About fifteen years ago, I spent a few evenings in Mack Lewis’s boxing gym, working on a story for Baltimore Magazine. Vince Pettway was the gym’s star then, training for a super-welterweight title fight, and in those days he was something to watch. But what impressed me just as much were the other young men, unknowns you might call them, that Mister Mack had taken off the street and kept busy for the riskiest hours of evening.
The gym was at the corner of Broadway and Eager Street then, and the neighborhood so rough that Mister Mack’s people insisted on walking me to my car. If it has improved since then, well, you can easily find a hundred corners in Baltimore just as bad. Mister Mack’s boxers did the equivalent of fifteen rounds in the gym every night, working the bags, jumping rope, and sparring. When they left, they were too tired to go looking for trouble, and anyone who knew how they’d been spending their time would probably think twice before messing with them.
Not that many people are going to take up boxing as a hobby. Martial arts, though, are another story. Children and teenagers of the middle class flock to Tae Kwon Do schools on the north side of town. It’s not just exercise and self defense ability that these schools are selling, but also self-control, self discipline, and improved school performance. I have spent enough time in them to know that they can and do deliver in all of these areas.
What if schools like these opened up in Baltimore’s trouble spots? Here’s what they would have to offer:
Improved focus, concentration, a habit of working toward a goal.
A sense of personal safety… without firearms.
A theater in which the violent impulses which (let’s admit it) all young men share can be acted out without fatal consequences.
A habit of self-control and growth of self-respect.
A community (especially if such schools could be networked) with a certain confidence in its ability to look after its own interests.
Difficult, certainly. Hazardous in some ways, perhaps. Worth the effort and the risk? Can’t know till you try.