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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
We wind up the session with group calisthenics and abs.
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?