“They’re here!” yells a student from the corner of Room 1 in the Erasmus Sports Building. A lady with very broad shoulders walks into the room, a man with a slightly less impressive physique by her side. The 25 or so students (mostly foreign) give a shy round of applause. They are eye to eye with the second-best female boxer in the world, Nouchka Fontijn, and her coach and partner, Abdul Fkiri.

Under their supervision, the people attending the workshop will beat the light – or, in one or two cases, a contact lens – from each other’s eyes.

Giving airs

“Are you ready? Why are you taking so long?” coach Abdul Fkiri grumbles at the students during one of the few drinks breaks they are given. Meanwhile, Fontijn is walking through the room like some kind of Louis van Gaal, pointing out every tiny mistake the attendees make.

Although Fontijn and her coach look strict during the workshop, they are quite modest when introducing themselves on arrival. Fontijn does not give herself airs. Her achievements at the world championships and the Rio Olympics get a brief mention in a quick speech. “And I’m her coach,” Fkiri adds hastily.

Some students think they already have some boxing skills. “Faster. Faster!” IBEB student Ales Pokorny yells to his sparring partner. He performs the exercises – most of which are supposed to improve the students’ foot work and posture during a fight – with clear ease.

Boksen Fontijn 1
The attendees attack each other after receiving instructions from coach Fkiri. Image credit: Madelon van Horik

Brazilian jiu-jitsu

“I have some experience with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’ve learned many different techniques in that sport. For instance, I know that in all combat sports the idea is to try and keep your distance from your opponent, so that they can’t touch you. I applied that knowledge today,” says the 23-year-old Czech.

Not every attendee is as well prepared as Ales is. For instance, Mohamed Kasrioui, 33, had not even signed up for the workshop. The former HES student did not find out that a boxing workshop was to take place until the last minute.

Kasrioui is glad he was able to join the group anyway. “It was great to be taught by someone who has seen it all in this sport. I learned a lot – for example how to turn away when I receive a blow.”

Boksen Fontijn 3
De studenten kijken naar een demonstratie van Fontijn en Fkiri. Image credit: Madelon van Horik

Source of inspiration

About one third of the attendees are female. Shirin Engel, 22, who is following a master programme in Global Business & Sustainability, thinks there are not enough women. “This sport is still dominated by men. I’d like to see more women take up boxing. Nouchka is a source of inspiration to women like myself.”

Fontijn – who studied physiotherapy at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences – is trying to raise public awareness of boxing by teaching workshops. She is not yet sure that more Dutch women will shine at the Olympics three years from now.

“The sport is getting more popular, but that’s mostly the cardio aspect of it. There are fewer people who actually spar, because some people don’t want to have to go out with a black eye,” says Fontijn, who was born in Rotterdam.

Going out

As a student, Fontijn hated going out, which was an advantage. Drinking alcohol and dancing in a crowded pub is not her cup of tea. She prefers dancing in a ring.

“You can’t both go out and be an elite athlete. Put everything else on the back burner if you wish to be a boxer,” is her advice to students who aspire to win an Olympic medal, just like Fontijn.