Before my first boxing session at Empire Boxing Gym in Legazpi Village, Makati, I was able to meet owner and coach Robert del Rosario and learn more about his love for the sport. "In the States, I was a boxer and I was a wrestler. And growing up, I started at age 5 with wresting, with other martial arts." After his studies, Rob took a stab at the corporate world first, and then in business (he is also a contractor). He then strongly felt that he had to go back again to his sporty roots. "I felt the need to go back, so I began competing again. Then I began seeing that a lot of the commercial establishments here [in Manila] lack the personal touch."
Teaching is a requisite in popular boxing gyms of the metro, yet he observes most of these places do not emphasize on the technical aspect. Rob made his rounds on different gyms to experience himself how a session goes--without introducing himself as a boxer, nor that he fought as a pro. "I noticed that sometimes they just hit the students with the punch mitts, then they leave them, " he shares. He also has new clients signing up at Empire telling him that they've been injured at their former gyms. "Their fractures show that they weren't taught the proper technique. It's essential to get the foundations right. So I decided to put up a gym that would have multiple characteristics, and that will cater to different audiences."
A whole spectrum of clients are welcome to Empire: it's for those who want to fight, who want to fight as a pro, or for those whose goal is weight loss, to gain strength, or to gain skills. "Or maybe just to gain a new hobby," adds Rob. "We even have children's activities, and everything is one-on-one."
While boxing is the meatiest part of Empire, the gym is not limited to punching bags and boxing gloves. They also have conditioning programs, muay thai, MMA, and FMA, among others. "We make sure that the trainers are fully trained in different ways, I also give them some of my knowledge as a certified trainer, " Rob tells me. Del Rosasio is also certified by American board as a physical trainer, and three of his trainers at Empire are certified as well, and all of them are registered instructors. At Empire, clients are assured of top-notch individualized sessions, as your trainers are official instructors. "We had to invest in procuring licenses from the Games and Amusements Board, that is why we have an accreditation." Another thing Del Rosario invested in is their facilities. "I have an ABAP (Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines) accredited boxing ring, so our ring is superior compared to other gyms. I made that investment so that our customers can feel the difference. This is about five times the price of a regular ring," he explains. Their ring is based on the ground (not lifted up), fortified by steel, so there is no chance that the canvas will slip over, or the students slipping off the ring. To avoid equipment failure such as bags falling off on people, Empire uses steel mounts that are bolted to the ceiling. Heavy bags are set up in a ring cage (instead of lined up in a row) that is space sufficient--a client can be boxing right beside someone doing muay thai, and they will not be bumping on each other.
Generally, boxing gyms have more affordable rates than the usual fitness center, and Empire offers Annual Membership of P1,200, which includes a couple of free boxing sessions or a single muay thai session. Walk-ins (non members) can hit the gym, it will cost them P100 more per session. Students below 18 years get a discount on membership fees (P800 only) and session rates, while children aged 12 and below will always be charged member's rates (no annual membership fee required). All sessions (boxing, muay thay, mixed martial arts) are one on one, which also includes light conditioning.
Aside from boxing being a fitness regimen that is quite easy on the pocket, what appeals me to the sport is that it goes straightaway to the business of sweating it out. You're not in the gym to look pretty and sport the latest in fitness fashion; I hit the gym and hit the mitts, and work out my punches, challenging both my muscles and energy. Also, a lot of people engage in this combat sport because it is a total workout, targeting core muscles and combining aerobic and anaerobic activity.
My first trip to Empire was not intimidating, as I have personally been frequenting boxing gyms for about a year now, but quit cold turkey when the holiday season rolled around the corner (food, glorious food!). I'm already aware how a typical session will start and end, with warm ups and stretching for appetizer, and for the main course, a series of focus mitts, heavy bags, double end balls and speed balls. To end your session, you get a deadly dessert of ab workouts, then a cool down. A session at Empire typically runs for one hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes. "Time can be unlimited, you can go on the (heavy) bag for longer, but I don't encourage too much time. An hour and a half to two is okay, and you get good breaks in between," Rob recommends.
New to this sport? Worry not. "We always remember, and we tell to the trainers, that once we were all beginners," Rob shares. "Remember your first day of training? You do not know anything, and we do not expect the student that comes here for the first time to know everything. Be treated as how you would want to be treated on your first day." At Empire, egos are checked in the door, and a humble mentality is observed. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, and it's great to observe that they strongly uphold a sense of respect to female clients. The gym does not encourage sparring for women, unless requested by the female clients themselves. In this case, there are different types of sparring -- defensive (where client hits and the trainer blocks), or slightly offensive (where the most impact a trainer gives is just as strong as a tap on the shoulder). There are clients that befriend other clients and match up for sparring, while this is not mandatory.
An initial hesitation of mine in joining a new gym is to be unfamiliar with a new trainer's style of training. After months of being used to a routine, will a new gym improve or keep my skills at the same level? "If we find out they come from another gym, we evaluate their positions and techniques. We will do the necessary tweaking," Rob assures me. "We tell them, 'I know you've come from another gym, that you're proficient, but we will see where your angles are.' We will adjust, and we'll make sure that you have the proper technique." Minor technicalities such as a client's posture and footwork (and in my case, the pivot of my right hook), will be corrected until you get it. While I'm no Pacquiao nor do I aspire to fight anybody in real life inside the ring (or outside for that matter!), there is this immense satisfaction when I pack in a strong jab and a powerful uppercut, the mitts receiving a series of punches with a delicious sound pattern (smack-smack-SMACK!), reinforced with your trainer's approval ("Yun! Nice!"). Endorphins fly, sweat pours, and I am hooked.
"This is my passion, that is why we are doing very well," Rob proudly shares. Backed up by a man who truly believes in what they have to offer its clients, and paired with a great atmosphere zinging with endorphins and positive energy, Empire is an excellent destination where boxing, fitness, and fun reign supreme.
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Additional images courtesy of Empire Boxing Gym.