Mariella Angeline T. Deles, Juan Carlos S. Zarate | SA21 – X | 1 May, 2017
Boxing is not only a popular sport in the Philippines, for it is also one that continues to bring pride and honor to the Filipino people. This ethnographic research aims to understand boxing in the Philippines and be able to know people’s perceptions and why people engage in the sport. This study also aims to find out boxing’s socio-cultural relevance in the country. This research was made possible through participant observation – a method that allows a researcher to have an access to an unfamiliar culture and experience what that culture has to offer. Through this method, the researcher would be able to grasp the sights, tastes, sounds, scents, and other factors that would aid the researcher in learning more about the chosen topic. Given this, we, Juancho Zarate and Maye Deles, participated in a boxing session last April 17 and April 21, 2017 at the Moro-Elorde gym inside the Ateneo de Manila University with the help of an insider for an easier access.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, boxing first appeared as a formal event in the Olympics nearly 700 years before the common era, but there are records of boxing even further back in Egyptian, Greek, and Mesopotamian cultures nearly 1500 to 3000 years back. Depictions in art showed them being bare-fisted, while some such as the greeks, depicted them with plates on their fists as gloves, later replaced by leather straps. In ancient Greece and Rome, some fighters would fight even past the rule where they won if the opponent could no longer continue, going as far as to cause permanent facial disfigurement or death, albeit more common in Rome due to the gladiatorial traditions set in place.
In the Philippines’ today, boxing is seen as a sport to be upheld and given much praise thanks to everyone’s favorite polarizing senator/singer/actor/boxing champion, Manny Pacquiao, whose boxing records have come a long way from starting out small in 1995 to today’s global fights every year as one of the most highly-regarded boxers in the world. People would often stay home or have viewing parties just to watch his fights uninterrupted, causing streets to empty whenever the fight was on. In that sense, we, living rather sheltered lives, decided to try out boxing and see what was its appeal to the Filipino people and other athletes around the world through an ethnographic study wherein we would be participating in a few hours worth of boxing at our university’s sports center’s own boxing ring where hour-long sessions are conducted with the help of their two instructors.
We conducted a miniature survey among a mixed bag of participants such as Juancho’s ROTC comrades and Maye’s varying orgmates regarding their opinions on boxing, and most of them agreed that boxing as a sport was quite intimidating due to the threat of pain from being punched where it matters such as the face or the stomach. Others who seemed more inclined to exercise saw the training that went on in the boxing ring as a fun exercise that would be a good training tool to help with hand-foot coordination as well as being a good bridge to learning other, more complex martial arts such as Muay Thai, MMA, or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Meanwhile, others less inclined to dirty and rough themselves up saw Boxing and other related hand-to-hand combat sports as a dangerously painful activity that was purely limited to those with prior knowledge or in-hand skill.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by both a young man and a middle-aged woman. The young man seemed a bit standoffish and wasn’t very welcoming, while the woman was quite welcoming and very sweet, often calling us “anak.” The gym was not too big, which was not a problem because not a lot of people were working out that time. The boxing ring was spacious enough for two people to train, including their instructors. When we arrived on the first day, there was only one other girl being trained inside the boxing ring, now designated as Ysa, while on the second day, it was a different girl, designated as Dani. Those outside the ring were lifting weights and using other gym equipment, completely absorbed in their workouts and paid no attention to anyone in the ring. The heat was not a problem because the area was well-ventilated because of the air conditioners. The type of music being played inside the gym was usually Hip-Hop and R&B if not Pop. The music was able to keep everyone energized, and it lessened the boredom in the area.
The key informant provided gloves and hand wraps for us since we, as newbies, did not have any gear. The instructor present assigned us with beginning cardio as a warm-up (i.e. 5×20 of jumping jacks, high-knee kicks, squats, and burpees). Before we started with the given exercises, our key informant advised us to do some stretching exercises before and after the event to avoid or alleviate sore muscles. Maye, having been in a near-vegetative state for several years, failed to complete all the rounds, compared to Juancho who had previously already been through severe physical training in ROTC and had a much easier time adjusting.
