We hear it all the time: boxing can change your life. Whether you get in the ring or not, boxing training teaches discipline, work ethic, self-control, and self-confidence. It teaches you about yourself.
For Anna Farrant & Jordan Bowers, co-founders of All-City Athletics Boxing Studio, it gave each of them purpose, brought them together, and brought an entire community together. We talk to both of them about where their love of boxing started, how it’s impacted and directed their lives and the lives around them in this week’s Out of Step journal post…
YORK: How did boxing become a part of your life?
ANNA: I had a friend at that time that had gotten into it around 2008. One day I joined and basically was hooked from there. The job I had was front line community work in a tough area of Vancouver. I found that training before work helped me get grounded and move some of the negative energy around that I was carrying from my shifts.
JORDAN: I started pretty late. It was 2004 when I first got into a gym. I had just tried to join this bogus sport-tae-kwon-do-kick-boxing fusion cheese-ball place and it was just the worst. So I was like: “Dang, if I really want to know something about this fighting stuff, I better pay some dues.” It came to the choice of: do I want to play it safe or can I jump in? I wanted to get in shape, maybe have a couple of fights and see where it went from there.
I had two of the best coaches that I could have had. My first coach was the most patient guy. He looked super intimidating but he was the kindest man and for some reason he just kept working with me again and again on the fundamentals. He got me set up with some decent basics and when I was really looking to compete he recommended I go see the coach that we are still with today. That was a tough couple months. The sparring was rough; I was the new guy--tall, chubby, and green. I had come from another gym and everyone 170-210lbs was trying to kill me, including my coach. I took two busses after work to get to the gym and I used to think: “Why am I doing this? This coach hates me. I’m getting killed everyday.”
I knew there was something that I needed from boxing and that kept me going back even when it was a grind. It never got less difficult; I just started having more fun.
YORK: How has boxing impacted your life?
ANNA: Falling in love with the sport essentially has mapped out the last ten years of my life and introduced me to some of my closest people. The people I have met through the gym speak a language I understand. There is something about boxing that exposes everything about you and a lot of the elements you learn while training to fight are completely transferable to real life. It also gives me a sense of confidence in my own body, an access to personal power that I might had never known I was capable of prior to boxing.
JORDAN: I had been guilty of relying on talent or luck or whatever you call it when the going got tough. I would just find something easier. With boxing, I was anything but a natural talent. It was something that really helped me develop a work ethic. You have to get your runs in, you need to eat right, pushups in the morning aren’t just a good idea--they have to get done. If you want to perform well in the gym, you can’t be hung-over or eat ice cream and pizza for dinner. I had something I was working toward that kept my focus.
And boxing really kept my temper in check. Boxing is not just about who is tougher. There is aggression and there is violence and tempers flare up but working with these things in the controlled environment of a boxing gym, you learn how to control yourself. I took a huge life lesson from the gym. You might get people trying to rattle your cage but you can’t get pulled off your game plan. You go into the fight with your plan and you work that plan. Little dogs bark the most. A near empty purse makes the most noise. :)
YORK: Being a fighter is as much mental as it is physical. Jordan, you’re kind of a giant so no one probably ever messed with you. Anna, you are tough as nails. Where did your fighting spirits come from?
ANNA: I think I thought I was tough growing up. I was definitely resilient and managed to push through pretty challenging teenage years, but the mental toughness that you learn boxing is next level. Having strong coaches and people training alongside you keep you going when you feel like you have nothing left. Boxing might be an individual sport but there is a room full of people that get you to where you are going. As for the fighting spirit, I think that’s in all of us. It’s really about what you can remove (negative self believe, doubt, etc.) so that you can actualize it.
YORK: How did you start teaching at East Side Boxing?
ANNA: I started volunteering at ESB in 2012 when they did the first ‘Aprons for Gloves’ fundraiser. ESB’s goal was to raise enough money to open up a gym to provide free training to at-risk youth in the area. The cause was something that resonated with me as I wished when I was that age there was programming that I related to or found accessible.
JORDAN: I had been with Coach Dave for some years before Eastside started. We trained a few places after the building the gym was in got sold and developed. Once we were in this spot next to a pizza place owned by a guy Dave knew from years ago. The guy had a few restaurants and loved boxing. We needed a permanent space and he proposed a fundraiser where we would train restaurant staff, they would fundraise and we would put on a show at the end of 3 months. By this time, I wasn’t training hard but I was in the gym helping the new guys with the basics. I helped with the first year of ‘Aprons For Gloves’ and realized coaching meant a lot more beers, burgers and cracking jokes and a lot less sprinting, sweating and nosebleeds.
YORK: You have a very special relationship with the Eastside Boxing community. Why is it important to give back?
ANNA: Eastside Boxing is really at the heart of everything we do. It’s the priority because without our experience there and the path it led us down, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I feel forever indebted to my coach and the gym that it only makes sense to continue giving back. The more abundance I have in my life, the more I feel like I owe it to the world to give it back. ESB does some life changing stuff and the programing is growing. We are partnering with organizations that provide pre and post workout meals, outreach support that offer resource referrals in the area, medical practitioners that train with the kids, and this year we are adding tutors. I feel fortunate to be a part of a program that is much bigger then any one person.
