When John Murray was young, he heard a scrappy Olympic boxer from Ireland say to a reporter: “Sometimes I box, sometimes I fight.” It resonated with him. He understood what it meant in the context of boxing and in real life.
The owner of Boston-based Back Bay Boxing Gym, John is the definition of an everyday fighter, fighting for what he believes in and building a kickass community of like-minded individuals. He also has a legendary sense of humor, particularly evident on social media. Read more about this funny Irish f*@k in this week’s Worth the Fight blog spotlight…
MATT DOYLE FOR YORK ATHLETICS: Tell us your name and what's your story? What's your relationship to York, why you're here?
JOHN MURRAY: My name is John, I'm the owner of Back Bay Boxing Gym. YORK has been one of the brands with me from the beginning. When I started off the gym, I really had a connection with them in terms of their uniqueness and in terms of being a small business myself. I’m self-employed and run my own boxing gym and YORK is a small, independent company just like me. I think we both recognized how much we had in common and kind of formed a partnership. A lot of my members love wearing YORK product, as do I.
DOYLE: What does the word fight mean to you?
JOHN: The word fight means perseverance to me mainly. Just to keep going against different adversities. To keep pushing forward because nothing will ever be easy. If something comes easily, you're not really fighting for it.
This rings particularly true having dealt with different scenarios in my life, owning my own business and trying to build it from scratch. You really do have to deal with a lot of adversity and persevere.
DOYLE: What's a fight that you're really focused on right now, personally?
JOHN: One of the main things that I feel is important in terms of a personal goal is trying to build a community of people around me of likeminded people. People that will fight with me and that I will fight for.
Ever since I got to the United States, and in Boston in particular, I always felt that the gym space was different. You know, it wasn't a community of people that would actually collaborate around you. It was an environment that you grew into. You just pushed weights around the place and never really met anybody. I wanted it to be more like a gym that I'd gone to back at home. And that was really something that I tried to seek out and create. An environment where people would actually come into and everyone would know each other. And to strive together rather than just doing it on their own.
DOYLE: So you're fighting for a community then, right?
JOHN: Basically, trying to form more of an environment that everybody feels a part of. I won't mention any names but if you look at a lot of the big gyms you could go to, you'd never meet anybody. You'd never interact with anybody. Everyone has their headphones in these days. They don't really communicate with each other.
But there are people out there that always want to meet other people. At Back Bay, we’ve created a gym environment that’s more about interaction. It’s more of a partnered workout environment where everybody meets each other and everybody works together. We’ve basically built a community around that.
I’m also fighting to retain members and building a community spirit really makes a difference. People will push each other to go harder and go further and that kind of accountability and comradery keeps people coming back.
DOYLE: When did you come here to Boston and what led you here?
JOHN: I came to Boston 15 years ago. Basically, I was traveling around the world and I stayed after that. I worked in corporate America for about 10 1/2 years and got very disillusioned by that environment.
Once I got laid off from that space, I went back to what my roots were, which was fitness and boxing and coaching. Trying to educate people in the fitness industry and in the fitness world as opposed to just leaving them go into a gym space and not really have any intuition or instruction.
DOYLE: How do you fight to keep that sort of community spirit in your gym? How do you go about fighting for that in your day-to-day?
JOHN: You work every day and you work as hard as you can. I remember there was an Olympic boxer back in Ireland once said that: "Some days I'd box and some days I'd fight." Which always resonated with me as a kid growing up and working out and trying to just get better all the time.
And every time I look at my members in the gym space, I’m always trying to encourage them and bring them on a little further. If you look at the gym space and the boxing space in Boston, or the boxing world in the US in general, it’s 90% women in a group class environment. I take that into consideration and make encouragement a huge part of the environment.
I find men will go away and try to do it themselves whereas women will come in and be like, why am I not getting better? Why am I not improving? And you have to kind of, it's not natural to me to do it, but you have to almost try to feed into that and encourage them to come along, encourage them to try to focus on one or two things they can get better at in one week or one month.
As opposed to the long-term goal. You look at isolating different parts and what would be best to isolate. And then focus on that and try to get better at that and then move it along the line.
DOYLE: The phrase: “Sometimes I box and sometimes I fight.” Could you tell us what that means to you?
JOHN: It was a very interesting conversation that this Irish boxer was having with a reporter after a fight that he'd won. I think he might have won Bronze or Silver in the Olympics. And he was basically a scrapper, you know!
But to make the distinction between fighting and boxing is massively huge. Because if you look at boxing, boxing is an intelligent sport. It's like a game of chess. Whereas sometimes you just have to graft it out and fight through it. And that really stood with me. It's amazing that I still remember that, that was when I was about six, seven years old. I just remember watching him on the TV and today I still think about it. It's so applicable in so many different scenarios. Sometimes you'll actually go out and things will come easily for you, you'll deal with them logically. But other times, you just have to push on through.
DOYLE: Who helps you in your day to day fight?
JOHN: I would have to say my community helps me fight. The community and the gym that I've created so far. And collaborations like with YORK Athletics. You know that's been huge.