When the other participant was finished, we were invited by the instructor to step inside the ring. He started by teaching us the basics such as the proper stance, footwork, and the four basic punches, namely the jab, straight, hook, and the uppercut, as well as basic dodges. The instructors were quite welcoming to us newbies and didn’t openly discriminate or tease us for our bad forms. They welcomed us, and didn’t over-simplify the moves for us, making us use every bit of endurance we had in our bodies. After the sessions, our key informant told us to take protein afterwards to help us rebuild all the muscle.
Individually, we were pushed to our physical limits or as far as we could take them with hard cardio and a few rounds with the instructors and their fast-paced instructions around the ring for a few minutes each. For Juancho, he was rather intense and constantly missed punches, wounding his knuckles from the hard impacts and nearly punching the instructor in the face multiple times. Due to his experience with exercise, he loved the thrill of the pain and soreness to come, especially due to him having done a bout of squats the night before in preparation. He enjoyed the act of harmlessly punching the instructor’s handguards as it seemed to him as a productive way of channeling his repressed anger and frustrations without lashing out at others. Originally, he only used dancing and cardio for exercise to sustain his volatile skinny-fat figure, but he is very open to other sources of exercise involving weight loss as ROTC had always been Juancho’s main source of physical training albeit destructive and disruptive of his personal and academic life. During the sessions themselves, Juancho was hoping that the sparring would eventually lead up to being beaten up and having punches thrown back at him, only to his disappointment.
Maye is not the type who goes to the gym. In fact, she rarely works out. The last time she was able to exercise was during the second semester of her freshman year in her Physical Education class which was Physical Fitness for Women. She chose to go boxing because she knew that it would be a way for her to step out of her comfort zone and try something new, because according to her, she never punched anyone or anything in her life. Before proceeding to the gym, Maye felt very anxious and was quite hesitant to go because activities such as boxing are far from what she usually does. She was excited to learn something new, but was afraid of the pain she knew she was going to face the next day. Going into the gym, she went through an intense cardio workout and a few rounds of boxing which made her really exhausted because it was quite too much for someone who skipped intense physical activity for more than a year. However, when she stepped into the boxing ring, she was more than willing to learn not only with the help of her instructor, but also her companions. She felt relieved to know that it was not only her who was going to try boxing for the first time, and she was also inspired by Juancho’s competitiveness which enabled her to exert a little more effort. It is undeniable that her arms and legs were already hurting during the activity, but she somehow liked the feeling because boxing itself helped her relieve a lot of stress.
Maye felt really good about herself because all of her worries before the event were nothing compared to the feeling of overcoming another obstacle. At first, she wanted to just get it over with, but after the event, she immediately said that she wanted to come back and do it again once she recovers from her sore muscles. In the end, the experience made her feel like she was able to unlock a new part of herself.
During the event, we were able to meet Dani and Ysa. They were both seniors who said that they finally have enough free time to constantly go to the gym. Surprisingly, it was also their first time to go boxing. When we asked them why they chose boxing as a workout, Ysa said that it has been something that she always wanted to do, and that she was really happy because she finally had the time to try it out. Dani on the other hand, said that she wanted to try boxing so she would have an alternative because she has been going to the gym for a long time to lose weight. This time, she wants to add something new to her workout routine. Other than Dani and Ysa, other people in the gym did not mind our presence because they were all busy lifting weights, running on a treadmill, or doing forms in yoga. They were also being trained by different people. Our coaches were really accommodating and easy to work with. They threw in some jokes every now and then to keep us entertained and interested during the boxing session.
After the boxing sessions, Juancho and Maye were able to further delve into the activity. Juancho decided to try out Muay Thai at the local Elorde near his home as he, being fresh from the holds of ROTC, desired a way to return to that same sensation of satisfying pain and suffering that could only come from pushing your whole body to its limits, which in his opinion, boxing lacked as it only tackled the upper body. He had previously asked the key informant regarding the availability of Muay Thai at the Moro-Elorde, but according to him and the lady at the front desk, it was up to the instructors to offer it up voluntarily since they only supposedly offered Boxing sessions, and they only offered it to women for free, to Juancho’s extreme disappointment and confusion. After a few sessions, it didn’t take long before he was vomiting non-stop in the toilets due to dehydration and overexertion. For Maye, she realized she was long overdue for some exercise in her life, so following in Juancho’s footsteps, she took up boxing and plans to continue at Moro-Elorde whenever she can. Deciding that she couldn’t keep relying on the key person to supply her with gloves and hand wraps, she bought some of her own. An interesting point to make is that at the time of purchase, the saleslady aiding Maye said in passing that there had been more people than normal coming to buy gloves. We aren’t quite sure what caused this sudden surge in a boxing interest among Filipinos as this would require further research.
