A co-founder of left-wing gym Reading Red Corner writes about her experiences and the lessons learned from running the town’s weekly radical boxing club.
Red Gyms are an awesome phenomenon. I’m one of the co-founders and teachers at Reading Red Corner, and as a Pakistani woman I can honestly say the project has breathed fresh life into a usually apolitical town. We’ve got people from ages 16 to 60, we collect Food Bank donations instead of subs once a month and took 13 fighters to a Leeds Fight Club interclub last year. Even more importantly, it offers a more-healthy-less-party focused structure to base your activism off of, inspires confidence in marginalised groups and facilitates some serious networking.
While there are fantastic gyms all over the world, the UK has been a little slower on the uptake – until now. A collective of new and old clubs have come together to release this statement urging people to join or start their own clubs:
Over the last 12 months we have seen the reemergence of the far-right onto the streets of Britain. Under various different banners the far-right have been pulling thousands of people onto the streets across the country on a sustained basis. With this new movement have come intimidation and attacks of left-wing organisers. Last summer the DFLA attacked Anti-fascist Network and Stand Up to Racism activists during Tommy Robinson’s ‘Day for Freedom’ event, and then attacked the RMT in a pub during an anti-racist demonstration. All of this is happening with increased levels of violence towards Muslim and Asian communities, with hate crimes against Muslims going up 40% in London last year.
More recently, we’ve seen far-right activists gatecrash a Socialist Party meeting in Leeds, attempt to intimidate an RMT picket in Manchester (throwing racist abuse at an Asian RMT member), and attack a People’s Assembly demonstration in London. The far-right are growing in confidence, and clearly see the left and trade union movement as public enemy number one.
We believe that these attacks and intimidation will continue. As a movement we need to be able to defend ourselves against fascist aggression, and we clearly can’t leave it up to the state to do that job for us. The undersigned are therefore calling on all involved in the left and trade union movement to get involved in their local Red Gym. If you live in one of the below areas, then get involved. If there isn’t a Red Gym in your local area, then start one.
The Red Gym movement has been growing across the UK and Ireland over the last 4 years, with gyms in six different cities and many more set to open in the near future. These gyms are organised run by people from across the left and run on the basis that those who train together, fight together.
Fascist violence is a direct threat to the left, and it’s the responsibility of all of us to ensure that we can adequately defend ourselves against it.
Reading Red Corner, Leeds Fight Club, Left Hook (Brighton), Solstar (London)
So how do you set up, and more importantly, maintain a Red Gym? Here’s a super quick outline – be sure to message any of the clubs for more specific help!
- If you already train with like-minded people, you’re onto a winner. If not: ask around and use social media to find others who want to start a Red Gym
- You don’t need anything too fancy, but if you can find a gym to hire, awesome. Any community space or hall will do, and if you have a car or storage and can lock mats, pads and spare kit away, that’s grand. Ask around and try your luck
- Struggling to find a venue? Why not start a running/jogging club in the meantime
- Source second-hand and donation kit you can lend out, you can start buying fresh stuff when you collect subs
- Encouraging people to invest in own kit over time is good because it shows commitment, but for sure it’ll be a barrier to newbies
- A couple of you who have some solid experience in Martial Arts will do. Watch videos and take tips from the teachers at your ‘regular’ club for format ideas
- Once you open and start, more people with the ability to be teachers will be joining – empower them to take classes and lead sessions
- Be consistent – make sure everyone who says they’ll be teaching, teaches
- Be patient, there’s a reason many people have avoided Martial Arts and you don’t want to perpetuate those reasons
- Your classes need to be accessible enough to beginners while being challenging enough for advanced fighters – split the classes by time slots and experience if you need
- Remember that many people have signed up because your club’s different to mainstream clubs, so start right and keep it that way: no macho bullshit behaviour, no sexism, no racism, no anti-religion nonsense, no transphobia and so on
- Utilise games to keep warm ups fun and everyone engaged
- Start a secret Facebook group where you can all share videos, tips and ideas
- Stay broad, keep simple principles and stick with them: if anyone can join from the Left, you can all share resources for whatever fight you spend most of your time on
- Commit! Classes should always be on
- Share resources and use the club as a tool to get inactive people active in politics, and those already active involved in other struggles
- Make and maintain genuine community links with refugee groups and other similar orgs
- Make it fun and newbies will stay, make it hard and the fighters will find it worthwhile
As with all activism, the secret ingredient is: consistency. It’s great to be inspired and excited for a month, but keeping that momentum up is much harder, and rarer. You owe it to your students and your community to keep turning up, so get cracking!