Somewhere between exhaustion and elation, my mind blanks. My muscles burn like fire, drawing sudden attention to parts of my body I’ve neglected during a year and a half of remote working. My shoulders ache from the reverberations of each strike against the punching bag; my calves groan from the constant bouncing rhythm of my feet.
Of all the health benefits of boxing—strength, endurance, muscle growth—perhaps the most alluring for me is the catharsis of being able to punch the hell out of something. Despite my exhaustion, I endure, caught up in a release of rage against a resolute punching bag.
I boxed a bit as a teenager, but it’s been many years since I’ve donned the gloves. A healthy cache of pent-up energy and emotion from the last few years has brought me back to the sport. As I jab and punch my way across Vancouver’s boxing gyms, I’m reminded that I am very much a beginner. But that’s not a bad thing: learning to box is like learning to dance, and it can be so rewarding once you master the steps. You have to train your body to synchronize itself in certain ways: keep your fists up like a magnet to your jaw, twist your back foot as you throw a right hook to give yourself momentum.
It’s easy to romanticize this sport, imagining oneself as a skilled fighter floating like a butterfly in the ring with graceful swagger. But boxing is a specific art in many ways. Anyone can throw a punch, but mastering technique requires focus and dedication. And importantly, a learning environment that suits you.
As a beginner, going to a boxing gym can be intimidating. They range from athlete-exclusive to family-oriented in this city. Here’s a breakdown of some beginner-friendly gyms with unique styles and environments.
If you’re heading to the club straight after: House Concepts
With LED lights and loud music, House Concepts’ Butterfly Boxing gym has the same hybrid club-gym feel as most spin classes. During my lesson, the instructor, Niko, shouts out jab, punch, and duck combos in hype-man fashion while Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” blasts full volume. The darkened room, awash in red light, immerses me in my own world, and soon I’m not sure if I’m moving to my instructor’s demands or to the music’s rhythm. Fast-paced and intense, House Concepts’ boxing classes come in two versions: Sting, which focuses on strength, and Float, which emphasizes cardio.
With its sleek, aesthetic settings (bumping into a selfie-taking influencer here is likely), the alternate gym brands itself as a “sweat and social movement” and houses a bootcamp studio and treadmill room along with its boxing quarters.
If you want an old-school community: Quinit Boxing
With a back alley entrance on an unassuming East Van side street, Quinit Boxing’s setting is low-key and indicative of its stripped-down ethos. An old-school boxing gym to the core, Quinit features a boxing ring as the centrepiece of the room while punching bags hang along the sides. Faded magazine spreads of Muhammad Ali line the walls, and a few basic weight machines huddle in a corner.
Despite the gym’s hardened vibe, there’s no sense of intimidation. The instructor keeps the class constantly moving while Drake blares through the speakers. I can tell my classmates are all regulars—they know the class routine well, from the individual warm-up to pairing up and taking jabs at one’s partner. The instructor weaves through the boxers spread throughout the room, pausing to correct form here and there. At an hour, the class is highly intensive, but allows time for cooling down.
Quinit has allotted open-gym times as well as lessons ranging from youth and beginner to competitive amateur and professional training, along with private one-on-one coaching.
If you want the whole package: Diaz Combat Sports
Known for its expertise in boxing, strength and conditioning, jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai training, Diaz Combat Sports is equipped in almost all arenas of martial arts for all levels of experience. The gym recently unveiled a new 11,000-square-foot space on Pender Street, with three floors, a juice bar, and top-of-the-line equipment.
If you’ve never thrown a punch before and need your hand held through each step, your first class at Diaz will walk you through the basics of boxing from stance to movement. Once you’ve mastered the jab, punch, hook, uppercut, and duck, you’ll then put it all together. The most enjoyable moment during my first class is when Ali, my instructor, holds up some pads and kindly requests I give it my all as I wildly punch away.
At over a thousand members and growing, Diaz is definitely a big dog in the Vancouver martial arts scene. with former Olympian Manny Sobral on the instructor roster
If you want to support a nonprofit: Eastside Boxing Club
On the Downtown Eastside, Eastside Boxing Club is open to all but has a particular focus on empowering at-risk youth, women who have been exposed to violence, and LGBTQ+ communities through boxing. Established through a fundraising effort, Eastside has a deep-rooted ethos of giving back. It offers free boxing classes to frontline workers and a self-defence program with free childminding while boxers are in class.
A Back to Basics class will teach you all the standard movements, while Roll With the Punches will find you working with a partner on perfecting technique and even taking punches at each other. The club also offers dedicated classes for queer boxers as well as for mothers and young children together.
If you don’t want to leave the house: Movement by NM
Considering the state of the pandemic, it’s understandable to be hesitant to start sweating at a gym again. As we’ve come to discover with pretty much every other in-person activity, workouts can be digital. Founded by a Vancouver mother-and-daughter duo, Movement by NM is an online fitness subscription-based channel. It’s like Netflix for workouts and features an extensive assortment of HIIT, strength training, yoga, and combat lessons taught by professionals. It has curated playlists for different intensities or goals, along with full courses.
Farinaz Lari, a World Kickboxing Championship winner (the first Iranian woman to win the title), teaches a seven-day kickboxing foundation course. Earlier episodes run through basic movements like jabs and crosses, while later episodes bring it all together into 20-minute guided routines. The videos—which are cinematically produced—allow you to go at your own pace and pause whenever you need a break, reducing any social pressure you may feel at an actual gym.