To celebrate International Women's Day 2022, Islington Boxing Club's Laura Weis writes about her love of the sport.

Two people enclosed in a ring, one referee, tensions running high as beads of sweat form on determined faces. The bell rings, and a hurricane of fury is unleashed.

To most of us, this is what boxing is. The exchange of blows, clashing bodies, unbending will, and the pure fighting spirit of people brave enough to face each other in combat.

Islington Gazette: Islington Boxing Club's Laura WeisIslington Boxing Club's Laura Weis (Image: Reggie Hagland)

Now try to picture a typical female boxer! What type of person is she? What are her personality traits and physical characteristics? How do you imagine she feels when stepping into a boxing gym or into the ring? What are her motivations and fears? Ready?

Ok. Some of the remarkable female competitive boxers of Islington Boxing Club have shared their experience of the sport. Let’s dive into the reality of what it’s like to be a female boxer; you may be surprised.

“I would never have expected to have stepped foot in a boxing ring, never mind stand my ground and fight in one, and this very much translates to many areas of my life. It makes me feel stronger, physically and mentally, even in moments of weakness. I’m learning little by little to believe in myself, that my achievements aren’t just down to luck, my body and my mind belong to me; I am a dreamer and I’m dreaming big.”

People get into boxing for a variety of reasons, and often the journey takes them to unexpected places.

Islington Gazette: Some of Islington Boxing Club's female members face the cameraSome of Islington Boxing Club's female members face the camera (Image: Reggie Hagland/IBC)

“I wanted a challenge, something to focus on. I think a part of me wanted to push the boundaries of my comfort zone further. I had some good things going on, but I was also suffering with anxiety and bad panic attacks, often triggered by getting something wrong... A lack of self-belief.“

The Mind of a Boxer: The apparent simplicity of boxing can deceive the uneducated onlooker, the complex nuances of the sport often missed. To succeed in the squared circle not only requires physical dedication, but high levels of intelligence and self-awareness.

Competitive boxing requires the willingness to recognise and learn how to set aside one’s own fears and feelings. The competitive boxer must handle their frustration and vulnerability when faced with a strong(er) opponent: maintaining composure and focus while experiencing a flood of emotions.

Many can master the physical challenge yet struggle to control the constant sirens of self-doubt triggering either a flight response, or a wild and mostly ineffective fight reaction.

“Boxing is the one thing I do, that when I’m doing it, I don’t think about anything else. It’s never perfect, it doesn’t always go the way I want it to, It gives me ups, downs, around and arounds. I love it, I hate it, I love it. It’s an odd relationship, it’s a raw one, it’s very real, evoking every emotion imaginable.”

In boxing, often the toughest opponent is your own mind. Boxing puts people in a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking kind of place at times; publicly exposing vulnerabilities.

Islington Gazette: Islington Boxing Club members at their Hazellville Road gymIslington Boxing Club members at their Hazellville Road gym (Image: Reggie Hagland/IBC)

It’s a sport of extremes; brutal yet graceful, consisting of the most basic human physical violence, yet requiring sharp mental acumen, along with an abundance of courage and heart. Pushing, and overcoming our own limits gives us the tools to be better, inside and out.

“I love physically pushing myself through the mental feeling of ‘I can’t’, Boxing has given me an opportunity to be the best version of me.”

The Mental Health Link: Boxing provides structure and progression, fostering mental resilience and feelings of empowerment.

“Boxing gives me discipline - clear goals and a sense of achievement, which helps my ADHD. It gives me a sense of personal empowerment, doing something my female body is apparently not supposed to do, defying gender rules, and expressing my power in public.”

Boxing helps women who may have felt victimised in their past by allowing them to regain control, process trauma and overcome feelings of weakness. To many, boxing provides a form of therapy.

It can be cathartic to punch the heavy bag and allow otherwise negative emotions to be vented in a safe and controlled space.

“The last six months have been a challenge for me in terms of mental health and well-being, something that never affected me previously. I am so grateful for boxing because it gave me something to focus on and channel my negativity and anger.

"I was able to turn a negative into a positive and this last season was my best to date in my boxing career, becoming ABA Elite and GB Tri Nations Champion.”

Pretty Strong Women: Women’s integration into a male-dominated sport forces society to re-define masculinity and femininity. Female boxers are shaking up beliefs regarding gender roles, encouraging women to reframe what it means to be feminine, and defy gender-dividing boundaries.

“Before boxing I used to train for the sole purpose of changing the way I look. Boxing is so mentally liberating because you are focused on acquiring a skill as opposed to changing your body.

"You improve, gain confidence and realise that while your body may not be "perfect" by society's standards it has morphed into the perfect shape for you to be able to do your sport well. It gives training purpose and more value than aesthetic training ever could. You celebrate what your body can do rather than celebrating conformity to how it "should" look.

“Boxing changed my life. It has made me appreciate what my body can do and I am able to manage the eating disorder that I’ve struggled with for 10 years - it allows me to be kinder to myself and has vastly improved my mental health.”

Boxing a Lonely Sport? Whilst it might seem like the life of a boxer is a lonely one, with only you and an opponent locked in battle, there is another side to this sport.

The strong social support system at the boxing club enables people to push through tough training sessions and succeed at competitions.

“I’ve made some amazing friends with whom to share the struggles and triumphs of competitive sport and beyond. The gym feels like a second home, and the people in it like family.

“I am surrounded by the most incredible people, boxers, coaches, and friends. I’ve met women who individually and collectively inspire me every single day. I feel part of something extremely special - Real tough love.”

Hopefully you feel inspired to find out more about the sport, or even join us at the club and try it out for yourself!