What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Participating in the event aided us in understanding the fundamentals of boxing along with the whats, whys, and hows of the sport. Not everything can be observed or analyzed through mere questionnaires as the actual experience is always different from the simulation as questionnaires always give you time to think and make mistakes while the simulation only gives mere split-second reaction times and physical strain, much less in an actual battle. We learned that it definitely takes a lot of strength, speed, and will to fight to be able to become a good boxer. Our perception of boxing changed once we started throwing punches inside the ring. It is not just a sport that involves power, rather, it is also a mental game. Boxing can be like chess because it requires a lot of strategy, only this time, on a physical and mental level. Our observations during the event allowed us to conclude that a lot of people box to relieve stress, lose weight, and improve their strength. During our first day in the ring, there was also an old lady who did a few rounds of boxing. Even though boxing is usually seen as a very masculine sport, we noticed that a lot of women have also gained interest in it, and their presence is now more noticeable compared to before. This goes to show that boxing is for everyone who wants to learn the sport.
What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Our key informant is experienced in Arnis, Fencing, Archery, and other martial arts. He told us that aside from those sports, boxing was also something that he wanted to include in his workout, and that he just started last year because he believes that it helps a lot in stress relief and losing unwanted body fat. He also believes that staying active keeps him feeling healthy and preoccupied. Because of this, we had an easier access to the gym for he was already known by the instructors there. He was also able to inform us about the rates and the things to bring such as water and extra clothes. One of the tips he gave was to avoid eating heavy meals before an intense workout so we can avoid vomiting and/or feeling nauseous. As well as drinking excessive amounts of water to avoid weighing ourselves down and causing us to vomit from the intensity.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss? For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
In a way, participant observation was able to give us a better opportunity in terms of measuring the level of fatigue, pain, and thrill of the activity. A questionnaire would be able to ask for the scale of how a participant felt during that certain time, however, the answers would not be as accurate as the actual descriptions of those who took the participant observation method. Having a questionnaire is more of a formal way of data gathering compared to participant observation where one can interact with those in the area without having to set the mood for an actual interview which would make interviewees more conscious of their actions and answers. The participation method also gave us the chance to get a first-hand experience on the sights, scents, sounds, and feelings during the event.Through participating in the actual event, conversations were more free-flowing and genuine, which gave us access to more insights.
Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?
Through our participant observation in the boxing ring, along with our newly-acquired insights regarding the reasons people would choose to go boxing, we were able to come up with new ideas about the socio-cultural relationship between the sport of boxing and the Philippine community, outside of Manny Pacquiao. Boxing in the Philippines, as well as other physically-tiring and challenging sports and recreational activities such as Muay Thai, Krav Maga, and HIIT, are all very accessible due to the existence and widespread influence of the Elorde gyms across the Philippines in well-concentrated areas, making for easy access to an inexpensive source of exercise and self-defense. This is evident in the other two participants’, Ysa’s, and Dani’s, reasons for enrolling in Moro-Elorde’s boxing program aside from personal curiosity and a new exercise. This need for self-defense implies a negative relationship with Philippine society as with other first world countries, although self-defense is still practical knowledge to have, it isn’t as much of a need as third world countries where desperation often comes into play. Compared to a gym membership or a full-time sport, Boxing provides them both with a means of self-defense and exercise for less time commitment than a sport such as football, basketball, or running. It is also a viable method for stress relief for cases like Juancho.
In conclusion, despite boxing being a popular combat sport in the Philippines, many people continue to engage in it for health purposes such as using it as an outlet for stress and a workout for weight loss. Many people enjoy the sport itself, but a lot of people also take part in it simply to train themselves to get stronger rather than playing the actual game. Learning boxing gives people the opportunity to gain knowledge in self-defense and it allows them to apply it when it is necessary. Our observations and interactions with the people inside and outside the boxing ring taught us that despite boxing being viewed as a very masculine sport, there are plenty of women of all ages who are starting and continuing to participate in it. Thus, it is for anyone who is willing to learn.
“Boxing | Sport”. Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.
“Manny Pacquiao”. BoxRec. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.