Boxercizers punch their way to fitness

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Boxercizers punch their way to fitness


A boxer works the heavy bag at Soongmin Boxing Gym.

Korean boxing is winded but not down and out. The sport, once an avenue for the young and courageous to test their strength and wits in the ring has taken on a new look.

While the popularity of boxing as a competitive sport in Korea has definitely taken a hit over the past decade or so, it is now a popular leisure sport for many who want to get in shape or shed some extra pounds.


Jang Byeong-in, manager of the Soongmin Boxing Gym, coaches one of his prize fighters. By Lee Chan-weon

Jang Byeong-in, the 49-year-old manager of the Soongmin Boxing Gym in Seoul, is the former super welterweight (63.5 kilograms, 140 pounds) Korean and Asian champion, in 1981 and 1983, respectively.

The Soongmin gym has produced many world champions over the years and Jang fondly remembers the glory years of the 1970s and 1980s.

“It was a great time. There were many world-class Korean boxers fighting until the 1980s. Fans used to pack out Jangchung Gymnasium near the old Dongdaemum Stadium and other venues. There weren’t enough tickets to go around,” said Jang.

Having devoted a large majority of his life to the sport, Jang explained why the popularity of the sport took a nosedive in the 1990s.


“Korea was still a developing country back then and boxing was an opportunity for many to escape poverty and reach stardom,” Jang said. “As the economy got better and professional basketball and baseball leagues were introduced, boxing suffered from lackluster marketing and promotion. The fan base dwindled as the IBF [International Boxing Federation] and the IBO [International Boxing Organization] began to appear in the 1980s and ’90s,” Jang added.

As interest in boxing as a competitive sport waned, others began to see the sport as a way to get keep fit.


The aerobic boxing class at BJI Boxing Diet Gym

Byun Jung-sul, the manager of BJI Boxing Diet Gym, helped start the aerobics boxing trend in Korea. He remembers the beginning with a chuckle.

“When my brother [former WBC bantamweight champion and 1988 Seoul Olympian Byun Jung-il] and I came up with the idea of diet and aerobic boxing in 1993, many in boxing circles frowned upon our venture, dismissing it as ludicrous,” he said.

“They imagined ladies in tights dancing to music and thought it would make a mockery of the sport.”

Byun and his brother initially targeted their diet boxing gym in 1997 at women. “Back then, boxing gyms were full of guys. There were no women whatsoever. We thought by attracting women, it would in turn help us to attract more guys to our gym,” said Byun.

What started as a laughable idea became a successful business venture. The gym is packed on a nightly basis with over 350 members, but none of them are professional fighters. Men and women of all ages throw combination punches and duck and weave to techno music blaring from the speakers.

As in any sport or leisure activity, it is important to keep the participant interested and have immediate results, Byun explained. A person who consistently shows up at the gym three to four times a week and gets fully immersed in the program can lose anywhere from five to eight kilograms (11-17 pounds) in a month, he said.

Lee Yu-na, a 24-year-old social worker, said she had been going to the classes for three months. “It’s a lot of fun. I lost five kilograms in total,” she said.

Ha So-young, a 38-year-old accountant, was equally positive. “I would have to say that it’s one of the best cardiovascular workouts out there. I’d give it 9 out of 10. I’ve lost five kilograms in a month and my waist got a lot slimmer,” she said.

While dieting and losing anywhere from five to 10 kilograms a month is not a problem, trying to maintain the weight loss is the hardest part.

Cho Be-long, a professor and doctor at the Department of Family Medicine at Seoul National University Hospital, said losing weight through a combination of exercise and diet works fine, but since it is hard to maintain the effort, it is much better in most cases to target a gradual weight-loss program.

“Losing up to 10 kilograms a month does not warrant a serious health risk; athletes do it all the time. However, it’s better to lose no more than two kilograms per month,” said Cho.

“Although approximately 40 percent of individuals can successfully lose weight in a short span of time, it becomes difficult for most to maintain the rigorous exercise and eating habit required to keep the weight off.”

Fast results can also bring about a lax attitude where individuals begin to think they can achieve the weight loss whenever they want, leading to a yo-yo effect.

While weight loss through boxing does not warrant any serious health risks, it is still important to keep a few things in mind.

