SHEX Interviews: Michele Aboro
Just three years after Michele Aboro began competing in kickboxing in her hometown of London at the age of 16, she won her first world title. She went on to win five world titles for kickboxing, two world titles for undefeated boxing and two titles for K1 Champion. After retiring from boxing without losing a single match, Michele now helps train both pros and amateurs as head coach at Aboro Academy in Shanghai.
We caught up with the former world champion to discuss her efforts to spread the skills and life lessons gained from boxing to both expats and locals, and her goals of training underprivileged Chinese youths.
SHEX: How did you end up in Shanghai?
Michele: I was visiting my friend Yilan, a fine art photographer who was over here writing a book. I came here looking for somewhere to train, and I found that there was nowhere really to train, so I said to her, ‘We should come back here and open a gym.’ Everybody thought it was crazy. Moved back to Holland for a year, and within a year, moved back to Shanghai, and in four months, we opened Golden Gloves.
I wish I could speak Chinese. Once my Chinese gets up to a [sufficient] level, I want to start exploring and I want to open up different gyms in China. Opening up in Shanghai, this was actually a place where it was easier for me to do it. My Chinese is not great. I want to be able to talk to [people I train] on some level to explain what I’m doing. To always have an interpreter there, you lose things in translation. The majority of Chinese guys here, their English is on a higher level than in other places around China, so I can actually communicate and lay down my roots here and have the mothership here. Shanghainese people are open-minded people, so this makes it easier for us.
SHEX: Tell us more about the team you put together.
Michele: I invited Kosta over from Siberia. He’s actually a Russian champion. Tao Tao went through the university system. China has these sports universities where parents drop off their kids when they’re very young because they have this idea that these kids can actually become olympic champions. If they’re lucky, maybe one percent will be this—the rest of them are forgotten.
This is what we really want to do—the ones that are forgotten, we want them to come here. We want to train them and get them re-educated as personal trainers and then put them into a profession that they do and have been doing for most of their lives, instead of these kids going to work as waiters or in massage parlors and doing stuff they don’t even like to do. Tao Tao is one of the same. He was actually one of these universities. He wasn’t actually able to make ends meet in doing what he loved to do, which was boxing. So we gave him work and trained him up as a fighter and told him we would try to get him an education as a personal trainer with some of the recognized federations in personal training in boxing.
SHEX: Is this the idea behind the Aboro Foundation?
Michele: What we try to do here is try to give opportunities to young Chinese kids that don’t have the money or the possibility to go on to further education, or they are young kids coming out of sports universities and they don’t have to ability to go on to actually further their education in physical training, personal training or any kind of sports-oriented training. We try to help steer them in the right direction and get them some form of education through people we know in the industry.
When I was younger growing up, I would’ve liked more things like this for me, so I think if I have the possibility, if I can have around like-minded people who have a desire and a passion for what they’re doing, this is going to be a better world for all of us. Then you’re going to have a better fitness industry here in China—it’s going to grow massively in China, and it’s going to help us in the long term, as well.
SHEX: What do people gain from boxing?
Michele: We try to teach boxing to people in a way that they use it not just here, but in their everyday lives—that they are conscious and think about the [higher] ground and think about how they can grow and use what they have to make things easier for themselves in life. It can cross over to anyone. It’s about feeling good, feeling empowered and feeling confident. I see this more and more with some news guys that are training here. They come in here and their shoulders are humped and as the weeks have gone by, they sit and stand [upright]. Just looking at the posture change in a person is gratitude.
SHEX: Why should people who have never boxed before try it?
Michele: Because it’s the best workout you’re ever going to get in your life. It really is, and it’s not just a physical workout—it’s a mental workout. It makes you feel confident. You can lift weights, you can run on a treadmill, but [boxing] actually makes you feel confident about yourself. It makes you aware and opens up that sixth sense that we’ve closed off. It makes you more aware of the surroundings in situations around you. I don’t think there are many sports where you can actually get all of these things from.
SHEX: What about concerns for injuries?
Michele: I think boxing will bring as many injuries as any other professional sport there out there—look at American football. That is far more aggressive than boxing. Boxing has had an unfair light shed on it. If you come into a class with me, I’m not going to make people punch you in the face. That’s not going to happen. If they say to me later on, ‘I want to spar,’ I would start them off with sparring with somebody under a controlled situation where you do not hid the head—you only go for the body. We control the situation in which you’re in. In every profession, there is risk. It’s sad but true. You have to be prepared to take that risk in professional sports. I fought for nearly 28 years of my life. I don’t have a broken nose. I don’t have brain damage. I’m okay. I can still function okay, so it’s not the point of the sport that you do but the point of how you look after yourself in the sport that you do.
SHEX: What is the best part about teaching others?
Michele: You know that smile on someone’s face? When they’re doing something and not only when they’ve learned it, but they get this exhilaration from what they’ve just done.
That is really the best kick you can get in your life. I never realized this truly until eight years ago—that passing on knowledge is such an empowering, great thing to be able to do and that for me makes me smile, really—that you see someone who before would never, ever think that they would enjoy it. They’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s not only empowering for me but for them, too. This is great to see.
SHEX: What’s next?
Michele: Our future plan is carrying on with our profession boxing side. We would more young Chinese kids to come over, more expats of course because we are an expat-oriented gym, but we want more Chinese kids to come over too, because we want a gym where we have just as many Chinese as expats, because we are in China and we want to grow in this country and not just be limited to one niche. We want expats and Chinese to hang out with each other and for it to be this melting pot.
I had cancer two years ago and am in remission now, but I just want people [who are in the situation I was in] to come down and train. Don’t give in to chemotherapy by sitting at home. Come try a watered-down workout. I do pro bono all the time and give my time for free to those who otherwise can’t come and train.
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