Honey Comb Boxing Gym

In the 400 block of E. Preston there’s a sign for the Honey Comb Boxing Gym at the entrance of a pot-holed driveway that ends at non-descript warehouse. There’s something about that sign — the very design of it, and, of course, the name itself — that seems out of place along this stretch of E. Preston, a block from Guilford Avenue.

The warehouse is subdivided with a door for each business. At one end of the building is a billboard-sized “Len the Plumber” sign. The rest of the building is without meaningful identification. Giving into my curiosity, I make that left turn into the driveway. I’ve often toyed with the idea of joining a boxing gym to get into shape, but then passed on the idea when I envisioned younger, stronger, faster men kicking my ass without threat of criminal charge. It seems that with each passing day in the span of our lives, we lose options. I can confidently say that boxing is one option I no longer have. My intent, I guess, was to write about places I’ve discovered off the beaten path. This desire to find and write about such discoveries satisfies a hunger I developed as kid venturing down back streets and alleys in the French Quarters, just to know what’s there. After banging on several doors, I eventually entered one marked “409.” When I step inside, it is a little disorienting, with dark walls and high ceilings. My brain tries to reconcile the name of the place with what I see in this cavernous space. It’s more than just a gym. It’s also a space for bands to rehearse. The place is organized in unspoken zones. Closest to the door is the boxing zone, with an elevated boxing ring. There’s an exercise zone, with various well-used stationary exercise equipment. There’s an area for jumping rope, and one for punching a speed bag and an area with heavy bags hanging like stalactites. Near the door there’s a Louis the XIV-style sofa covered in clear plastic upholstery that seems to be designated the quiet zone. Farther back, a drum set dominates a small stage. It’s cordoned off by a clutch of microphones and a couple of weary sofas. In spite of all the sparring and exercising and coaching, Honey Comb Gym seems peaceful. Everyone is focused on his own routine, or is assisting someone else with theirs.

Everyone has to follow the rules.

Everyone has to follow the rules.

When I approach the men sitting on sofas in the music zone, I’m met with equal curiosity: who am I; why do I want to meet the owner; why do I want to write about the gym; am I a writer. These questions have the ting of the existential. My inquisitors eventually tell me I need to talk with Mr. Chin, but he won’t be in for another half hour. After I take a seat on one of the drum-set sofas, the conversation immediately turns to the housing market, followed by politics, music, and conspiracies — all favorite subjects of mine. I’m definitely coming back to talk to these guys after I write about the gym. Mr. Chin has run the Honey Comb Boxing Gym at its current location for the last eight years.   According to Mr. Chin, Honey Comb is the only free boxing gym in Baltimore. But this story is not really about the gym; it’s about Mr. Chin and the other men who volunteer their time to train kids and young men in the sport of boxing.  Mr. Chin is a philosopher.  For him, boxing and character go hand in hand.  He mentions titles like the “Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musahi, a 17th century ronin, and “Biology of Belief” by Bruce Lipton, a developmental biologist.  These books and others have informed Mr. Chin’s views on boxing, life and character.  And in his view, all three are interrelated. Eddie, Easy and Vernon are the other three trainers, and although I know jack about boxing, it’s a pleasure to hear them explain the intricacies of the sport. They all have a confidence that I guess comes with having once being professional boxers. I start to understand why Sugar Ray Leonard talks the way he does — not over-the-top cock sure in his confidence; just sure.

Eddie showed me the correct way to throw a punch, but his conversation kept drifting back to character. How some of the kids didn’t have it when they first started coming to Honey Comb; how he watched them change over time; and how boxing changed the trajectory of his own life. He no longer boxes, but he’s at Honey Comb almost every night doing what Mr. Mack[i], his one-time trainer, did for him years before.    The same goes for Easy, a Golden Gloves Champion from New York and Vernon, ever vigilant for deficiencies in someone’s technique. I never got the impression that any of these men were sacrificing to be at Honey Comb 5 days a week.  They love being there because they love the sport. They love teaching others, not just about boxing, but about life.   They will train anyone, but you have to follow the rules.   Not only is Honey Comb free, it’s totally financed out of Mr. Chin’s pocket. He doesn’t ask for money and is not likely to get any. And so Honey Comb will continue to do what churches, schools and in some cases, parents, failed to do; build character.

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[i] Mack Lewis was a legendary boxing trainer who operated a gym in east Baltimore. He inspired many in both boxing and life. Mr. Lewis, more affectionately known as Mr. Mack, died at the age of 92 in November 2010. Mr. Chin, Vernon and Eddie all trained under Mr. Mack and continue his legacy.

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    email: g.bridges@lnf.com
    tele: 410 . 215 . 0565

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