Fat Fists of Fury: Redefining the Fitness Game for All by Francesca Tysse
Ever wanted to seek out an inclusive community that prides itself on self-empowerment, body positivity, team bonding and fitness? Let me introduce you to the ground breaking fitness space of Fat Fists of Fury. The positive space invites all walks of life to enhance their fitness and health levels, sense of belonging, self and community, and understanding of the sport of boxing.
Fat Fists of Fury encourages all levels of fitness, body sizes, genders and ages to collaborate in the no pressure environment to learn more about each other, the sport and themselves as individuals. The classes introduce people to the basic techniques that are utilized in the sport of boxing such as proper stances and throwing various punches.
I had the pleasure to talk with the woman who started the boxing program, Crystal Lina as well as the owner of McConnell’s Boxing Academy and head coach that teaches Fat Fists of Fury, Molly McConnell.
What is the story behind the name, Fat Fists of Fury?
Molly: My assistant coach and gym manager Crystal came up with our awesome name! She wanted the name to be fun but also feel empowering.
Crystal: I tried to capture the feeling I had the first time I had my hands wrapped up. That moment I knew I had found something I’ve been looking for my whole life.
Who is the class catering to?
Molly: Our class caters to anyone who wants to learn a bit of boxing in a fun, non-intimidating environment. Our focus is on hosting a body positive class that people of any shape, size or fitness level can enjoy. McConnell’s Boxing has always had mission of inclusion. About 60% of our members are female and we have created a safe place for people of colors, trans folks and other LGBTQ people as well as people with physical challenges. We welcome and embrace people of any body size and our primary goal is to make everyone feel like part of our MBA family!
Crystal: The class is catering to people like me! People that may have felt like they didn't belong in an athletic environment because you don't look like the traditional athlete. A class for people who want to feel comfortable, to feel like they belong, for the people who may have never set foot in a boxing gym.
Does the class welcome older individuals and/or disabled individuals? If so, how do you adjust the class or certain movements to meet their abilities?
Molly: We have members of all ages, from 7 years old up to 80! We have several members who box with us to combat the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and our training staff are all certified and experienced in working with people of different physical ability levels. Because we have such a knowledgeable staff, we are constantly modifying exercises to fit the needs of our clients. Any exercise can be modified to benefit someone, whether you are a senior, an amputee, a person dealing with Parkinson’s or MS or a woman who is 9 months pregnant (these are just a few examples of our regular clients.)
Crystal: One of the first things you’ll notice when walking into MBA is the diversity of everyone that comes in. It’s what helped me go from visiting a bi-weekly class to attending classes regularly. I get excited when I see people with different abilities in our gym. Anyone who comes to this class will have their needs addressed so they can participate, but we are very careful not to call anything out or spotlight anyone's inabilities in front of the class. There’s times where I couldn’t participate in a drill and a coach has always helped work to find an alternative without making me feel like I’m standing out or less important.
What are the foundational components of the class?
Molly: We start each class by teaching people the proper stance and the correct way to move forward, backward, left and right. From there, we go through the four basic punches, The Jab, The cross, the hook and the uppercut. For our returning clients, this is a great review of fundamentals and for our new folks, this gives them the foundation to start throwing punches! Then we break our group up into beginners and more advanced students and work with them on how to hold and hit focus mitts. We add in some defensive moves if time allows.
Does each class differ in skills, movements, rhythm, etc? If yes, how so? If the classes do not differ, why not?
Molly: Each of our Fat Fists of Fury classes starts with a basic introduction to boxing. For the people who have been with us before, it’s a great review on proper stance, proper footwork and correct punching technique. After we go over those basic things, we split the group into two parts. For people who are joining us for the first or second time, we have the beginning group. The trainers focus on getting these folks comfortable with the four basic punches used in boxing and how to throw them and move around correctly. By the end of class, we have them throwing combinations, moving their feet and even throwing in some defensive techniques. For the more advanced group, we introduce new techniques each time so our clients are always learning something new and putting new tools in their tool box.
How would one go about attending a class?
Molly: Our classes are listed on Eventbrite and it is super easy to go on and sign up for them. We have limited space, so we encourage people to sign up in advance. No experience is necessary and we supply hand wraps and gloves to each participant. All you need to do is show up and have fun!
It is critical to participate in team sports and physical recreation. How is Fat Fists of Fury combating mental health challenges, negative body imagery and isolation?
Molly: We believe that having a physical outlet, whether it be boxing, walking, yoga, dancing, etc, can help people deal with depression, anxiety and stress. It isn’t a replacement for medical care, but it can be a powerful supplemental tool. Our hash tag here at the gym is #MBAfam because the most important thing we do here isn’t teaching boxing, but fostering a sense of community and belonging. Every person needs a place in the world where they feel like they fit in and for many of our members, this is that place for them. We don’t talk about diets and weight loss. Instead, we place our focus squarely on helping people feel good about themselves. Empowerment through physical movement is very powerful and we see it assist in building self esteem and a sense of self worth that every person deserves.
Crystal: We want to bring you out of your comfort zone, but in a way that encourages you to strive to do more. In Fat Fists, you're in a group setting with other people who may be also out of their comfort zones, and you see them bond with each other because they're in the similar situations. Whether they are already friends or strangers, I've seen the effect it has in creating a bond between people. You all share share in the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a class. In my personal experience, I've always had a sense of my own strength, but rarely had an outlet to show that off. From a young age, I had a feeling that I had the ability to be athletic, but because I was in a larger body, I would never get that chance. Now that I'm involved in boxing, I find that I'm coordinated, strong, fast; all these things that I never would have thought of myself as, because of my negative self-image. but going to boxing classes has changed how I view myself, and it's even changed everything about me, about who I am and how I see myself.
How is the boxing class fostering a sense of self, value, worth overall well-being and community?
Crystal: For someone to take that first step to walk into a boxing gym for the very first time is a strength in of itself. A lot of folks coming in are attending class alone and not completely sure what to expect. By the end of the hour class not only does someone gain the skill of punching properly but they get a look into their own strength. You’re surrounded by others that are discovering this as well and it’s a really powerful feeling to share.
How is this class welcoming the nontraditional boxer?
Molly: Walking into a boxing gym, or any gym for that matter, can be a very stressful and intimidating experience for a lot of people. Most people don’t fit into the incredibly narrow definition of what an “athlete” or a “gym goer” looks like. Our biggest goal is to make every person who walks through the door feel comfortable.
Crystal: To add to that, having this class specifically for the non-traditional boxer is our first step in opening the door for everyone to feel comfortable walking into McConnell's. On Eventbrite we include photos and measurements of the gym space so we can help people know a little bit of what to expect when they are there. Hopefully by trying something like boxing, they'll be more open to trying other activities or experiences that they might not have been as comfortable with before. I've noticed a trend of inclusivity in the Portland athletic community, and I hope that McConnell's having a class like Fat Fists will encourage other gyms to open their spaces to people of different abilities. Ultimately, I want that to be the norm; to have all body types welcome in any athletic space.