My first impression of Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym (Rafael Trejo Gimnasio al Aire Libre) was that it was beautiful. The pockets in the plaster walls, the cracks in the concrete floor and the shots of red running throughout created warmth within my body. The ring, surrounded by stadium seating on two sides and bags on another, was well maintained. A slight breeze moved within the gym. Air flow. All of this made Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym a desireable location to train.
I arrived to find the gym empty but for one woman. I wasn’t prepared to train; I made the trip that day from Jibacoa to Havana with two friends, a tour guide and a private driver. I was there to see the facilities, inquire about pricing and ask if they trained foreign women. Through the help of our guide, I was told that training wasn’t an issue; I could return the following day. It was recommended that we call the boxing coach to discuss pricing. That evening, our guide called and a price was agreed upon.
The following day, upon arrival, I was told the price had doubled. I have no idea how this came about; I can’t speak Spanish. If I let the part of me that spent years training in muay thai gyms in Thailand dictate, a number of possible scenarios come up; most of them sketchy. The reality is, I don’t know, so I’ll pass on making any judgement as to who inflated the pricing. Nonetheless, that day I decided not to train. Instead, I asked to observe their training methods and take photos. This was allowed and I didn’t leave without paying the gym for the opportunity (This was something I simply did – the gym didn’t ask this of me).
Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym is the oldest boxing gym in Havana, having been named after the revolutionary hero, Rafael Trejo who was murdered in 1930. Coach Nardo Mestre Flores, the coach you will see in this entry, was a member of the national Cuban boxing team for nine years. (Source).
Training began with warm-up drills and group technical instruction. This lasted for approximately one hour.
Bag work and technical sparring followed. Coach Nardo Mestre Flores worked independently with some boxers in the ring during this time.
A few boxers at the gym spoke English. From our conversations:
- Running was often optional and the boxers weren’t expected to run each day.
- All of the boxers were amateur. I later found out, professional boxing was ousted in Cuba by Castro in the 1960s but the ban had recently been lifted. Many of them were preparing for an upcoming tournament. If I remember correctly, the national team was expected to attend as well as scouts in search of fighters to bring to the professional level.
- Females sometimes trained at the gym and unlike some establishments in Thailand, they are allowed in the ring. The men were taken aback that the latter was even a concern. It’s hard to explain the immediate reaction I had when this occurred. Perhaps, it was as though a pressure I didn’t know I carried deep within my abdomen, released. There are times now, in Canada, that I feel a tingly warmth when stepping into a ring here; a slight gritty defiance when I don’t crawl under the bottom rope, amongst the sweat and filth of others, but climb over whichever rope I choose to. As much as I would like these feelings to dissipate, they haven’t. And every time I enter a new gym, and know, I will never experience being Other in this way at their establishment, a jolt of something I can’t express infects me.
- It was recommended that foreigners stay in a casa particular near the gym. Casa particulars are government approved homestays. I had stayed in one on a previous trip to Havana in 2006; the experience is still one of my fondest memories of the city. (See the bottom of this piece for more information on casa particulars and planning a trip to Cuba).
- The boxers spoke fondly of their coach. I was told the stern man I had met had a wicked sense of humour.
I wish I could say at this time that I know much about boxing; I don’t. I’ve been practicing muay thai for at least ten years now and the two are very different to me. Any comment made on the technical training would be done in pretense, so I’ll pass and let the photos and videos speak to those who get it. That being said, I was very interested in the technical training I witnessed, particularly the footwork.
Two boxers arrived to spend time at the gym socially. This allowed for deeper discussions about fight sports I may not have had otherwise. What was expressed by these Cuban boxers reflected conversations I had with muay thai fighters in Thailand – fighting, primarily, is about heart.
It began to rain heavily that afternoon. Lightening hit and rattled the corrugated roof over the ring sending one boxer running into the safety of the indoors. Some of us laughed, others continued training, and I suspect all of our ears suffered. The overall feeling I left with that day, was that Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym is a pleasant place to train; people enjoyed their time there. I found they were open to other people and other arts. One boxer also practices capoeira. In addition, the gym lacked the pretense that often keeps me from training at various fight sport gyms in Canada.
My time spent at Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym was the highlight of my trip to Havana. Look out for more photos of the gym in my next post.
Has anyone trained at Rafael Trejo Boxing gym? Please let us know about it in the comments if you have.
MBSB friends at Travel Basecamp headed over to the gym and tried boxing for the first time. Here’s a video segment of their time there.
And here’s a piece on the gym from Amy Hill and Chris Riess.
For those of you interested in training at the gym, the address and telephone number:
Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo
Calle Cuba 815
Tel: 00537 862 0266
The gym may be a challenge to find. Here’s a video showing the street it’s on, as well as part of an in-house boxing event.
More on Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym:
Planning A Trip To Havana:
The team at Never Ending Voyage have put together a comprehensive guide on planning a trip to Cuba here.
Book a casa particular in Havana here.