I Box, in Hillbrow

Part 2 in an occasional series about boxing. Read Part 1. Also, watch a short video about George’s gym.

When George Khosi was a kid, living on the streets of Hillbrow, he dreamed of being a boxing champion. He fought his way (literally) through the ranks, and was on his way toward becoming one.

That dream died 14 years ago, when George was brutally attacked, shot, and left for dead on a hillside overlooking Johannesburg.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I recently learned that the hill where George nearly lost his life is the same hill that I visited and blogged about two weeks ago.

George. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Today, George has devoted his life to training future boxing champions at his gym, the Hillbrow Boxing Club. Many of the guys (and girls) he trains are street kids who have come to Hillbrow and Yeoville from other parts of Africa, just as George did many years ago. The Hillbrow Boxing Club – a converted petrol station on Claim St., is George’s life. He works, eats, and sleeps there, along with several of his fighters.

George’s room in the basement of the Hillbrow Boxing Club. (Photo: 2Summers)

To keep the gym going and to pay the rent, George trains people like me – people who love boxing but aren’t looking to become professionals. People who can afford to pay an extremely reasonable hourly fee to work out with a legendary South African boxing trainer.

George does padwork with Mark, one of his clients. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Several mornings a week, George travels a couple of kilometers east of Hillbrow to the trendy Maboneng District, where he does boxing workouts on the roof of the 12 Decades Hotel at 7:00 a.m. (or even 6:00 a.m., if his clients prefer it). I’m a regular attendee at those workouts, and plan to write a separate post about them. Boxing on the roof of the 12 Decades, while watching the windows of Jozi’s skyscrapers turn flame-orange with the morning sun, is an experience unto itself.

But if George’s clients want to experience what real boxing training is like, working alongside professional boxers and sparring in an actual ring, they have to go to the Hillbrow Boxing Club. One or two days a week, we work out there.

Inside the Hillbrow Boxing Club. (Photo: 2Summers)

Walking into the Hillbrow Boxing Club is…Eish, it’s hard to explain. It’s REAL. There’s nothing pretentious. There’s nothing easy. There’s nothing comfortable. And yet the Hillbrow Boxing Club is a welcoming place. It’s tough, but not intimidating. It’s a place where young people go to become fighters. Most of them have been fighting for their entire lives, out of necessity. They come here to learn to fight in a different way. They’re fighting to make their lives better.

Fighting. (Photo: 2Summers)

(Photo: Fiver Löcker)

You might think that a person like me – a white foreigner with a ponytail – wouldn’t fit in at the Hillbrow Boxing Club. But if you think that, you’re wrong. I like it there. I want to be a part of things. When I go there, I forget about all the sh*t going on in my life. I just want to be better.

Jogging on the street outside the Hillbrow Boxing Club. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Pictures are the best way to show what goes on at our Hillbrow boxing workouts, but I can’t take pictures with boxing gloves on. So my friend Fiver stepped in to help me this week. The good news is, I now have lots of pictures of myself boxing. The bad news is, I now have lots of pictures of myself boxing. These pictures will not win me any beauty contests. They don’t say much about my boxing form either – I realize now that I really need to work on keeping my elbows in. But hopefully they’ll give you a feel for what boxing in Hillbrow is like.

A round of padwork starts by touching gloves with George. “My CHAHM-pione,” George always says as we start. This puts me in a good mood.

Padwork with George in the outdoor boxing ring in Hillbrow. By the way, why is it called a ring? It should be called a boxing square. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Bad elbow form. Must fix. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

I like this shot because I don’t look like I want to murder someone. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

The guy in the background most likely thinks I’m a maniac. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

As you can probably tell, I’ve been a little stressed lately. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Thwack. “Goooood!” says George. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

I almost didn’t include this photo because it is really a bit frightening. But I figure that posting it will decrease the odds that I’ll ever get mugged in Joburg. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

One round of padwork lasts two or three minutes. We alternate and do four or five rounds each. After padwork, it’s time for sparring. “We SPAHR!” says George.

Preparing to spar. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

The only punch I managed to land on George. He wasn’t fazed. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

We wind up the session with group calisthenics and abs.

George calls this “Stowe-MAHCK!” (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

My mom doesn’t want to hear me say this. But I love boxing so much. There is a part of me that wants to go all the way — to train with George every day and actually try to become a “real” boxer. What do I have to lose, other than a few brain cells and teeth?

Johanna’s smile pretty much sums it up. I think she enjoys boxing in Hillbrow as much as I do. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

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63 Comments

  • Reply KLong March 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Um, I LOVE THAT PICTURE. So glad you included it. You are one tough cookie.

