Indie Interview: Let’s Grow Boxing
On the blog today, Harry McNeil, a Media, Journalism and Publishing student at Oxford Brookes, interviews Tier Blundell, owner of Let’s Grow Boxing in St Clements, to find out more about his inspiring indie businesses and how he’s breaking down barriers to training. >>
Tell me about the journey of Let’s Grow Boxing.
The journey starts with me. I started doing martial arts in 2009 and I very quickly got obsessed with it, I think within nine months I had my first proper fight in a cage. I went pro, I went to Thailand, been sort of all around the world, and I kept at it. It was my first real passion in life because before that I was just kicked out of school. I had no GCSE’s, anything like that, but I think that martial arts started firing my brain off. Because I had to learn, especially Mixed Martial Arts, I had to learn how things work on the ground and that it’s quite technical, learning the fight IQ is quite taxing mentally.
I then decided to go to college, did quite well, and then went on to university. I coached the boxing team for a few years and then went through the university system to do an undergraduate masters, and now I’m at the University of Oxford.
It was 4th July 2020. We just had a lockdown. I went on holiday to Amsterdam, because they didn’t have a lockdown and ours was ending that weekend. While I was in Amsterdam one of the things that came to me was how I ironically used to be quite a harsh coach. I always like that film ‘Whiplash’ because I admired the guy in that and the way he’s super strict and I kind of respond to that. Not a lot of other people do, and that’s understandable. I reflected on it and about the fact that being that way, alienates a lot of people that could be great and could get a lot of benefits out of martial arts. I always thought the fighting element of it sort of saved my life in different times and gave me so much when I had so little. Then it led me to think about who I haven’t seen in 10, 11 years around gyms around the world. That’s why I initially set up Let’s Grow Boxing in part to give people the best coaching that I could possibly give them without the intimidation. That’s why it’s all green because I know every martial arts gym, I’ve ever been to is red and black, the names are always a little bit aggressive, and I thought I want to flip that narrative a little bit. I wanted to specifically aim it at people who were LGBTQ+ or worried about going into gyms. I think most of the members of Let’s Grow Boxing are women. If you are nervous, anything that’s slightly intimidating is going to look even more menacing. Prior to university, I wouldn’t have considered that people wouldn’t go because of a slight fear factor created by the image of boxing gyms as being aggressive. It was there I realised that people put off by this could still be great boxers, boxing was missing out on those people. Let’s Grow Boxing is about growing individuals but also the sport itself. It works both ways and the appearance of the sport needs to change to become more accessible and inclusive.
How important is community to Let’s Grow Boxing?
It’s very important. I wanted LGBTQ+ people and women to feel welcome. Trans people are disproportionately victims of physical violence. I wanted to be able to give them tools to find confidence and to protect themselves. I have worked with quite a few charities that help LGBTQ+ communities. I did a fundraising event where we raised £1700 for a local charity. I’m always going to provide a welcoming space for all. I do it for the social impact.
I have always sought to get female coaches on board. If you look at the Ultimate Fighting Championship and boxing, you’ve got incredible fighters, Amanda Nuez in boxing, Katie Taylor and Clarissa Shields in UFC, there’s no need for it to just be male-oriented. What it’s done particularly is it’s helped people, especially during the lockdown. They get to meet other people, other women, they walk home together, and they do things after the class, I’m glad to have made that space.
What sort of age range do you see within the studio?
There are girls and boys from local schools, as well as women in their fifties. I do a self-defense course and that has been popular with women in their late fifties. But there is a real mix of students as well as people that work and live in Oxford.
Does this make you immensely proud of the difference you’ve made to others and how far you’ve come personally?
It’s funny. I’m laughing at myself because I know a lot of my students and friends often tell me, I need to be proud of myself. I’m usually just racked with worry about the next stage or the next month. I had it on Friday with a guy who I train, just spot on, you see the development. It’s like, yes, that’s it. You’ve listened and you’ve learned. That is just exciting. Then there’s been a couple of times I’ve sat on the bench and watched people drill and just had a moment where everything’s perfect and you’re just like, wow, that’s it. It makes it all worthwhile. I trained one guy and I felt emotional in the ring, he just said to me, thanks for this. I really love to see people in the moment, gaining confidence from the sport itself and from my teaching. Sometimes I look at myself and I’m like, how on earth has a kid who was kicked out of school ended up with this indie business.
From your testimonials, I saw a lot of compliments about the music you play in the sessions, what sort of music do you play in boxing classes?>
The rule is new students choose the music, I then type that into Spotify and usually someone’s made a playlist based on what they’ve said and then we play it. We played a lot of cheese, a lot of ABBA, and a lot of George Michael. I mean, sometimes one of the funny things about training students is finding new genres or bands that we all like, it’s a great way to get to know people.
What are your plans for 2022?
I can’t believe it’s 2022 already. I think it’s my desire to have a bigger space and that’s because I can do so much more. It would be great to have slightly bigger classes without losing the closeness of a small group. I would like to be able to do more for the community, and organise more events. Watch this space!
Let’s Grow Boxing is an inclusive and diverse space in the heart of Oxford, that’s LGBTQI+ friendly and has a mainly female membership. Tier and the team offer classes in Boxing, Kickboxing, Self-defence, Jiu-jitsu and Yoga. The studio at 51 St Clements, is a body and age positive space, and welcome all who are neuro-diverse, disabled, gender fluid and more. Get in touch with Tier to find out more and ask any questions.