LIFE IN THE BUBBLE

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to feel the fire inside

Wednesday, 15 February 2012
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Inside the modest space that is home to the Bondi Boxing and Muay Thai Club, a stale scent of sweat fills the air. Trainer Pete Ringland is pushing a client to keep up with a gruelling workout.  

“Come on mate! Gotta keep going! You can do it.”

I am growing tired just watching: the client sprints up and down the blue and red matted floors, he spars in the ring, and finally he finishes off his session on the rowing machine, grunting as he pulls with his arms and pushes with his legs again and again.

Tucked quietly away between Bondi Bargains and Laurie’s Vegetarian, the Bondi Boxing and Muay Thai Club is the kind of place you can walk past dozens of times without ever noticing it. When owner and trainer Maydad Ronen casually mentions that “this isn’t Fitness First,” he isn’t joking.  You don’t come to the BBC for the fancy amenities or possible eye-candy (though, as a sidenote, the single women of Bondi may want to consider signing up for a lesson or two). The club is not only a community, it’s a home. I can sense this from the moment I enter. There is nothing commercial or contrived about this space, one of the oldest standing gyms in Sydney. Once owned by fitness guru and personal trainer Paul Graham, history is plastered all over the walls: posters of The World’s Greatest, trophies and championship belts, and flyers of past and forthcoming Fight Nights, the next big event slated for a couple of weeks from now.

Preparing to get in the ring that night is BBC trainer Tyrone Davis. Sidelined for two years with an injury, this will be Davis’ second fight, his first since recovering.  It’s hard to get a sense of this mild-mannered 21 year old’s feelings about the fight, but it’s apparent that his calm nature comes from his ten plus years of training.

“It started out as a hobby, just something I wanted to try. I had anger issues when I was younger.” Davis credits his battles in the ring for keeping him out of trouble on the streets. The men here have a flair for the aggressive—but they keep the drama where it belongs.

When the gloves come off and the training sessions are over, there’s nothing but love.

And that is exactly the kind of space Maydad envisioned creating when he took ownership of the gym in 2009. It all started with two bags, three classes per week and a few clients. Now the BBC holds up to three classes per day.

And while the club’s appeal still has little to do with the ambiance, it has everything to do with building connections, learning new areas of discipline and raising the self-confidence of the kids and adults that train here.

 “It’s spit and sawdust. There are no airs and graces here,”
 

Peter Ringwald tells me between training sessions.  “We cater to everyone.”

At 48, Ringwald has been fighting since he was 18, and while he only took up Muay Thai at the age of 36, he still managed to lace up for twenty professional fights.

“I spent many years practicing karate, but I found it to be too political. I’m disappointed I didn’t get into Muay Thai earlier, but I am lucky to have had great instruction. And now I get to pass along the knowledge.” 

Peter is short and stout, with tattoos all along his legs and around his chest (some of which are traditional Muay Thai fighting tattoos). He speaks quickly and excitedly, jumping from one sentence and topic to the next. His love for the sport is palpable.

“Some people find fighting barbaric. But when you train, have good preparation, and develop good insight. It feels natural. It’s in a controlled environment where there are boundaries.

You never take it to the street. On the street there are no boundaries.”

The trainers are not only here to pass along a sport, but to pass along their passion for that sport - for the lifestyle. Alessandro Vidoni came to Australia to start over. Working in office sales in Italy, he was keen to learn English and take his training to a new level. Maydad helped him to do both. After three years of fighting, Alessandro is now a teacher and trainer at the club. He is, if you will, the face of the Bondi Boxing and Muay Thai Club: his chiselled frame splashed across the website and along the walls at the BBC. Alessandro has the fighter appeal that men aspire to and women enjoy staring at. He uses these assets wisely, recently embarking on his own personal training venture, Hi Performance.

“You need to believe in yourself, trust yourself, and work hard to get to where you want to be,” says Alessandro, prepping for his next Muay Thai class. “We are here to help each other. There is a real personal approach at this gym, you’re not just another face in the crowd.”

