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Boxing for Women
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Boxing for Women

From childhood, women are taught not to "hit." Yet, all people need a range of options, from non-violent to violent, when resolving various types of conflicts. Moreover, genuine empowerment can only grow from self-reliance.

At the Pioneer Valley Boxing School, regardless of your age or skill level, with a patient and creative instructor, you will discover, appreciate, and exercise powers within yourself of which you may otherwise be unaware.



Hi Djata,
I enjoyed talking to you yesterday.  It was quite a lift for my day.  I checked out your Web site, It's awesome!  Actually, what is really wonderful is your understanding and work with people to call forth energies from within them in a way that can be integrated and worked with to enrich their lives. What you're working with is an area that is sorely out of balance in this culture and country. There is a great lack of understanding and integration of  these energies within people, which seems to me to lead to a lack of wholeness and an inability to experience life fully.  And in a larger context, leads to either unneeded aggression and wars or an ineffective pacifism and victimization.  I do know a few people who seem to have successfully approached these issues and energies from the vantage point of peace work in the world. It seems though that these are active in challenging themselves in ways that may also help them to access some of these energies that you are working with. Your work is such a needed gift to the world.  Thanks again for your ready smile and conversation yesterday. 
Ruth Sterling, Psychiatric nurse
Northampton, MA

Note: Nurse Sterling has recently enrolled as a student of the Pioneer Valley Boxing School.

For some women, boxing is fight stuff

(This story was published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette*
 on Wednesday, March 31, 2004)


NORTHAMPTON - CATHERINE Wilson, her face obscured by protective gear and red with exertion, ducks and weaves around her opponent, avoiding his jabs. 

Don't lose your composure, Djata Bumpus, coach and owner of the Pioneer Valley Boxing School, calls from the sidelines. 

Wilson is a boxer. A native of Seattle, Wash., she began boxing in 1997, not so much as a sport but as a means of protection. Feeling threatened by others because of her sexual identity as a lesbian, Wilson began training at a gym in Olympia, Wash.

''I was the only girl in the gym,'' she said. ''I was really unwelcome.''

Wilson felt ignored by all except her coach - and found it all exhausting. Even after moving from Olympia, she faced the same problem at her next gym.

She did not box again for four years, until she moved to Amherst to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts. Wanting physical activity, she tried martial arts, but it was not a good fit. One day, she found the Northampton boxing School's Web site, which put her in touch with Bumpus and boxing again. 

Wilson resumed training last September, working with Bumpus a few times a week, both one-on-one and sparring with other boxers. During the individual sessions, she and Bumpus work on her technique and strength, getting to practice those lessons when she gets in the ring at the School on Pleasant Street. 

Wilson seems an exception, a woman who wants to participate in what some have called the ''bastion of American masculinity.'' 

But she is part of a growing number women who are pursuing athletic aspirations through boxing. Bumpus helps make it possible. 

''I think he's a very good coach,'' Wilson said, adding that all the members of the School go out of their way to help her. Only once did her gender cause problems. ''Only once,'' she said. ''One guy wouldn't hit me.''

Bumpus began his own boxing career in 1969 at the age of 15. Even at such a tender age, Bumpus recognized he might eventually like to coach.

''I saw how I was taught and thought, 'Some day when my career is over, I'm going to be a boxing coach and I'm going to teach sequentially, like they're taking math or something,' '' he said.

While many of Bumpus' students are male, a large percent of his students are, and have been, women.

Bumpus estimates he has coached over 300 women in his career - including women like Wilson, who came seeking a form of defense, and Shannon Perry, a hair stylist interested in competition. Perry has boxed in the Golden Gloves tournament and sparred with Jackie Frazier, daughter of boxing legend Joe Frazier.

Perry says she always wanted to learn to fight. However, she knew of no one of either gender who boxed until one of her clients at Regency Hair Stylists in Amherst put her in touch with Bumpus in 1999.

Perry took to boxing quickly, training with Bumpus at least three times a week. In January 2001, she fought in USA Boxing's Golden Gloves tournament. Perry lost the fight on a technicality, but loved being in the ring. 

''It was an awesome experience,'' she said. ''I can't say anything negative. ... Boxing gave me an edge of confidence. I'm not afraid to walk down the street.''

Bumpus says many women, like Perry and Wilson, are attracted to boxing for the feeling of empowerment it can deliver. 

''Boxing ... it's real,'' said Bumpus. ''People have to really confront what's inside. They have to confront their fears, their inadequacies.''

For women, the sport has not often been welcoming. 

However, with the help of female boxers such as Leila Ali and Jackie Frazier - daughters of two former heavyweight champs - women's boxing is becoming more popular. In January 1999, USA Boxing allowed women to fight for the first time in its Golden Gloves tournaments. In December 2003, it dropped the requirement that female boxers wear breast protectors. Fighters disliked them, calling them bulky and ill-suited for fighting. 

To be sure, there has been resistance. A well-known coach, Johnny Duke, blocked the doorway to a competition in the 1999 Golden Gloves, Bumpus says, preventing him and his daughter, who was to fight in a match, from entering for 10 minutes.

Still, Bumpus feels the sport is opening up to women.

''They're pushing women's boxing for the first time in history on a serious level,'' he said.

Bumpus is feeling the effects already. While he has always enrolled female students, the ratio of men to women in his classes had long been about 5 to 1. Now, he says he coaches nearly as many woman as men. 

Bumpus is glad. ''The most enjoyable people to train for fighting are women,'' he said. ''They do exactly as you show them ... you don't have to deal with all that macho nonsense.''

While Bumpus trains women to compete, he also works with those who come to the gym just for exercise and that sense of empowerment. 

Ruth Sterling, a psychiatric nurse at ServiceNet in Northampton, says she was looking for self-confidence.

''I felt a need in my life to be more assertive,'' she said.

She began boxing lessons with Bumpus last fall, around the same time she began bellydancing classes. ''It was an incredibly wonderful contrast,'' she said.

Training has helped her build both muscle and confidence. ''I feel much more comfortable in my body,'' she said. Sterling adds that it was the first time she was able to stick with an exercise program, in part because boxing exercises the brain as well as the body.

She also felt that some of the male boxers held back initially in sparring with her, but with Bumpus' encouragement, they soon got past it.''

''I really think he is a master teacher in this,'' said Sterling. ''[He] has a lot to offer, especially to women.'' 

*We have been given permission to publish this article by, and is the sole property of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and should not be copied or reproduced without their sole permission.


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Pioneer Valley Boxing School
518 Pleasant Street, Suite 102
Northampton, MA 01060-3997