More young women stepping into the boxing ring

Once a sport exclusively for men, boxing has become a favorite way for Shanghai's young female population to keep fit.
Ti Gong

Edited by Zhong Youyang

Dodging, ducking, jabbing and punching, Xiao Xia, 26, coordinator at non-profit organization Shanghai Roots & Shoots, is drowning in sweat at a women-only boxing club in Shanghai.

“I would never have thought that I would be fond of boxing since I have asthma,” says Xiao who has been learning it for three years. “It is confrontation not only with the opponent but also with myself, which stuns me.”

“Boxing has become my only hobby, dream and pride,” says another fan, Dorothy Chang, a 29-year-old legal manager.

Boxing, a sport dominated by men in the conventional sense, has become a new fitness trend with local women between the ages of 20 and 40. They are from all walks of life — teachers, doctors, designers, lawyers, accountants and students.

Even a 10-year-old girl nicknamed Shunshun is a big boxing fan.

At first she was turned down one year ago to join a boxing class by Gong Jin, boxing instructor and owner of the Princess Women’s Boxing Club.

“Let me have a try! I like boxing,” said the girl.

Gong was touched and accepted her after making sure she could withstand such intensive training. Now, one year has passed, and Shunshun is still with the club.

“It is rare that someone joins the boxing class just because of the pure love of the sport,” says Gong.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Amateur boxers practice dodging at the Princess Women’s Boxing Club in Shanghai.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A trainee (left) learns punching under the guidance of an instructor.

Launched in 2010, the Princess Women’s Boxing Club had only about 10 students back then. After 2012, the number of active members gradually increased to over 200 in 2017.

Today, boxing is well received by many fashion icons like supermodels Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. On Weibo, many Chinese celebrities post their ringside selfies or photos featuring their punch-and-jab.

For most of the female amateurs, weight loss is the primary goal. Boxing is a high-impact sport and results in burning calories and building muscle.

“I have lost 12 kilograms since I started to practice boxing three years ago. That’s amazing,” says Xiao.

According to Gong, one person can burn 400-600 calories an hour on average in boxing ─ the actual number depends on a person’s weight and the intensity of the exercise.

Though it is an effective way for people to relieve stress and lose weight, the combat sport is not for everyone, says Li Bo, associate chief physician at Yueyang Hospital.

According to the doctor, children younger than 9 years old and people over 40 are not recommended to do boxing. He says the intensive sport will also aggravate the condition of chronic strain, so those suffering from knee, wrist, elbow and shoulder pain should think twice before practicing boxing. For people with high blood pressure and heart disease, boxing is definitely a taboo.

Having treated many patients who got injured punching or kicking, doctor Li strongly advises boxing enthusiasts to put on protective gear. “The common injures include elbow and rib fractures, as well as arthrodesis and shoulder dislocation,” he says.

He also emphasizes that women should stop intensive training like boxing when they are in the period.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A woman practices jabbing.

Many female boxers say they would never have discovered their hidden strength if they hadn’t tried boxing.

When they take off their high heels, remove their makeup, put on boxing gloves and headgear and step into the ring, these office ladies immediately shift to “fighters.”

Chang, who has been training for three years, used to be very shy and quiet, but she says boxing has had a great influence on her personality.

At work, she often needs to challenge others’ ideas. Before learning boxing, she was reluctant to argue with others and suffered as a result. But now she is very confident in the workplace.

“Boxing allows me to know that when facing challenges, the best solution is not falling back but overcoming fear first, then defending and finally attacking,” she says.

For a large number of female boxing lovers, to prove that they are strong and independent is the reason why they take boxing classes.

Cecilia Zhang, a full-time yoga teacher, is one of them.

“I think boxing is a very cool sport. When you stand in the ring, you will be confident and strong spontaneously, which breaks the gender bias that women are weak. This is why I wanted to learn it,” she says.

Zhang learned karate during her school days before Muay Thai in 2015. However, she gave up this vigorous sport one year later and changed to mindful yoga.

“Though I love boxing, it is just not suitable for me. I am an emotional person. When I kicked and punched, I merely let off steam but couldn’t remember any footwork or skill, therefore I started to learn yoga which helps me control my emotions.”

Ti Gong

Cecilia Zhang, now a yoga teacher, learned boxing to prove that women are not as weak as was thought.

Indeed, boxing is still not a mainstream sport.

“Many colleagues asked me whether there is a conflict between my job, which requires me to be calm and rational, and boxing, a somewhat violent sport,” Chang says. “Actually, boxing is both a physical and mental sport. It allows me to think calmly even when I get the adrenaline rush.”

And for a certain number of women, boxing is a good way to protect themselves.

“We don’t encourage our female students to fight against enemies,” says Gong. “But the training indeed helps women when they face attack.”

Though women’s boxing dates back to the early 18th century, it was not until the 2012 Olympic Games in London that women were allowed to box competitively.

The recognition of women’s boxing as an Olympic sport is fundamentally important to female boxers like Gong.

“People began to know what women’s boxing is. It is not about fighting but a sport, just like tennis and swimming,” says Gong.

Princess Women’s Boxing Club / Ti Gong
Princess Women’s Boxing Club / Ti Gong
Princess Women’s Boxing Club / Ti Gong