Philosophy and Boxing – a match made in heaven?

By Mathew Shaw

The sport of boxing is known as the ‘noble art’ and has long seduced some of modern time’s greatest writers and philosophical thinkers – Ernest Hemingway, TS Eliot and Norman Mailer, to name but a few. The sport’s ethos and pathos seemingly providing the perfect metaphors for life – overcoming adversity, fulfilling one’s potential and rising to the top.

It seems fitting then that on the creaking boards of an old church hall in Leytonstone the charity Box4Life is carrying on this proud tradition by delivering an education programme that uniquely combines boxing with Philosophy for Children (P4C) as a way of improving young people’s English writing skills. It has been launched thanks to sporteducate; developed by the charity Sported in partnership with Deutsche Bank’s Born to Be youth engagement programme, which uses sport for development to overcome the obstacles young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face.

Every Tuesday, young people between the ages of 10 and 11 participate in a classroom session of P4C, before they don their gloves for an hour of non-contact boxing. Central to the concept is the ‘Community of Inquiry’, where participants are encouraged to welcome the diversity of each other’s views, but not to accept answers easily. “We want to develop their elasticity of thought. Get them questioning assumptions, analysing arguments and coming to reasoned conclusions” says Peter Sandy, General Manager at Box4Life. “We use Philosophy for Children as a way of improving their grip on issues, on life, on themselves. These critical thinking and creativity skills provide the foundations of academic success in the classroom, but are also fundamental in life.”

Boxing and philosophy might seem like unlikely bedfellows, especially for young people more familiar with the surrounding streets of Waltham Forest, but this holistic approach traces its roots back to ancient Greece and the Olympic ideal of ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.

“The boxing and philosophy very much go hand-in-hand” emphasises the club’s founder Mark Rule. “99% of what we do here is about self-belief. A lot of the young people that come through our doors lack confidence and have a fear of failure. Boxing teaches them discipline, respect and emotional resilience. Importantly, it helps them to stand tall and keeps them coming back as they enjoy it so much.”

Mark’s vision for Box4Life to be “more than just a boxing club” was shaped by his own childhood experiences. Having been bullied and struggled academically at school, he was given a helping hand by a local neighbour who helped him with his Maths and English in her kitchen. It is this same supplementary educational support – delivered in an equally safe, trusted and family atmosphere – which Mark and Peter want to foster at Box4Life. “If a child is falling behind at school, I want them to be able to come to Box4Life and the get the help they need to catch up with the rest of the class” says Mark.

Sporteducate’s approach of combining sport with educational activities is already paying dividends.

“P4C helped me think more for myself and improved my speaking a lot”, says 11-year old Jagvir. Indeed, research from Sported’s impact measurement tool Sportworks indicates that Box4Life’s work has saved society over £150,000 on an annual budget below £30,000.

Box4Life’s engagement model of using sport as the hook, coupled with educational activities is one that is being mirrored across London thanks to sporteducate. As part of the three year programme, a diverse collection of 32 other community groups – utilising a multitude of different sports – are receiving funding, training and volunteer support from Deutsche Bank and Sported to run their own tailored sport-led educational and employability sessions. Nicole Lovett, Head of Corporate Citizenship UK at Deutsche Bank said “Confidence, resilience and critical thinking are important attributes for young people to achieve personal success and in the workplace. Box4Life demonstrates that when sport and education are combined in such a strategic way – and in a supportive environment – they become a compelling means of making a positive impact. Through sporteducate we are helping young people – who may not always have had the best start in life – improve their chances and fulfil their potential.”

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