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Thanks KLong. Miss you.

  • Reply jackie hulme March 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    great blog Heather – please let me know when you go through one saturday / or over the easter weekend – I would just love to do some shots but quietly ….

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Hi Jackie, you would be more than welcome to come and take photos. George loves being photographed. He does do workouts on Saturdays but I don’t usually go then because I attend a boxing class in Melville. Let’s talk the next time we see each other though and we can work something out.

  • Reply landofnams March 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Great post, you look like a BAMF when you box 😉

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Woo-hoo! No one has ever called me that before.

  • Reply Slowvelder March 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Out of all the pictures i love the one you wanted to leave out most! It says so much. So real, and clean – no pretenses. Lovely post again.

  • Reply MartinaInJozi March 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I also love that picture you were going to leave out the most!

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Thanks. I’m glad I used it.

  • Reply MartinaInJozi March 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I also love that picture you were going to leave out the most!

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Thanks. I’m glad I used it.

  • Reply Sine March 29, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    wow, cool, I had no idea you were doing this! Long before I ever lived here, I read and re-read The Power of One, so boxing will always have a special connection to South Africa for me.

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Thanks Sine. It’s funny…I also read and loved The Power of One. I read it long before I moved to South Africa and long before I started boxing. Funny how things have turned out since.

  • Reply Sine March 29, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    wow, cool, I had no idea you were doing this! Long before I ever lived here, I read and re-read The Power of One, so boxing will always have a special connection to South Africa for me.

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Thanks Sine. It’s funny…I also read and loved The Power of One. I read it long before I moved to South Africa and long before I started boxing. Funny how things have turned out since.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough March 30, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Like Jackie, I love the photo you considered leaving out. Plus, I can’t help but love this boxing metaphor–I love it on so many levels. I wonder if there wouldn’t be a book here for you–either using fighting as a metaphor for your recent struggle and/or a book about the club. Powerful material.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Kathy. This will be part of the book, for sure!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough March 30, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Like Jackie, I love the photo you considered leaving out. Plus, I can’t help but love this boxing metaphor–I love it on so many levels. I wonder if there wouldn’t be a book here for you–either using fighting as a metaphor for your recent struggle and/or a book about the club. Powerful material.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Kathy. This will be part of the book, for sure!

  • Reply Mariel March 30, 2012 at 12:41 am

    What a great opportunity. To do anything with someone who is not only a legend in that field, but is an inspiring person in other ways as well. I can see how it’s especially motivating. Best of luck with boxing. 🙂

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Mariel. It really is an amazing opportunity and I feel very fortunate.

  • Reply Mariel March 30, 2012 at 12:41 am

    What a great opportunity. To do anything with someone who is not only a legend in that field, but is an inspiring person in other ways as well. I can see how it’s especially motivating. Best of luck with boxing. 🙂

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Mariel. It really is an amazing opportunity and I feel very fortunate.

  • Reply taxslave March 30, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Love the picture of Johanna

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      That’s also one of my favorites. Fiver did a great job.

  • Reply taxslave March 30, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Love the picture of Johanna

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      That’s also one of my favorites. Fiver did a great job.

  • Reply bonitajeanie March 30, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Great pictures of my mean, tough daughter. Those of us who know and love you realize that’s not the real Heather. Once you’re a pro boxer you can pay me back if you mess up those teeth I paid to have straightened.
    Mom

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      It is the real me! Just not the part that you normally see. And don’t worry, I was only kidding about the teeth. I wear a mouth guard.

  • Reply bonitajeanie March 30, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Great pictures of my mean, tough daughter. Those of us who know and love you realize that’s not the real Heather. Once you’re a pro boxer you can pay me back if you mess up those teeth I paid to have straightened.
    Mom

    • Reply 2summers March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      It is the real me! Just not the part that you normally see. And don’t worry, I was only kidding about the teeth. I wear a mouth guard.

  • Reply jackie hulme April 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

    after watching Clifford’s documentary on Aljezara – George’s is just the most remarkable chap – Im sure Hillbrow has lots of remarkable folk. I had to read your blog again. Just blown away … jacks
    sorry I didn’t make yesterday.

    • Reply 2summers April 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks. George is even more remarkable in person!

  • Reply jackie hulme April 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

    after watching Clifford’s documentary on Aljezara – George’s is just the most remarkable chap – Im sure Hillbrow has lots of remarkable folk. I had to read your blog again. Just blown away … jacks
    sorry I didn’t make yesterday.

