Samuel Dawson spent an evening with the very sociable gay boxers at London’s only LGBT+ boxing club.
London’s Knockout LGBT+ boxing club has experienced encouraging growth in the four years since it was founded. While breaking down misconceptions around the sport, the club’s coaches have inspired their boxers to victories and forged an unbreakable bond. Knockout’s achievements were duly recognised at the 2019 Out for Sports Awards, where the club brought home the much-merited award for Emerging Club of the Year.
In the heart of north east London, lies one of the most outstanding leisure centres. It was a Tuesday evening when I walked through the main entrance of the Sobell Leisure Centre. The size of the Sobell is so impressive, that it took me a while before finding the Knockout class of London’s first and only LGBT+ boxing club. Up until the moment I laid eyes on the gym, I’d pictured a dimly lit space, heavy with sweat and testosterone. As it turns out, many others had experienced similar worries upon their first time. Besides the sweat, all illusions of brutality found themselves at odds with the reality of how the club was.
I walked into a rather candid atmosphere, where everyone made me feel immediately welcome. Two of Knockout’s star coaches, Paul and Don, were both approachable. In fact, as Don was busy explaining something, Paul wasted no time in coming over to greet me. Knockout members also, despite the fatigue from the hour-long session, were incredibly affable, taking the time to share their experiences at the club.
Sam told me, “It was a really friendly class. I was a little scared that it might be intimidating but everyone put me right at my ease, right from the start and the instructor’s a really great guy.”
Anthony explained, “They just kind of throw you in at the deep end. They teach you through the basics, very, very quickly and then, they let you get on with it. Which is quite good actually because then you just feel like you’re part of it straight away.”
The class had been grouped into pairs for some pad work and while there was certainly a pleasant climate, everyone in that class was focused on the task at hand. It all seemed like an enjoyable experience. That was until Paul announced the start of a new exercise, one that involved core strengthening exercises. As much as they want Knockout to be a friendly place, the Knockout coaches are dedicated to the sport and, more than anything, want to teach their members how to box.
“It’s good to let the anger out,” Aldis told me. “But in a good safe space as well. I used to do boxing before, but it was in predominantly very hetero-normal environments. A lot more of a masculine dominated space and this one feels a bit more comfortable.”
Knockout offers drop-in style classes at the Sobell on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and recently at the Rathbone Boxing Club on Fridays.
Pierre, the club’s Chair, explains that each evening class has its area of focus. Tuesdays pay close attention to boxing technique; Wednesdays consists of more fitness drills and the recently set up Friday classes are dedicated to sparring. All classes always consist of skipping, punch bag work, pad work and widely feared abdominal exercises.
Knockout Boxing Club attracts people from all colours of the rainbow and at different levels. For the most part, the social aspect of the club is what the members enjoy the most but many join for a variety of other reasons.
“It’s both. I mean, I care a lot about my fitness, exercising, maybe that’s why I started doing boxing before,” says Knockout member Andrew. “I mean, even the social aspect is far more important for me because I still feel very new in town and I just need to get to know more people, get to know people better.”
Thursday seems to be the popular class, as the club’s social aspect extends outside of the gym. At the end of the class, the hard-working boxers head over to the local pub for some well-deserved drinks. Whether you’re new to London, looking for a fresh safe space to meet new people within our community or simply eager to learn how to box, Knockout LGBT+ boxing club is the place for you.
Meet the Knockout Coaches
The credited England Boxing coach joined Knockout two years ago, taking chairmanship of the club three months later. Pierre has five years of experience in Muay Thai boxing and two years in English boxing. “We’re trying to make it accessible to everybody, to make it fun and we’re trying to offer a really good workout to everybody. This is really the end goal. I think, one of the reasons we try to make it so friendly and have socials outside of the club is because our community at the moment – most of the spaces where LGBT people can meet – are usually around parties and drugs and alcohol consumption,” explained Pierre.
Having been a boxer from the age of 12 and winning the London ABA title in 2001. Paul has a passion for working in the health and fitness industry. Since becoming self-employed in 2003, he has trained fighters, worked in different gyms before finding his home at BLOK gyms. It’s been three years since he joined, what he calls, the Knockout family, and couldn’t be prouder of the fighters everyone has worked so hard to become: “They’re always willing to learn and they always respect my points of view, my opinions and they always teach me something about myself. So, it’s a give-give, a win-win. I love it. It’s probably one of the most satisfying things that I’ve ever done.”
Shortly after moving to London two years ago, Don joined the Knockout LGBT+ boxing club. Having practised the sport for ten years and gained extensive experience as a trainer, Don eventually became one of the club’s coaches. Before his arrival in the UK, Don was teaching Filipino Martial Arts. “We have such a different mix of people, who are here for different reasons. But I think underlying it is the community aspect. So, everybody’s supportive, a good environment, get to know new people,” Don said.