. Compact, fluid and relentless in her punches, she looks like a seasoned pro.
I comment that she looks like she’s been doing this for awhile, but her response surprises me: “Just two months.” She explains, “This is the best workout I’ve ever done – and I did two marathons last year.”
“Final 30 seconds – as many punches as you can. Alternate arms. One hand by your face at all times. Push it!”
Make the bad man stop.
Boxing has a long and storied history in the Yukon. According to Staffen, it holds the distinction of being the oldest organized sport in the territory.
It’s probably safe to assume that as long as it’s been around, it has inspired controversy as well as physical and mental sharpness.
There will always be those who question the wisdom of teaching people, especially young people, how to subdue others with their fists. The current explosion in interest and acceptability of often brutal, formerly “underground” sports such as MMA and Ultimate Fighting will only heighten concern about youth participation in sports like boxing.
And some will point to the disturbing videos of youths wailing on each other in schoolyard “fight clubs” proliferating on YouTube as evidence of this negative influence.
“Good job. One-minute rest.”
Is there crying in boxing?
I ask 16-year old Zac O’Grady if he thinks getting into boxing makes young people more or less likely to one day end up in a YouTube dustup. Zac attends boxing with his Dad, Tom, a wiry, fit-looking 50-year-old who is in it for the workout and the quality time with his son.
Zac, on the other hand, is training hard under Staffen’s tutelage for his first amateur fight in BC in the coming months. His answer is insightful and speaks volumes about Jess Staffen and the supportive, disciplined atmosphere he fosters in the Yukon Boxing Club: “Less likely,” he says definitively.
“Those guys in the videos would never last more than one of Jess’ workouts.”
“OK, everyone. On your stomach. Push-up position …”
Bring it, Jess.
Do it! The Yukon Boxing Club meets Monday and Wednesday nights upstairs at Peak Fitness. Anyone is welcome to come and try it out. For more information contact Jess Staffen at 335-3831.