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Kids learn boxing, and life, skills at Columbia gym

On most Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, you can find 10-year-old Joshua Anderson in a gym in Columbia, punching a heavy boxing bag that’s at least half again as tall is he is and nearly twice as heavy.

That 150-pound bag was jolted back with every punch the fourth-grader threw on a recent Tuesday. And he threw plenty — quick, hard punches in crisp combinations.

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Joshua is one of about a dozen children, ages 7 to 12, who take boxing classes at Elite Boxing and Fitness on Red Branch Road.

The gym opened six years ago and began offering the children’s classes a year or two later. The one-hour classes are held two days a week, year-round, and students sign up for a month at a time.

“It’s been very popular,” said gym owner Kwame Ritter, who also teaches the kids’ classes. “The kids really enjoy it, and it’s a good way to get them motivated.”

Motivating their child is one of a variety of reasons parents have for signing their child up for boxing classes, Ritter said. Some want their children to know how to handle bullies, some want them to get in better shape, some say they need the discipline.

In Joshua’s case, the need for discipline was the main factor, according to his mom, Jameela Collins of Columbia.

“He needed more self-control,” she said. “He needed to learn how to react more slowly.”

And, after three years of classes, has it worked?

“He’s a better kid since he’s been coming here,” she said. “He makes almost all ‘A’s’ and he’s not getting into trouble like he was when he was younger. … It’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

The trainers and managers at Elite Boxing are quick to point out that with boxing, as with other classes that teach fighting skills, the emphasis is on self-defense.

“We’re always stressing that you use it for good, to defend yourself, not to go out there and start trouble,” gym manager Eleni Taylor said.

On a recent Tuesday, class began with the young boxers gathered in a circle for a series of exercises: jumping jacks, burpees, pushups and more. Then, they crossed the room from wall-to-wall, delivering a series of combination punches as they moved forward, then back again.

After that, they paired off, taking turns holding thick pads while the other donned boxing gloves and delivered a series of well-choreographed punches. Eventually, all of the kids donned gloves and, under the eyes of their trainers, whaled away at the rows of heavy bags hanging from the ceiling.

Sparring is rare in the kids’ classes, and Ritter and the other trainers — he was among four or five observing and coaching the dozen or so boys and one girl who showed up on this day — keep a close eye on their young charges.

Water breaks are regular, as is one-on-one instruction, especially for the younger or less-experienced boxers.

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“They make sure it’s a safe environment,” said Collins, who added that her son “has never gotten hurt here.”

As for her son, the quick-punching Joshua, he doesn’t even mention the boxing when asked why he likes the class.

“I get to do 100 pushups,” he said, excitedly. “And it’s getting easier!”

Another parent, Mariano Dominguez, agreed that the classes are safe. The Ellicott City father said his 8-year-old son, Luca, loves the class even though he doesn’t like fighting.

“He likes the interaction, the physical aspect,” Mariano Dominguez said. “He’s healthier and he’s gained confidence — feels more sure about himself.”

That, the folks at Elite Boxing say, is what their kids’ classes are all about.

“We’re not looking for a kid to be a world champion,” Ritter said. “But boxing is a very strict sport. It gives you structure and discipline, teaches you to overcome your fears. … It gives you confidence you never had.”

Elite Boxing and Fitness

The kids hourlong classes are held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 5 p.m. Wednesdays. 9190 Red Branch Road, Columbia. Information: 443-545-5123 or elitesfn.com/classes/kids-boxing-baltimore.

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