Trainer Yomi Shokunbi's turned a Jozi park into an alfresco boxing ring

This Nigerian boxing instructor teaches a group of suburban moms that life is tough and you have to learn how to be tougher, writes Andrea Nagel

16 December 2018 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel

I step into the ring. Yomi Shokunbi, a 6 foot 5 Nigerian with washboard abs, an off-centre afro mohawk, fists like small boulders and a very unique dress sense is waiting for me. We tap each other's gloves for good sportsmanship and I start throwing punches.
"DON'T MISS ME," he shouts, as I throw a left hook, then a right, then an uppercut and a jab at his moving target. When my concentration flags he admonishes me with a stern look and an unmissable shake of the head. I yearn for his approval and redouble my efforts.
"Focus on da dot on da pad," he says, naming my punches by the second. "Left hook, right hook, uppercut, jab, jab, jab, jab, now duck, duck, hook, now weave, weave, hook ..." and on it goes until my tired arms feel like they're made of lead.
The boxing ring is an outdoor slab of concrete at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg where our training session is punctuated frequently by groups of runners greeting the striking Nigerian. ''Ja mon," he answers in a mock Jamaican drawl. ''More fire!"
And Shokunbi is all about fire. He has a great sense of humour, but is deadly serious about his boxing training, motivating his group of suburban moms (and a dad or two) without crushing their spirits, pushing us to go further, train harder, punch better and miss the target less and less with each of his fiery sessions.
While we skip and push-up and box and duck and leopard crawl and crunch and do it all again, Shokunbi's particular brand of "Rudeboy dub" is blasting from the side of the ring for all the park to hear. My gym partner, Elizabeth, and I catch each other's eyes when the lyric is particularly juicy, but usually it's just something about "non negoso" and that pretty much sums up the session - give it all or go home.
Shokunbi came to SA in 2009 to pursue a modelling career, and when that hit a snag he turned to boxing to pay the bills. Born in Lagos, he came with a group of business people to start an entertainment company. The business venture didn't work out, but when the rest of his party went back to Nigeria, he decided to stay.
At first he tried his hand at working as a boxing instructor at a Sandton gym, but his personality is more suited to being his own boss. He was qualified three years ago by the SA Boxing Association as a professional boxer after he was screened on his footwork and technique.
"Since then I've had about five professional fights," he says. "A good fight can earn you R4,000. But the Boxing Association takes tax and you have to pay your trainer. I needed to do something else."
Shokunbi is a great trainer, and he uses his skills to teach his trainees about life.
"Boxing is more about smartness than power," he says. "It's commitment. You have to land punches. It's an everyday struggle. It teaches you to be ready for life - anything can happen. Life is tough, you need to learn how to be tougher. And never give up."

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