Community-inspired experimental storytelling through workshops, film, print & word.
Author ········· Seema Aggarwal
Photographer.....Joseph Barrett
Location ········Repton Boxing Club, London
Published ······ Oct 2019
Language ······· English

Being Accountable

An intriguing aspect of my training is that it exposes a lot about a person. When you observe a person training, you get an insight into their attitude, their ego, their hardship or privilege, their will and their work ethic. Prior to taking up a competitive sport, I would observe these traits in people at work, but it took longer for me to reach a certain conclusion, particularly when considering the disparity between what people said and what they were actually doing. Training on the other hand? It is very raw.

I believe that in striving to maintain the endurance within any training session, it is able to strip away the illusion we tend to paint with our words and reveal a lot about who we actually are. I love that about my own training because, unlike anything else before, it has been my reason and response to holding myself to account by exposing my very own shortcomings. For example, I now find myself less inclined to any savoir-faire when it comes to judging others, I would much rather quietly register my judgements whilst observing you for three minutes on the punch bag. 

This has instilled a belief within me that one must hold himself/herself to a realistic account before they are inevitably held to account. And sport, boxing, in particular, has to be considered as one of the greatest teachers. I have learned that if you don’t deliver on what you expected from yourself in boxing, the consequences are and will continue to be painful reminders. Since our greatest opponent in boxing is our own self, I too continue my journey with the struggle of achieving the harmony between how I describe my ability and what it is that I actually am. I see boxing as a raw and vivid yardstick at determining when I examine a person's principles. The principle of showing up for training shouldn't change when you leave the gym; in fact, an athlete’s principles should undergo a process of being broken until they become unbreakable. It is through humility that I continue to approach my boxing attentively and reflectively.The struggle I have chosen to endure in seeking understanding is eloquently highlighted by the words of Cus D’Amato, who once said that the way you fight your fights will be the way you live your life. Boxing to me has to be considered the great metaphor for life and I will be its diligent student filled with a hunger to develop.

To me everything has relevance and I hope that I am able to share lessons in overcoming some of the difficulties I have faced because my very own influences have come from many different places. It humbles me to appreciate the responsibility that my mother upheld as a single parent, the courage my friend shows in dealing with mental health issues, or the selfless dedication I see in someone like Derrick, my coach, whose commitment has had such a positive impact on me, and on the health and wellbeing of those he works with.

What I have to give and where I draw the line. How I treat others, but also how I treat myself. If I am ever able to inspire the way I have been fortunately inspired, that is when I will feel a sense of achievement within the sport. In one of my early spars, I remember being hit continuously for four rounds. Derrick said to me that I have a lot of work to do but the one positive was that I didn’t quit. The duty to define who we are is delivered by that intimate part of us that knows what we are capable of even if no one else is able to recognise it. Moreover, our greatest opponent will find victories when we lose that self-belief. When I was walking home afterwards, it felt like an easy opportunity to give up, but I felt compromised because of my principles.

Post fighting sessions would usually be followed by me giving a passionate analysis to Derrick which would typically consist of a critical breakdown of what I was intending to do, though it would go in one ear and out of his other. He taught me the importance of demonstrating my understanding through practice, as a more effective form of communication that shifts from any hypothetical list of to-do’s to something more grounded. I see a great value now in his reluctance to engage my naivety. It has taught me a lot about self-awareness, while his patient approach has been a valuable lesson in humility that helps me to shape and improve all aspects of my life. When I go to my club, I am now attentive towards what I say and how much I say, and I am sure that at times this has been perceived as arrogance.

The satisfaction I have found with regard to my need for personal growth and development, through boxing, has always been something universal and translatable to all aspects of life. I feel boxing holds a mirror to who and how I really am, and when I identify a problem in my approach to boxing, I can often find the parallel in my life. As I begin to address it in my life, I see improvements in the way I fight. While learning more about some of the major world religions I was able to read and discover that the prophet in Islam is similarly guiding his followers to the very same inward journey of accountability by saying; 'You do as you please but remember, you will die the way you lived! You will die just like you lived, and you will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement just like you died.'

At many amateur clubs, coaches volunteer their time and energy every week to help boxers, like me. I box for Repton Boxing Club in Bethnal Green, London’s oldest boxing gym. I recall two of the coaches at my club, Steve and Julian, driving me for over six hours just so that I could get the experience of another bout under my belt. Lionel, another one of my club coaches, called me the morning after I won a major tournament and spent nearly an hour discussing and analysing my performance with me so I could get back into the gym with the right focus. Boxing has offered me a lot, in terms of character-building and adopting a more considered approach to my life; what I believe, why and where it comes from.

 Derrick’s words highlighted a truth that would force me to either respect him for recognising my potential or let the experience dissolve the very foundations upon which I have established my principles of self-worth. I didn't quit; in life, I knew very well that I hate to quit. I have struggled, I have even lost. But quitting is not something I do. It isn’t in me, especially when I know I have the potential. Some people will say “it’s just a sport, lighten up”, but for me, it isn’t about boxing. It’s about a commitment, loyalty, this is about my dignity and integrity, this is to do with my purpose and my convictions. This is much less about anyone else and everything to do with what I claim to understand about myself.

 But I don’t mind because I know that arrogance is not the intention so, as is similar in the mastery of any discipline, balance is the key. My focus remains to improve on the work that I put into my sessions while holding myself to account and taking advantage of the feedback from my coaches. I have often found that the extreme aspects of boxing are used to colour the sport in the minds of many people. Amateur boxing has made many advancements from its primitive form in ancient Greece to its later form of bare-knuckle prizefighting and it is important to appreciate that boxing continues to evolve into a safer sport today, with improvements in all aspects of the sport. Of course, it is not difficult to make bold assumptions about a sport like boxing and the people who participate in it but, like with anything, what you see on the surface is not always a true reflection of the entire picture, and it is up to us to decide the criteria that we use to form our judgements.
I am definitely someone who has an appreciation of some of the consequences that come with participating in a sport like boxing. I feel a lot more at ease now with the judgements of others and passing comments, that once may have bothered me or provoked a need within me to justify my actions. It is quite common, across all cultures, to place more value on the things we get paid for. As an amateur boxer I don’t get paid to box. I don’t have sponsors or receive any endorsements. People can’t always appreciate why I would give up a comfortable monthly salary to just about make ends meet so I can train more, in a sport that is supposed to be for men. The assumption tends to be that I must be aggressive, downtrodden or trying to release stress. Yet it was neither of these things that brought me to boxing. The growth of women’s boxing is fascinating and I see a lot of women, particularly in their late 20s and early 30s, significantly contributing to this growth. The women I have met are not aggressive or downtrodden. They are friendly, focused, strong and on point with putting the work in towards what they want. Being of Indian heritage, it has also been a pleasure for me to read about the journeys of other remarkable female athletes like Geeta Phogat, Deepika Kumari and Mary Kom. My mother always told me that you come to this world with nothing and you leave with nothing. The peace and satisfaction I feel from continuing the attempts to fight my own desires is definitely worth something to me.

For me, boxing is the ultimate discipline. It is about exhibiting certain traits in the ring and then being able to step out and have the discipline and humility to demonstrate the opposite. That’s why you can fight your friends. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s a measure of your mindset and your discipline. As much as you demonstrate bad intentions, deception and show no mercy in the ring, can you equally demonstrate good intentions, loyalty and forgiveness in your life? If you can, then I think you are on a good path to understanding the art of boxing. That’s what I’m working towards in training and that’s what I will hold myself accountable to, in the gym and in life.