“Pop, pop, pop …” murmurs Joe Dressel, almost unknowingly, while demonstrating how to strike the bag in front of him. “This double-end bag is used to practice head-movement,” explains Dressel, with the perfect mix of certainty and enthusiasm.
There is no mistaking Joe is in the business of boxing, which makes owning the Hanover Boxing Club on Carlisle Street since 2013 his dream come true.
“This is where the magic happens,” Dressel says as he points to the boxing ring, smiling.
Just a few minutes of conversation with Dressel reveals that he is also in the business of people, helping club members build self-confidence, strength and the determination to succeed.
A few feet away, head boxing coach Fred Widdowson explains punch combinations to a group of members. The methodic rhythm of a ticking metronome paces his explanations: “1, 2, 3, step, uppercut, right hand … again.”
Widdowson rattles off another set of punches and the group follows in perfect unison, all seeming to spar with the same imaginary competitor.
Just a few minutes earlier, Dressel was surrounded by five elementary and middle school age students making a difficult decision.
“Tower of doom or dodgeball?” Dressel asked.
The unanimous reply came quickly, “Tower of doom!”
Each of the five students would have his or her chance to conquer a balancing-act atop two long bags stacked in a cross pattern as teammates attempted to topple them over with small, soft balls.
Dressel offered support and direction as each student stood atop the tower, and he encouraged the other students to offer a round of applause after a successful descent.
A Diamond in the Rough
Each of the 40 members arrives at the steps of the boxing club for a variety of reasons. Whether to learn self-discipline at a young age or to gain strength in varying stages of adulthood, all members possess one commonality: they are all fighters in their own right. Dressel said many of them do not even realize they are diamonds in the rough.
One cannot help but immediately notice after stepping through the door the unique atmosphere that the club provides. Situated in a building near the square downtown, the walk up the flight of stairs to the second floor is like ascending into a movie set.
But as Hanover resident and boxing club member Jen Hershberger noted, “This is the real deal; a true boxing gym.”
Hershberger has been a member of the club for almost a year and practices boxing and Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, which is the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand.
“It’s like a family here,” Hershberger said. “Joe’s knowledge is one of the best parts of the club.”
Fellow member Joel Licata reiterates a similar sentiment. He notes that Dressel and the other instructors, five in total, explain the strike combos and techniques in great detail.
Licata participated in his first “smoker,” or introductory sparring match, in late July. For competitors like Licata looking for more full contact, smokers provide a controlled environment and a step toward the amateur level.
Widdowson, the original owner of the club, which began in 1993, brings myriad experience to aspiring competitors like Licata, and to those members who simply want to get in shape or learn self-defense.
Offering morning, afternoon, and evening classes, the club attempts to meet the individual needs of its members. Those interested in the club can enjoy a 30-day free trial without a contract and an $85 monthly contract thereafter.
Specializing in boxing, western kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Hapkido, there is a class of martial arts workout for any type of student. Dressel wants to keep each style in its purity and hopes that students excel and go deeper into one particular style.
“Each style has a rich history,” Dressel said. “Some of the things we teach are over 4,000 years old, and I have a heart to pass down this knowledge from teacher to student, so they can do the same.”
A fourth-degree black belt in Hapkido himself, Dressel is no stranger to the discipline required in martial arts.
This self-discipline is exactly why Sue Davis, a Hanover resident, enrolled her sons, Aden, 10, and Cole, 7, in the club almost a year ago. The boys participate in kids’ classes twice a week and Aden was excited to share that he had already acquired an orange belt, or third level, in Muay Thai.
“I like learning the moves and mixed martial arts,” Aden said.
Member BJ Ellis has been working out at the club for about two and a half years and specializes in Muay Thai. Although nearly 15 years in age separate BJ and Aden, they both share devotion for their craft.
“I have fallen in love with sport,” Ellis said. “And the passion this place creates.”
A Sense of Community
Sitting so close to the downtown area, Hanover Boxing Club is in the heart of the revitalization efforts there. Dressel hopes the club can contribute to the community in a positive way.
“I’m doing what I love to do,” Dressel said. “I hope that we are enriching peoples’ lives and teaching them to stand up for themselves. We have created this culture here: to train in an environment where you can grow.”
Dressel also hopes to change the public perception of boxing as a sport only for aggressive brawlers. With the growing popularity of boxing, kickboxing, and other mixed martial arts, more and more people are intrigued by the physical training and fundamentals of each of the sports.
However, it’s not just the physicality of the sport that Dressel wants his members to learn.
“Hitting the bags, working out, all of it creates not only a physical release, but an emotional and spiritual one as well,” Dressel said. “You feel more positive when you leave here.
“Fighting is a metaphor for life, your opponent is in front you and you have to figure out how to beat it, whatever it is. It’s all about tenacity.”