    • Reply 2summers April 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks. George is even more remarkable in person!

  • Reply Tara April 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I noticed ur biceps :p muscles in a silly self portrait and and thought to myself, this girl works out quite a lot.. and then i read ur boxing stories.. amazing, really. i like ur interests and ways of channelizing your emotions.. pardon my use of ‘ur’.. and that scare the mugger shot is super awesome 🙂 keep going girl! am sure you are inspiring many..

    • Reply 2summers April 13, 2012 at 8:11 am

      Haha, thanks. I recommend boxing to anyone who needs a little help channeling their emotions. It works.

  • Reply Tara April 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I noticed ur biceps :p muscles in a silly self portrait and and thought to myself, this girl works out quite a lot.. and then i read ur boxing stories.. amazing, really. i like ur interests and ways of channelizing your emotions.. pardon my use of ‘ur’.. and that scare the mugger shot is super awesome 🙂 keep going girl! am sure you are inspiring many..

    • Reply 2summers April 13, 2012 at 8:11 am

      Haha, thanks. I recommend boxing to anyone who needs a little help channeling their emotions. It works.

  • Reply Rebecca June 9, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Oh I love boxing and haven’t done it in years. I was so fit when I was doing it, now… not so much. You’ve totally inspired me to get back into it. Just don’t know where to start in Port Moresby!

    • Reply 2summers June 9, 2012 at 10:21 am

      Well, boxing is a pretty universal sport. I’m sure there’s a boxing gym somewhere in Port Moresby. And even if it’s in a dangerous neighborhood, you’ll be safe once you’re there! Boxers make very good bodyguards 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca June 9, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Oh I love boxing and haven’t done it in years. I was so fit when I was doing it, now… not so much. You’ve totally inspired me to get back into it. Just don’t know where to start in Port Moresby!

    • Reply 2summers June 9, 2012 at 10:21 am

      Well, boxing is a pretty universal sport. I’m sure there’s a boxing gym somewhere in Port Moresby. And even if it’s in a dangerous neighborhood, you’ll be safe once you’re there! Boxers make very good bodyguards 🙂

  • Reply Terance September 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    How much does it cost to gym a month

    • Reply 2summers September 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Terance, George charges R40 per session, per person.

  • Reply Terance September 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    How much does it cost to gym a month

    • Reply 2summers September 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Terance, George charges R40 per session, per person.

  • Reply Thalia Holmes January 23, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Hi there. I am a journalist for the Mail and Guardian. We heard there is a women’s boxing group that trains here. We would like to possibly run a story about it. Could you please drop me an email if you wouldn’t mind having a chat? I love your story. [email protected]

  • Reply Thalia Holmes January 23, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Hi there. I am a journalist for the Mail and Guardian. We heard there is a women’s boxing group that trains here. We would like to possibly run a story about it. Could you please drop me an email if you wouldn’t mind having a chat? I love your story. [email protected]

  • Reply Luthando March 14, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I’m truly inspired,I’m a big fan of boxing myself. I would like to learn how to pack a punch like David Haye above all I’d love to learn the skill so I can protect myself!

  • Reply Luthando March 14, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I’m truly inspired,I’m a big fan of boxing myself. I would like to learn how to pack a punch like David Haye above all I’d love to learn the skill so I can protect myself!

  • Reply Doron November 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Great article! A true story well-written. I enjoyed the background history on your own life and that of George’s too, very interesting! The gym looks gritty, tough, and old school…I like that. I’m glad you’re enjoying it there, keep it up, and keep up the good writing too. If I was still in SA I would love to train there too, Joburg is my pozzie!

    • Reply 2summers November 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

      Thanks Doron, glad you enjoyed it. Come visit any time!

  • Reply Doron November 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Great article! A true story well-written. I enjoyed the background history on your own life and that of George’s too, very interesting! The gym looks gritty, tough, and old school…I like that. I’m glad you’re enjoying it there, keep it up, and keep up the good writing too. If I was still in SA I would love to train there too, Joburg is my pozzie!

    • Reply 2summers November 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

      Thanks Doron, glad you enjoyed it. Come visit any time!

  • Reply simon August 12, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    im simon msiza im a student in cjc i want 2 joint boxing cze i love it.im staying at berea Aabel road at andy bostonian accomodation.

  • Reply simon August 12, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    im simon msiza im a student in cjc i want 2 joint boxing cze i love it.im staying at berea Aabel road at andy bostonian accomodation.

  • Reply Candice December 15, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Hi there! We really want to use this location and some boxers for a music video shoot, can someone contact me please.

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