JORDAN: I had heard both coaches I’ve had speak about how they wanted their guys to open gyms when we were older and pass on what we were taught. I never considered I would ever be in the position to coach anybody. Working with Eastside gives me the chance to help out and pass on the things that I was shown. My favorite people to work with are the ones that maybe don’t think they are in the right place. They just remind me of how I felt when I started and what can happen when somebody takes an interest.
YORK: Opening All-City Athletics Boxing Studio is pretty exciting. Was this always part of the plan?
ANNA: Actually no, we thought we would just be like gypsies and travel places with our gloves and pads and just rent some space from ESB for a few classes a week. Flash forward a few years and all of us have grown, which is amazing but means we need more space to accommodate. It was after a trip last year to NYC where we went to check out what other fitness boxing gyms were up to that we came back and realized we were SO capable of opening our own. Having a space to call our own and design has been the best part so far! Seeing your vision come to life is extremely satisfying (and a lot of hard work!).
JORDAN: I never really saw us opening our own space. Rent is crazy. Location, location, location…and hell no, we would never want to open in a mall or some suburb out of the city. I feel like if we wanted to work with some corporate clients, we would travel to their offices with gear, do drop in classes on the off hours at Eastside and fit in some personal clients.
Right place, right time, right people is how we fell into our spot. We used to cross train with a friend at a gym where she ran a Muay Thai studio out of the basement. She moved out, the rest of the gym closed. A friend of Anna’s was looking to lease the whole place and they were down to lease us the old Muay Thai space. I feel like we were open to opportunity and the right one came along. To quote Yogi Beara: “When you see a fork in the road, take it.”
YORK: The All-City Athletics team is pretty goddamn special. How did you find so many amazing people to join your team?
ANNA: Luckily in Vancouver we have a pretty decent scene of people who box. Our gym attracts a lot of like-minded people. The trick with boxing is that you can’t take a 4-week course or even a 3-month course and teach it authentically. The movements need to be organic in your body and it’s literally the blood, sweat and tears of years of training that makes our team so good. We like to say that even if it’s just for fitness, you never have to compromise your technique. Look good, train good.
JORDAN: Cream of the crop. We met Breezy [aka Mark Calabrese] when he came through Eastside and started training. Nate [Kulczycki] ran into our coach one day and ended up coming by for sparring one Saturday. He liked the idea of the youth program and he and Dave get along great. Yaz [aka Yacine Sylla] had been training with us for years--he fought in our fundraiser 3 years in a row before going on to regular amateur bouts. JY [aka Julian Kim] was the main event on our first club show. Giulia [Halkier] and Julie [Chutter] were training with Anna and were already great fitness instructors.
Actually the gal that owns our favorite spin studio saw Breezy once and told Anna that when we need to hire instructors we should get the good looking, tattooed, bad boys that were actually nice guys. Everybody is such a cool character and unique we can’t lose! I also think that having the support of YORK Athletics showed them that if a cool brand is working with us, we might be onto something hot!
[Note to reader: yes, we did pay Jordan to say that.]
YORK: Can you talk a little bit about why boxing training is such a good workout, whether someone wants to step in the ring or not?
ANNA: If you don’t like traditional forms of cardio, boxing is an excellent way to trick yourself into doing some. It also works your brain in relation to balance, coordination and agility. Since we only use our body weight when we punch, boxing also helps to develop lean functional muscles. Plus, there’s the obvious cathartic value of punching something!
YORK: What inspires you?
ANNA: Making shit happen.
JORDAN: Honestly, I'm not big on goals and never really had a strong drive to "be" anything or to "do" anything particular. I just want to eat, sleep and poop well, stay grounded and try to be kind to my brother and sister humans. This still inspires me but what's new is having linked up with Anna, I really started to see that anything is possible. Inspiration and imagination can be so close together that just thinking or talking about an idea can be enough. With this All-City journey I've been so motivated by Anna's attitude and drive that I feel like a sailor. I felt the wind blowing and just hoisted my sails up. The team we have is amazing. They are all successful in and of themselves, outside of the gym, and I really looked at them and saw "hey these people are cool and laid back, but they are doing things with their lives and their time that I never would have felt possible". They are successful in their professional lives, personally they are all cool as heck and having these killers on the team make me really want to keep up and keep moving forward. Inertia is a dangerous thing. Once you stop moving it's harder to start again than if you just kept moving. I'm so grateful for Anna and the team for illustrating just what is possible. Team work does make the dream work. Support your people, accept their support, take inspiration from wherever you can find it, and you never know, there could be people drawing inspiration from you. Nobody goes it alone..don't care what anyone says. Collaborate, talk, share, help and ask for help. Like my old man would say: "Inspiration is just a conversation away."
All-City Athletics Boxing Studio opens mid-August on West Hastings Street in Vancouver (back alley entrance). If you're in the area, check them out.
All photography credited to Kezia Nathe: