Handing Down the Gloves —
The Aboro Academy
New Era of Boxing
A Partnership Between Neocha & MAEKAN
Text & Photos by David Yen
Video by Damien Louise
Text & Photos by David Yen
Video by Damien Louise
This story is presented in partnership with Neocha, a fellow creative publication based in Asia and established in 2006. It follows the journey of British boxer Michele Aboro who, together with partner Yilan Yuen, founded the Aboro Academy. More than just a boxing gym, the academy is part of the Aboro Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to providing career-oriented fitness training to underprivileged youth in China, paving the way for the next generation of boxers.
Back in 2011, when seven-time undefeated boxing champion Michele Aboro came to Shanghai for the very first time, she intended for it to be a short visit. But upon seeing a number of opportunities in China, she wound up staying. At the time, more and more people in China were becoming interested in boxing, an interest fueled by Chinese boxer Zou Shiming’s spectacular performance in the Olympic Games where he claimed the bronze medal in 2004 and then gold in 2008 (and he would go on to take the gold again in 2012).
However, despite this, the Chinese fitness and wellness industry was still very much in its infant stages; this was the opportunity that Michele saw, a chance to help develop the burgeoning industry and make boxing even more accessible to the masses, an endeavor that she felt was much more meaningful than running a gym in the West where the fitness and boxing scene is already well established. In 2014, she opened Aboro Academy in Shanghai alongside her partner Yilan Yuen.
2011年，七届未败世界拳击冠军米歇尔·阿魄罗（Michele Aboro）来到上海。本来，她只打算在这里作一次短暂的访问，但最后，却变成定居上海。当时，越来越多的人对拳击比赛感兴趣，而掀起这股拳击热潮的主要原因，正是中国拳手邹市明在奥运会上的精彩表现。他先是在2004年获得铜牌，然后又在2008年取得金牌（2012年，他还会再次去争取金牌）。然而，尽管人们对拳击兴趣渐增，但在中国，健身和健康产业仍处于刚起步的阶段。而对于米凯莱来说，她看到了一个机会，既能帮助发展中国的新兴健身产业，同时也可以向大众普及拳击运动，对她来说，这比在健身和拳击行业已经发展成熟的欧美国家开一间健身房更有意义。2014年，她和同伴Yilan Yuen在上海成立Aboro Academy。
Michele and Yilan were highly ambitious, aspiring to do much more than simply run a generic boxing gym. They split Aboro Academy into three separate branches: The first component is Aboro Recreational Training, which is a specialized regimen designed by Michele that allows boxing to be accessible to individuals of all skill levels and ages; the second part is Aboro Pro Boxing, which is geared towards preparing high-level athletes for boxing in a competitive setting; and finally, at the core of the organization, is the Aboro Foundation.
米凯莱和Yilan雄心勃勃，她们想要做的不仅仅是经营一间健身房或训练馆。她们将Aboro Academy分成三个独立部门：第一个是Aboro训练，这个部门由米凯莱负责，让不同水平和年龄层的人都能学习拳击运动；第二个是Aboro赛事，为那些准备参加比赛的高水平运动员提供训练；最后是训练馆的核心部门——基金会( Aboro Foundation)。
Aboro Foundation is a non-profit established to help provide career-orientated fitness and wellness training to underprivileged youth in China. For Michele and Yilan, it can be seen a way of paying it forward. When Michele first began boxing back in London, the coaches who took Michele under their wings were understanding of her financial plight – as she was one of seven children in a single parent family – and didn’t hesitate to train her. Without them, Michele wouldn’t have become the world-class champion that she is today. As a result, with the same knowledge and kindness that they shaped her life with, she yearns to channel that positivity back into the community in her new home of Shanghai. “If you have knowledge, it’s almost a sin if you don’t pass it on to someone else,” Michele says, radiating a kindred warmth as she spoke. “It’s only justified that I do the same.”
Zhang Yifeng, one of the current coaches at Aboro Academy, met Michele back in 2012, two years before Aboro Academy even opened. At the time, Yifeng was only focused on fighting competitively. “He approached me to train him and I didn’t train anybody at the time, so I said ‘Sorry, but I’m not training anyone at the moment,’” Michele recalls of their initial encounter. “But he was very persistent, and eventually, I started training him, and he would still go fight under his shifu.”
Aboro Academy成立2年前，即2012年，馆内的现任教练张一峰认识了米凯莱。当时，张一峰一心只想参加拳击比赛。米凯莱回忆他们的第一次相遇：“当时他找我，要我训练他，但我那时候没有在训练任何人，所以我说‘对不起，但我现在不想训练人’。 但他很执着，最终，我答应开始训练他，但他仍然会在他师父的名义下去打比赛。”
In traditional Chinese martial arts, the dynamic between shifu and disciple is quite interesting; it’s similar to the relationship between coach and athlete, yet quite different at the same time. For disciples, training under a shifu is often considered as a lifetime commitment where they uphold the teachings of their teacher. Unfortunately, as time went on, the concept has been bastardized, with some shifu in China now regarding their athletes as property to be owned. “It was shocking and eye-opening,” Michele describes. “It’s a different mentality from the West, where trainers and coaches looked to sharpen their athlete’s skills rather than using them as a device to feed their egos.”
With different motivations behind wanting to develop Yifeng’s skills, he and Michele’s relationship went beyond just coach and athlete or shifu and disciple. They became family. Michele wanted nothing more than to see him succeed. She not only wanted to improve his athletic skills but sought to better his life skills. Eventually, rather than only focusing on training him as a competitive fighter, Michele saw that he had massive potential beyond duking it out in the ring. Harnessing his determination and passion for boxing into a different direction, she began transitioning him into the role of a coach. This was Michele’s way of ensuring that he can remain in the boxing environment and maintain his love of the sport outside of competitive matches in the future. Hesitant at first, Yifeng has become an important part of the Aboro team and continues to coach there to this day.
对于提升张一峰技能这一点，两人有着不同的想法，所以，他和米凯莱之间的关系从一开始就非常不同。米凯莱不仅想提高他的运动技能，同时也想改善他的生活技能。除了将他当作一名拳击比赛选手来训练，米凯莱还看到了他在拳击场之外的巨大潜力。她将他对拳击的决心和热情引向别的方向，开始训练他成为一名教练。米凯莱希望通过这种方式，让他将来能够在保持比赛能力的同时，还能继续留在拳击界，在赛场之外，些这种对拳击运动的热爱。张一峰起初犹豫不决，但现在，他已经成为 Aboro Academy 的重要一员，并且一直执教到今天。
For Yifeng, his foray into boxing and his serendipitous meeting of Michele altered his entire mindset towards the art of boxing and changed his life for the better. Boxing began for him as a way of venting his frustrations through aggression. But now, he’s no longer fueled by this frustration, and boxing isn’t a way of venting aggression. The sport has taught him how to stay clear headed and find peace. When he’s in the ring, rather than mindless aggression, it’s more like a choreographed dance, disciplined and strategic, and each move is executed with precision. Rather than solely relying on pure strength and landing hits, he understands that staying calm, remaining focused, and maintaining mental resiliency is even more important. And now, as he coaches new fighters, he imparts this same zen-like philosophy.
As Yifeng continues to grow and learn alongside the Aboro team, Michele and Yilan are moving full steam ahead, continuing to pave the way for the next generation of boxing enthusiasts in China. Their ultimate goal is much more important than profit, fame, or winning – it’s to foster a community of passionate, like-minded individuals who can all take part in a sport that has done so much for their lives.