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
Note: Nurse Sterling has
recently enrolled as a student of the Pioneer Valley Boxing
For some women,
boxing is fight stuff
BY BETHAN L. JONES
(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
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
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
But she is part of a growing number women who are pursuing
athletic aspirations through boxing. Bumpus helps make it
''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
''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
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
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
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
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
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
''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 GazetteNET.com, and is the
sole property of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and should not be
copied or reproduced without their
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