Float like a butterfly, sting like a BNOC: inside Aggression Sessions

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Aggression Sessions sees a selection of athletes train intensely over the course of four months, competing in front of a live audience to be crowned Aggression Session champions.

By taking students who are either current DU Athletes, on college sports teams or simply gym-goers, Aggression Sessions seeks to take the competitors, most of whom have never previously participated in boxing, out of their comfort zone.

Although there are additional fight nights hosted throughout the year, Aggression Sessions is an annual event with extreme hype and publicity that anyone at the University can get behind.

Having begun a few weeks ago, training is now well underway and takes place two to three times a week. Two of last year’s competitors – Rob Singleton and Ben Jones – are looking to pass on their own experience and enjoyment of the sport and have taken roles relating to the organisation of the event, whilst also leading the weekly sessions and putting hopeful competitors through their paces.

The event is in aid of PAPYRUS, a charity focused on the prevention of youth suicide which works with trained professionals and aims to influence national policy, providing help and advice to young people.

Aggression Sessions views itself as “bigger than a single event”, acting as a platform that aims to remove stigma and promote conversation around mental health and youth suicide, “providing a safe and expressive environment for anybody that wishes to be involved”.

Two of last year’s Spar-5 athletes and current DUWHC first-team players, Helena Youmans and Emma McIntyre, gave Palatinate an insight into the event and what it was like to trade their sticks for the gloves.

As they already hold the status of DU athletes, both Emma and Helena initially viewed Aggression Sessions as an opportunity to develop fitness for use on the hockey pitch, but the “opportunity to do something” active and alternative to “help raise money for an amazing charity” sealed their attraction.

Helena, noting that she “had never done anything like” boxing prior to training and the event, sees Aggression Sessions as an entirely new challenge. Going from “not knowing how to wrap hand wraps to boxing in front of 1,000 people” within four months demonstrates how quickly you can learn a new skill and “raise confidence” in your abilities.

The difficulty in transitioning between sports lies not only in learning new technique but also understanding an entirely new environment. Having “spent a lot of time sparring and being punched” after the first initial weeks of fitness, the process of moving “into the ring” and then to performing competitively in front of a crowd is a jolt to the system.

Considering their involvement in the event as female athletes, Emma highlighted the fact that “the female fights were taken just as seriously as the guys and all the training is the same”.

Boxing is typically a male-dominated sport, with fewer female fights taking place on the night of Aggression Sessions, but the female competitors are nevertheless treated with equal respect and regard.

And having “never before” put herself in such an open position, Helena draws attention to her initial apprehension “about people’s views”. She “didn’t want to be seen as an aggressive girl or unattractive” due to the physicality involved in the event. Once her participation had commenced, however, Helena realised “everyone is supportive and have a lot of respect for what you are doing”, with previous stigmas on certain sports as gender-imbalanced beginning to diminish – especially through events like Aggression Sessions.

“To go out in solo is a crazy feeling”, especially when you are more accustomed to being surrounded by at least 10 other girls on a hockey pitch. Although the “competitive drive” is certainly one that Helena is used to, “walking out by myself” and knowing that “this was all on me [to win the fight]” was a new experience that she would certainly relive.

On the night, everyone is weighed in by an England Boxing doctor and fully checked over, with each fight taking place under England Boxing rules. No one can be too far under or over the fight weight to ensure safety, with each spar additionally being overseen by England Boxing judges and a qualified referee.

Both Helena and Emma agree that “their eyes were opened” to the world of boxing, encouraging anyone interested to “give it a go”, even if it’s simply for some alternative fitness training.

For Emma, “the event itself was by far the best thing I have done to date at university”, with Helena highlighting the “unique” aspect of the event, unfazed by others’ opinions and instead reassuring athletes to “back themselves”.

The training is a great way to learn how to balance academics with fitness, and the event is not one to miss during your time at Durham University.

Image courtesy of Jack Dobson

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