TEXARKANA, Ark. — With a cityscape mural and rustic brick interior as backdrop, the outside hum of State Line Avenue traffic and an array of punching bags, Texarkana Boxing Academy schools the young and older alike on the right way to fight.
Run by Courtney Pitts, Texarkana Boxing Academy moved a few months ago to a new location at a former hookah lounge. Inside you’ll find a small ring with colorful mats, black and blue Everlast gloves, dumbbells, a small set of lockers and aspiring boxers putting their sweat into this education, dedicated to getting skills for the ring.
And if you sit down to talk boxing with Pitts, he’ll tell you that it’s footwork that’s needed, no matter how strong you are, and that adults can be more difficult to teach than the youngsters. They come to him as young as 6 years old. Their coach has both pro boxing and MMA experience.
“For me, myself, I’ve been boxing since around 19 or 20,” Pitts recalled. He was taught the ins and outs of the sport and developed a love for what boxing can do. It can be transformative.
“I can have a student that comes in here, skittish, not a people person, afraid to talk. Give him two months with boxing and he just brightens up. He has a sense of protection about himself,” Pitts said.
And then there’s the discipline to be found, even for a kid who’s getting into many fights. Boxing can offer them a life lesson.
“Boxing also humbles you,” Pitts said. “Once you get with real boxers and see the real order of doing something as far as skill-wise and what it takes to actually fight, instead of sitting on the couch and playing PlayStation,” Pitts said.
Learning how to throw a correct punch takes time, so the discipline evolves.
Boxing students practice together in sets of two during a class led by coach Courtney Pitts at Texarkana Boxing Academy.
Kelsi Brinkmeyer/Texarkana Gazette.
Pitts works with youngsters ages 6 and up, amateur boxing starting at age 8, he said. He has about 15 to 20 students at Texarkana Boxing Academy. They practice in the evenings, Monday through Thursday, 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.
What are the kids looking for when they saunter into the gym? Well, it’s not too hard to figure out.
“They’re just excited about actually getting to punch something,” Pitts said with a hearty laugh. “And get away with it.”
You have to calm a kid down, and then you can teach them. It’s tough. “Most of the time they’ve got to learn to chill out, to slow it down. At the same time you can’t get the exercise if you’re going full-speed when you first learn it. It takes time for you to develop the skills, and then you can move fast with it,” Pitts said.
Older adults are tougher to teach. They have ingrained habits that need changing.
“The older adults, they went through their whole life thinking, ‘I know how to fight this a certain way,’ but it’s wrong and you’ve got to break the bad habits,” Pitts said. Kids? You can shape them more easily.
One of the youngsters who enjoys the sparring is Derrick May’s 12-year-old daughter Makenzie, who’s going on two years as a gym regular. Out of the blue a couple years ago, she asked for a punching bag and from there she joined the gym.
May says her self-esteem has gone through the roof. She’s picked up other positives, too. “You just name it, really from one end to another: stronger, more confident, more focused. It’s kind of brought her out of her shell. There hasn’t been one negative thing to come from it,” he said.
It all started with her 10th birthday when she wanted a heavy bag to unleash her aggression. “To go out there and just let out on. Nobody in her family has ever boxed. She’s never really watched boxing,” May recalled. Eventually, they also found Coach Courtney.
“She went over there just to visit and been going there ever since,” May said, noting the other day on their way home she discussed what she’d missed having not gone over the holidays: the smell and feel of the gloves when she puts them on.
“The family atmosphere is what she really likes there,” May said. People are encouraging and helpful. He likes how Coach Courtney works with the kids.
“He brings out the best in you,” May said, noting his daughters attended an open spar down in Marshall, Texas, recently. His daughter had to fight a boy because there wasn’t another girl there. It was just fine.
“She does not mind getting hit because she’s gonna hit him back,” May said.
Now, here at this new State Line Avenue gym location, Pitts sees the gym blossoming into something good. He’s looking to add a twice-weekly kid’s class, maybe a class for older men. During the evening hours when the gym is open, what do kids and adults learn as they spar and pound the bag?
“You learn footwork, proper technique, how to throw straight punches, how to slip punches, how to roll them, how to counter people off their punches, what to look for as in what a person is trying to do,” Pitts said.
Boxing coach Courtney Pitts instructs a student.
Kelsi Brinkmeyer/Texarkana Gazette.
You might work on the inside, or you may work on the outside. “There’s a lot to it,” he said.
Footwork and taking the proper steps will come first, however, for youngsters and adults alike. Just think about boxers like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones. They hit hard, but they know how to move.
“You’ve got to be in position first before you can be able to hit somebody. I don’t care how strong you are, it won’t work,” Pitts said. If you see people fight on the streets, nine times out of 10 they’ll throw a punch and fall. “Because they don’t know how to walk.”
Pitts started his career late, but with boxing he put in two-and-a-half years, followed up by a couple years of MMA. He fought in Shreveport, Dallas, New Orleans and Memphis. As a coach, he hasn’t turned a boxer pro yet, but he’s had good amateurs.
“You’ve got to be patient with it. You can’t rush it. You end up turning somebody pro too fast and put them in there with a wolf and they’re going to get ate,” Pitts said.
The work itself is rewarding for him, and he encourages people to come join them and try it out. Come join the family, he says.
“Teaching somebody self-discipline and being able to handle themselves in certain situations. Giving somebody confidence and some sense of stability around other people,” Pitts said. He believes they’re skills that transfer elsewhere, given how hard he sees his boxers work.
“They bust their butts in here. It’s like blood, sweat and tears. You’ve got to go through something to be somebody. It don’t matter what area it is. Wherever you go, whatever you do in life, you’re going to know that,” Pitts said. “I’ve got that art of hard work. I know how to work hard.”
(On the Net: Facebook.com/TexarkanaBoxingAcademy. On the phone: 903-306-6243.)