People come into my gym and they're like, “I like your sneakers.” I look at our gym members now and any class I go into might have 15 pairs of YORK Athletic sneakers in a 20-person room. They are actually a bigger brand in my gym than any of the other big brands that would be out there. It started off small and now it’s massive. It's a way for me to try to support and repay YORK for what they've done for me so far.
DOYLE: That community aspect, that family vibe that you want to keep at the gym, why is that fight worth it to you? Why is it worth it?
JOHN: It's been hugely beneficial in terms of growing the gym. When I started the gym, I was training people one-on-one out in the Fens. We'd go out there in any weather. We'd do mitt work in the middle of November.
When you start getting a little bit of traction you start building a small community where everybody knows everyone and has two or three good friends that work out with them.
And that, not to use a generic kind of term like 'organic growth', but it does become very relevant. Every person counts, every person matters. Three people to me is a huge amount of people. It might not be a huge amount of people to a corporate gym but to me, that's a huge amount of people. Because those three people know three other people, and they know three more and that's nine people. And then it snowballs, and that snowball effect builds a community.
Which I think is lost amongst a lot of the corporate gyms. They just treat people like a number. You can see that if you look at say, for example, how you would get treated in corporate American jobs or different jobs like that. You're just treated as a number and when your number is up, your number is up. So I look at my gym members as people and not numbers and try to treat them right. I know all their names, I know everybody. I know something about them. And then when their friends come in they all know me already. They know me through social media, they know I've got different relationships with certain companies and I think that's important.
You have to fight for those relationships because they don't come easily.
DOYLE: What is the most difficult part of your fight? What's the most challenging part of the fight?
JOHN: I would consider myself to be in a massively privileged position. To do what you love doing, that's incredible, it really is. It's amazing. I worked in corporate America for over 10 years and never had a good day, you know? I really appreciate and get a lot of joy out of doing what I want to do.
DOYLE: There's a lot more good days, right?
JOHN: Well, you never wake up in the morning without an ache or a pain, but every day is important. You love every day.
DOYLE: How much hard work went into the business that you have and the relationships you’ve been in? It doesn't just come easy, right?
JOHN: It's all day, every day. There's never a moment I shut off. And that's difficult too, but at the same time, there's never a moment that I feel like I’m working, either. Compared to what I was doing before.
If you're doing something you really don't enjoy you can't really keep doing it. You won't keep doing it if you want to be happy. I came from that side of things and had to get back to my roots. I got back to working out every day and I wake up with pains and aches every morning because I was working out hard. I threw too many jabs or it's because someone punched me in the arm or someone punched me in the face. Then I smile about that because I much prefer getting punched in the face by a gym member than to be having to listen to some John Doe in the office telling me to go off and fix the printer. Or whatever it will be. It all comes down to doing what you love. I'd never go back to an environment where I'm not actually doing the job that I love doing anymore. It's just not worth it.
And as I said, I'm in a privileged position to be able to say that but I did go through the bullshit before to be here today. And I often look at my gym members and they come in and I know a lot of them are living that same life, coming in from an environment that they don't necessarily like. They're coming into my gym for that release. They're coming in to get away from it as an escape.
And to know both sides -- I always think that is very important. To know both sides of that story, I can relate to them. I’ve been there. And that makes me feel like I can push them a little harder to try and push that other stuff out of their mind for that hour they're in the gym.
DOYLE: How does the gym and that sort of ritual of going to the gym and working out, being active and getting in the ring, how do you see that manifest itself in a positive way with the people that you're working with and the community that you've built?
JOHN: I think it builds an inherent discipline and you see it in terms of the community. Like when you're talking about community, it’s the one thing that will drive people to come back and come back more often.
DOYLE: For some of these people that get in there and go to the gym to escape all the bullshit, like to get away from their job. They just worked desk jockey from nine to five and when they come to the gym everything melts away. What’s that journey like for the community you get a chance to work with and train?
JOHN: I remember one of my trainers as a kid had an acronym. He used to acronym-ize everything, but he'd break down words into something that was different, into something that would be relatable and memorable. I remember the word fight, it was f-i-g-h-t and he broke it down to: formed iteration grows habit and triumph.
Kind of amazing if you think about it. If you consistently persevere at something you will inevitably triumph. The triumph might not be exactly what you thought it was going to be, but discipline and continuous, hard work you will always get you somewhere. That's always resonated and been important to me.
You look at that repetitive training and you're just keeping yourself disciplined. And even in terms of your diet and your routines, it's all about fighting. That’s not necessarily combat, but it's all about struggle. And the struggle to persevere and to keep going – that’s worth it.
John Murray is a gym owner, trainer, boxing coach, and 'comedian.' Follow him on Instagram or check out his gym and a boxing class at Back Bay Boxing Gym. It's "probably the best boxing gym in Boston."
John’s wearing the Henry Mid Canvas. GET YOURSELF A PAIR, customize them with your story, and share it with us @yorkathleticsmfg #worththefight.