According to Cho, “Drastic weight loss can lead to unbalanced electrolyte levels as well as irregular levels of protein and carbohydrates. It can also put a strain on the heart and kidney for some.”

In contrast to BJI Boxing Diet Gym, Soongmin Boxing Gym is in the traditional mold of achieving weight loss or health through conventional boxing training. The gym has produced its share of world champions over its 34-year history including the late Choi Yo-sam, who was ranked fifth in the world in the bantamweight division (54 kilograms, 118 pounds) and climbing prior to his death.

Jang said his stable of professional fighters is 11 strong with many more amateur prospects training for a shot in the professional ranks.

While competitors still flock to Soongmin Boxing Gym in search of the training staff’s professional expertise, a lot more come from all walks of life to join the gym to maintain their health and relieve stress.

Jang believes a special program to emphasize the diet side of boxing is unnecessary since the sport itself is physically draining. Instead, he tries to make boxing fun through personal one-on-one coaching.

“I try to customize training and input my coaching tips according to the body shape and preference of each trainee. I don’t think it is good to teach everyone the same way.”

For example, to pique the trainee’s interest, he will provide hints on the art of in-fighting such as weaving and hook combinations to a boxer with a shorter reach.

He went on to explain that the most important aspect of controlling weight is to eat right and keep up a consistent workout schedule.

“It is crucial to eat a hearty breakfast and stay clear of food after 7 p.m. as late-night eating can overwork your digestive system. This can in turn result in increased food consumption and fatigue the following day,” said Jang.

The experts also say it is important to be consistent and most people should think of investing three months of hard work to see any noticeable results.

“Boxing is a sport that requires perseverance. It takes consistent effort over a long period of time to achieve maximum results. Having the right mentality and positive attitude is the key to success,” Jang said.

Getting started: the basics

Before we get to the basics, it is important to choose the right gym. You should carefully consider whether you want to take up traditional boxing or aerobic boxing. Do some research on the qualifications of the instructors and coaches. However, since most gyms have excellent trainers and coaches on staff, most important is the proximity of the gym to your home or office. It’s important to work out on a regular basis at least three to four times a week.

There are some slight differences between a traditional boxing workout and aerobic workouts.

Aerobic boxing is timed with set intervals, but regular boxing workouts revolve around a three-minute bell, with boxers getting a one-minute rest before the next bout.

Boxing is not a costly sport. Comfortable indoor sneakers, shorts, a T-shirt, hand wraps and bag gloves are all you need to get started. Bag gloves and hand wraps can be purchased through the gym or at any online sporting goods shop.

Boxing workout

1. Stretching

2. Jumping jacks

3. Jumping rope (5 rounds)

4. Body stretching (3 rounds)

5. Boxing footwork, shadow boxing (5-6 rounds for beginners and 10 rounds for intermediate to advanced boxers)

6. Heavy bag, sand bag (5-6 rounds for beginners and 10 rounds for intermediate to advanced boxers)

7. Jumping rope (3 rounds)

8. Sit-ups and weight training

* Each round is 3 minutes long, equaling a total

workout time of 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Aerobic boxing workout

1. Stretching (10 min.)

2. Treadmill (10 min.)

3. Jumping rope (10 min.)

4. Aerobic boxing (40 min.)

5. Weight training (10 min.)

6. Stretching (10 min.)

* Total workout time of 90 minutes.

Boxing gyms in Seoul
Soongmin Boxing Gym

Mojin-dong, Gwangjin District, (02) 467-6980.

Located within walking distance of Children’s Grand Park Station, line No. 7, exit 3.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.

BJI Boxing Diet Gym

Jongam-dong, Sungbuk District, (02) 499-3090,

Located adjacent to Holiday Inn (Sungbuk Hotel) near Wolgok Station, line No. 6. Hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.

Rocky Boxing Gym,

Yangjae-dong, Seocho District, (02) 572-4348,

Located near Yangjae Station, line No. 3, exit 5. Hours: 10 a.m. (morning classes), 2 and 10:30 p.m. (afternoon and evening classes) and 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

Jo In Joo Boxing Diet Club

Wonhyoro-2-ga, Yongsan District, (02) 712-9531,

Located near Sinyongsan Station, line No. 4, exit 5.

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

By Jason Kim Staff Reporter []
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