Toronto·Our Toronto

Toronto boxing club building champions in and outside the ring

At MJKO Boxing, Miranda and Ibrahim Kamal teach young people in at-risk communities the fundamentals of boxing. But it's what they teach outside the ring that makes them true champs.

MJKO not only trains students to box, it also teaches basic life skills

Mentoring Juniors Kids Organization (MJKO) is an organization that promotes positive and lifestyle choices for youth through boxing and mentoring. (CBC/ John Lesavage)

It's Thursday after school and more than two dozen kids file into the basement of a Parkdale church. It's also home to Mentoring Juniors Kids Organization (MJKO) Boxing.

The students are part of a boxing program that is about much more than landing punches.

"That's a cool thing about boxing," MJKO's co-founder, Miranda Kamal, explained to CBC's Our Toronto

"It accepts everybody. It doesn't matter your weight class, your country, your language. So that's very powerful."

It's something Kamal, herself, found strength in. She was sexually assaulted as a teen and took up boxing as a form of self-defence.

As a survivor of sexual assault at 16, Miranda Kamal took up the sport of boxing as part of her healing process. She now coaches at MJKO, passing along her love of the sport to others. (MJKO Boxing)

"I felt like the only way for me to actually overcome that assault was to compete," Kamal recalled.  "And I went on to box and I loved it. It was the most freeing, amazing experience of my life."

It's the kind of empowerment Kamal and her husband, Ibrahim, a former Team Canada and professional boxer, hope to bring to their students.

MJKO Boxing was started by Miranda and Ibrahim Kamal. Both former boxers who turned their passion for the sport into a way to give back. (Miranda and Ibrahim Kamal)

"Battling through adversity, just having that tough attitude," explained Ibrahim.

"I see it in these kids. They're facing struggles, negative energy around them, not the most positive environments they're in. So for them to come to a safe environment such as MJKO ... for them to make friends and to compete and travel, that's the most amazing part about the sport."

The Kamals started their boxing club 10 years ago. Thousands of students in Parkdale and neighbouring communities have come through their program.

And so have local police officers. Const. Mark Borsboom has been part of MJKO Boxing since it began. He regularly brings fellow officers from 14 Division to the training sessions.

MJKO boxers recently competed in the Brampton Cup — the biggest amateur boxing tournament in Canada. (CBC/ John Lesavage)

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"The kids have always been engaging. They're always enthusiastic," Borsboom said.

"We've been in some neighbourhoods where they really need us and the kids get used to us because we're in their classrooms and we're in their gym at the end of the day. It becomes a very familiar thing and that's the way it should be."

MJKO not only trains students to box, it also teaches basic life skills. Students are taught manners, table etiquette and how to make conversation. The coaches and trainers have even accompanied students to medical appointments and taught them job interview skills.

"Everyone has some kind of potential. Whether they go all the way to the Olympics," Ibrahim said.

"But take the teachings that you've learned here and apply to any avenue in life whether you're in arts, school, music, work and do it to the best of your abilities. So it's not all about sport."

Ibrahim, Miranda and other coaches not only train students to box, but also teach them basic life skills like table etiquette and how to make conversation. (John Lesavage/ CBC)

The students are taking those lessons to heart. Whether they're in elementary, middle or high school, they introduce themselves to visitors with a handshake and a welcome.

"They need a voice and they need someone in their corner to fight," Miranda explained. "And I think that's very impactful for me because they don't have enough people fighting for them."

That dedication and support has also produced results in the ring. MJKO boxers recently competed in the Brampton Cup — the biggest amateur boxing tournament in Canada. Six MJKO boxers took part, all of them won gold. Rafael Kiss came out on top in the 52 kg. weight class.   

"I came [to MJKO] when I was 12 and I was really misbehaving," the 16-year-old explained.

"They teach me discipline, they teach me how to be a good person outside and inside of the ring ... It's like family."

Watch Our Toronto Saturday and Sunday at noon, or Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC Television