Boxing, Body Love and Bad Assery

In the ABC’s of fitness, ‘B’ might as well be boxing.

For those who’ve taken up the sport competitively or just for fun, the ‘B’ also comes to represent boldness, beauty, badass and body love.

Just ask Caleigh Rykiss, a former competitive boxer and founder and CEO of BOLO BodyLove Inc. that recently opened in downtown Toronto.

“First of all, hitting shit just feels really good from a physical perspective, it’s incredibly stress relieving … but there’s obviously something extra special about exerting whatever frustration you might have, any pent-up stress or anger you just want to get out that’s a huge component of it,” said Rykiss, who is also a personal trainer and fitness expert.

“But if you look at it from a deeper level, boxing is one of the only workouts where you’re not just focused on sweating and calorie burning you’re focused on developing a skill that is a powerful skill to have. It’s a powerful skill to know how to punch, it’s a powerful skill to feel like you can protect yourself, from that perspective I think what’s very positive about it especially for women is not just focusing on how many calories are burned or how it makes your body look, but focusing on really honing this new skill that is in itself powerful.”

Before becoming a business owner and a personal trainer, Rykiss started in boxing the way most of her clients do – trying a new fitness challenge.

“It was about 12 years ago, before boxing was cool or chic – I joined a few of my guy friends at a grungy boxing gym on Yonge Street… The minute I started the class I knew I'd found something special. It instantly made me feel different than any other workout. I knew I wanted to get really good at it. So, I did,” she said.

Rykiss competed in boxing throughout her 20s before she realized her body could no longer handle the stress of sparring and had to hang up her gloves. While she may no longer be competing, she is still working in the ring and helping others discover their love for the sport.

“I think one of the most rewarding things about teaching is watching people progress, and the sport of boxing is a place where you can really see those progressions,” Rykiss explains.

“I have had a few clients who started just from a recreational perspective, liked it so much and wanted to try it competitively. It’s been so awesome for me to bring them to that place where they’re so passionate about a sport that they would put themselves in a line of fire to test them out, but it’s just as rewarding to see people who don’t necessarily want to get in the ring but want to learn the technique behind the sport and get into it that way.”

Supporting women’s presence and growth in the world of boxing and combat sports is one of the reasons Lynn Le founded Society Nine, a fight apparel and gear line made for women. Le, who has a brown belt in Krav Maga and a background in kickboxing says she threw her first punch in 2011 and never looked back. But as she grew in the sport she found the proper equipment and gear for women in combat sports just wasn’t there.

“Women have very little options for (gear) actually marketed towards them, and designed with their fit needs in mind – their options are to wear unisex products that are two sizes too big for them; children’s gloves; or men’s gloves that are small, turned bubble-gum pink,” said Le, who is based out of Portland Oregon.

“You wouldn’t train for a marathon wearing children’s shoes, or shoes that are two sizes too big – so why are women essentially resorting to that as their options when training in boxing?”

Society Nine – named after the 1972 Title IX legislation in the US that broke down barriers for professional female athletes – raised more than $60K through their Kickstarter campaign in 2015 and have only grown from there with orders coming in from all over the world including the UAE, Ecuador and Croatia.

“I want Society Nine to encourage all women to embrace the inner fighter within them. We are often shunned from describing ourselves as fighters, because of stigma and taboo around the idea that aggression, anger and power are negative and masculine traits; and additionally, because of the intimidation around using the word ‘fighter’ as synonymous with competitive fighting only,” Le said.

“There are opportunities to feel and try all of these things – to feel the emotions of aggression and anger, but also to try combat/fighting sports if you want to. That is what the brand Society Nine means … it celebrates the women of our community, our society now and what they will continue to fight for in the future… which is anything and everything!”

Sometimes it’s the aggression associated with boxing that can turn women off from trying the sport, but both Rykiss and Le say do not feel intimidated – you won’t regret it.

“I think one of the biggest things when I opened BOLO was to dispel this myth that boxing was scary or that you had to be at a certain fitness level to start in the first place or that my classes are intimidating – it’s definitely not the case,” Rykiss said.

“It’s one of those workouts where you really take it at whatever level you are at that day so you can throw as much power behind a punch that you feel comfortable with, so if it’s a regular practice for you and you can really maximize throwing power and strength that’s incredible and if you’re not quite there yet, there’s still something to be gained. The best thing people say to me was ‘that was not scary at all that was so much fun’, I’d say that’s 98.9% of the people that come through the door leave with a massive smile on their face and comeback.”

With Society Nine, Le says they aim to not only provide women with the physical tools they need, but the emotional and mental tools as well with a community of brand ambassadors, and team to help answer questions from how to wrap your hands to where to find a gym near you. In helping build this community, Le says it breaks down that intimidation factor.

“For me personally, combat sports was a spiritual awakening… From my experience as a former instructor, I used to see this spiritual awakening often – when a woman took her first class with me, and threw that first punch, she walked out with her head way higher, and her shoulders pulled back because she, I would bet, had her own kind of spiritual awakening!” Le said.

“I want all women to experience what I felt, and to be equipped with the proper gear and tools to do so.”