It is clear that each trainer Maydad has on board is carrying with them a similar philosophy to his own, and that philosophy spells success for the club and their clientele. 

“Our youngest fighter is nine, and our oldest is 70,” Maydad boasts. “It’s all about enjoying life.”

I keep this in mind as I gear up for my first training session: It’s all about enjoying life. Too easy.

 I carry myself with an air of confidence. I do, after all, fancy myself as some sort of an athlete. I reckon a few kicks and punches shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for me. It didn’t take long for Maydad to put my ego in check: a two-minute jump-roping session leaves me breathless and worried about what’s to come. In the short time I spend jabbing, kicking, and throwing uppercuts, I develop a new sense of appreciation for the sport. There is no place for wimps inside this ring.

There is no space for pussy footing or fucking around. When you come to train at the BBC you better have your shit together.

You need to want it. You need to feel the fire inside. There is a passion you must carry to succeed in this sport. I, for one, may not be a member of this exclusive club of special men and women who eat, breathe, and sleep this sport. Stepping into the ring, getting a taste for what it is truly like, gives me a small appreciation for what it’s all about.

On the night of the fight I am sitting ringside at Bondi Junction RSL, and while the regular crowd of old servicemen doesn’t seem too keen to get in on the action, the BBC supporters, sponsors, and fellow fighters are ready for blood. And this is something I realised only after agreeing to attend: there will be blood.

But don’t get the wrong idea:

The blood remains in the ring, along with the kicks, jabs, and
I’m-going-to-knock-you-the-fuck-out attitude.

The heat these fighters put into their three rounds of fury is quickly cooled when the bell rings. The stone cold look in their eyes fade and hugs are exchanged, smiles break and Muay Thai and boxing are suddenly seemingly friendly sports—seemingly.

Take our friend Tyrone, for example. When he enters the makeshift arena he is hardly recognizable from the hard-to-get-a-sense-of/mild-mannered kid I interviewed a couple of weeks ago. Now I can read exactly the message his eyes convey to both the audience and his opponent, Joe “Chopstick” Lee. That message is: Don’t fuck with me. That message is: This is mine. That message is: I’m going to kick your ass.

Tyrone has an eight pack. He wears bright pink shorts.

His blond spikes stand to attention. Around his head sits a mongkon, a traditional Muay Thai headdress. It symbolizes respect and protection. “Generally you get a blessing to protect your head from injury,” says Davis.

Following a series of stretches along the ropes, he takes to the centre of the ring and begins what looks like a moving meditation, a practice known as Wai Kruh.

“It helps to calm your nerves. You breathe through the stretches and get a feel for the ring. You are closing off the ring: this is my territory now. In a way it puts your opponent off because it shows that you are traditionally trained. It’s a scare tactic but it’s also to show respect: to your opponent, the audience, and most importantly, to your trainer.”

Tyrone takes the first round to feel out his opponent, to get a feel for his territory. One round is all he needs to find his footing. Davis owns the second and third rounds, taking Chopstick to his knees and the crowd to their feet.

When the last of the three two-minute rounds comes to a close, a winner is declared. That winner is Tyrone Davis.

Tyrone’s post fight feelings are a mixture of an adrenaline rush and a somewhat self-righteous celebration, both of which he pretty much earned.

“I knew I’d trained hard. I knew I had the talent behind me. There wasn’t really anything to worry about.”

His approach is straightforward and honest. It is the same approach he has taken to achieve his success.

“I’m in it for the sport, not just to win or lose. You can’t go into the ring with your head stuck on win or lose. It’s a confidence thing, a self-motivation thing. To come out on top makes you feel more confident. It prepares you for challenges outside the ring. It gives you the drive to achieve anything.”

Words that would make Maydad proud.

Maydad Ronen is man on a mission.

“It’s my job in the community to instil self-esteem and confidence in these kids. They hold the key to the future of Bondi,” he tells me, gloving up one of his latest child prodigies. And who knows: he may just be the next Ali.

Words: Sam Levy

Photography: Tim Bauer

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