I often hear from people – especially university officials – that students need an alternative to the I.V. party scene. They’re tired, they say, of the disgusting amount of alcohol, the slutty girls, the awful rap music, and the bro fights. But who would’ve expected Duke’s Boxing, a place that includes punches, sweat, and eight of the nine guys competing in the upcoming Fight Night, to be just that alternative?
“[Boxing] has nothing to do with violence because there is no anger,” explained Duke’s trainer and UCSB literature professor Dr. Louis Bousquet. It does, however, raise deep questions about the self, bringing the deepest parts of the individual to the surface. Boxing, Bousquet claimed, forces people to both face and drop any fears they’re harboring, and it can be one of the most humbling sports.
And you thought boxing was just pummeling a swinging bag.
Owner and trainer Henry “Duke” Calles opened Duke’s in 2005 with a base clientele of about 10 to 15 people. Now Duke’s has nearly 75 members that come to the small gym on a regular basis. The biggest upcoming event for members is, of course, Fight Night, which is only a week-and-a-half away on April 17.
“Duke’s is gonna run the show this year,” Calles boasted. He and Bousquet pride themselves on teaching the technicalities of boxing and are striving to improve the quality of Fight Night’s bouts. They’re not necessarily fans, however, of all the extra shenanigans that come along with the frat event – namely the shameless ring girls and the whole spectacle of it all. Although it’s a night of amateurs, Duke’s wants to make it as great a display of boxing as possible.
(I should insert a semi-irrelevant but interesting note here about the Fight Night controversy this year. The Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity has hosted Fight Night for the last 16 years, but is unable to this year because it is on interim suspension due to an alleged hate crime that was committed in front of the fraternity house. While it’s looking like the crime wasn’t actually committed by any PIKE members, the university has nonetheless put the organization on probation. But because the charity event is one of the largest at the school and raises money for the Say Yes to Kids foundation, the show must go on. Pi Alpha Phi, a multicultural fraternity, has taken the reins as this year’s host.)
The plan is to have a positive event filled with boxing masters who display what a great show boxing, at its finest, can be. But boxing has always been a sport I’ve associated with excessive rage, hostility, and machismo – none of which I would describe as “healthy,” “calming,” or “relaxing.” These, interestingly, were all words tossed around in our discussion of boxing. Calles could see the doubt in my face.
“You have to come to a class before you write this,” he told me. Okay, I thought. I figured I would box for an hour, find it far too violent for my liking, thank Calles politely for all of his help, and never return.
But he and Bousquet were right: I fell in love with it. There were about 10 people in my class and even though we were all working on our own levels of intensity, we used each other for inspiration. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see two guys in the ring taking swings at each other and resisting every ounce of exhaustion in their bodies even when they wanted to give up. I could hear the girl next to me breathe out every time her fist hit the bag, not relenting for a moment. “Girls are always tougher,” Bousquet said.
Everybody else was close with Calles, and I could tell they were incredibly pleased to be a part of Duke’s Boxing. A few people proudly told him how they had only had one beer at this past weekend’s Floatopia, a feat thousands of others could not lay claim to.
So many places and groups (in I.V. and at UCSB especially) claim to be a welcoming and great community for students, but they’re often cliquey and not actually open to newbies. I’m not sure if it was the incredible athlete’s high I was on, or if they were pumping some kind of addictive drugs into the gym, but when I left Duke’s I felt absolutely comfortable and already like a part of the club (as cheesy as it sounds). I suppose it is as Bousquet and Calles say: “Once you go to Duke’s, you can’t rebuke.”
Duke’s Boxing is located at 6565 Trigo Road in Isla Vista.