First rule of fight club: Young men need a physical outlet
I teach angry young men to fight. I know how they feel because I used to be one of them. As a professional boxer and also an Anglican priest, I’ve seen disaffected kids find a sense of worth, discipline and community by entering the ring.
I understand the impassioned debate about violence in Kings Cross and I agree that alcohol and late opening hours are a problem. They are, however, merely drivers of street violence, not the cause. In my opinion, what leads young men to such apparently random and senseless aggression runs much deeper.
I started our Fight Club, essentially a boxing gym at our youth centre in Dulwich Hill, more than two decades ago, when the local streets were awash with heroin. In all those years I have looked many young men in the eyes as we have sparred in the ring and I have learnt a lot about their lives.
Since my own time on the streets I have completed three degrees in philosophy and theology, but it’s these young men themselves who I believe have taught me why a Fight Club works in turning lives around.
Modern Australian society is, I think, suffering a crisis of masculinity. At least one fifth of Australian kids under-15 are growing up in single parent families, 87 per cent of which are headed by mothers.
I am not trying to make any kind of value judgment about family structure or imply any criticism of parents in general or mothers, in particular. I am simply pointing to the fact that many Australian boys and young men grow up without strong male role models.
Add to this the social norm in which aggression and violence is usually denied and suppressed, rather than recognised and channeled, and we are left with very few outlets for young men who, I would argue, who are naturally driven towards physical pursuits.
By that I do not mean that aggression and violence in inevitable or should be accepted. I mean that young men have always needed to express their physicality in some way.
Historically we’ve sent young men off to war and out onto the sports fields. These days, we put boys behind computer screens and let them play violent video games. Far too many young men find their only physical outlets behind the wheel of a car or on the streets.
In the boxing ring young men have permission to connect in a very physical way. When you fight up close it is an intimate connection. Many of the young men I work with may have never “rough housed” with their Dads and may never have an older male they respect put his arm around them in the kind of embrace of approval a male mentor can provide.
Contrary to popular perceptions, boxing is not about unleashing aggression. To box is to learn self-control and, therefore, anger management.
An angry man thrashes around, leaves himself open to his opponent and ultimately ends up on the ground. I have seen this so many times.
The angry young men who come to box at the Fight Club do not want to be the one on the floor, humiliated, with the other guy stepping on his chest waving his gloves in the air.
This is a very powerful motivation to turn aggression into something else altogether. To box successfully kids need to train every day, to learn to control their feelings and to learn how to think strategically.
By the time a kid is ready for their first big fight they are so far down the path to self control they have actually already left many of their problems behind.
Fight Club is just one solution. It often works and has also, at times, proved an effective outlet for some angry young girls. I have lost kids too, usually to heroin or fast cars. But, I know that acknowledging and working with masculinity is a big, positive step forward for young men.
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