In Part Two of this Michele Aboro interview we found out about the difficult circumstances surrounding retirement. In this third part we ask Michele about her transition into coaching, the Aboro Academy and the commendable Aboro Foundation.
Awakening: Since retiring you have moved to China and opened Aboro Academy, a successful gym in Shanghai. What drew you to relocate to China?
Michele: I have been in Shanghai… this is my fifth year. What drew me to coming here was the fact of when I came here to visit my partner in Aboro Academy Yilan Yuen, I saw there really was nowhere to train when it came to kickboxing or boxing at a high level. What they were doing was more fitness boxing and fitness kickboxing, so in that breath I thought …ok if I go there, because I have a very good name in the sport, that will open a lot of doors for me, and everything is new in the fitness industry so that will put me on the ground floor... what I build there will actually push through to the future in what is happening here in China. That was the major drive that pushed me over to it, it was just like a feeling of going… I don’t know, to the Wild-West or somewhere like that, where there was so much possibility for me and things to do here.
Awakening: How was the transition from an active competitor into the role of a coach?
Michele: Ohhh in the beginning I found it very difficult, I actually stopped coaching for quite a while when I retired. I went back to school and I passed my certification as an Audio Engineer, and I toured after that for about 5 years with the likes of Joan As Police Woman, Antony and the Johnsons and multiple other bands. After those five years I actually got the love back again for the sport, and decided to go back into teaching and coaching people in Holland… that’s when I realized that going to China was what I wanted to do.
Awakening: ..and how does coaching differ to fighting, especially in China with the obvious language barrier?
Michele: One of the main things for me was that you become a different type of role model. As an athlete people look to you for a different set of wants than they do for a coach. I found that as a coach I had to learn how to articulate and explain what I was doing and why, and what a technique was for. As a competitor I never had to understand it, it was very natural to me. So the hardest transition was to articulate and put into words and actually learn how to teach people, because as a competitor you’re teaching yourself, and going through the motions and the day to day repetition for yourself, but when you’re a coach, that repetition for yourself has to be able to be transitioned into another person. That was the biggest thing, just learning how to communicate with other people, showing them what I wanted them to do, and teaching my techniques in a way that they could understand.
I had a young girl in China called Xu Chun Yan that while I was training her went on to become International WBC Champion, and in retrospect the thing of not having language - because she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Chinese - I had to find a way of communicating and that was through body language. Being able to communicate and say “OK, you put your foot here and move like this…” It was more of a thing of showing her how the body moves, and doing it that way.
Awakening: Can you tell us more about Aboro Academy and Aboro Foundation? We’ve seen all about it on your website, but it would be great to hear it directly form you!
Michele: Aboro Academy is what we have put together now, it’s a place where anybody can go from all walks of life no matter who you are. It’s a place where you can feel very welcome, a place where the doors are always open. Our members feel like our family, we try to give them a high quality of training even if they are commercial or pro. We have a few pro boxers that fight on the circuit over here, but we train them all the same. We give them all the same respect, and I think that’s what people like… we have this utmost respect for everybody that walks through our door that wants to be part of the Aboro Academy family. The foundation was actually founded before the academy, both with my partner Yilan Yuen. What we try to do is enhance life through physical training, we look for young Chinese kids and welcome those that come knocking at the door.. those that we can help that come from under-privileged backgrounds and we give them work placements and we teach them how to teach basically, we help them get an international personal training certification so they can further their career in the sports industry. For me the Aboro Foundation is something that is very, very close to my heart. I think it is a wonderful organisation and we do quite a lot of good in Shanghai, with kids coming from outside of Shanghai as well.
What I will do here is I’ll read from our brochure that we have when we look for sponsorship and donations for the foundation. It states…
“The Aboro Foundation is a community outreach aim of Aboro Academy, The Foundation is a non-profitable organisation committed to the principle that physical training improves life to maintain a healthy and sustainable world in which everyone has an access to quality training.”
We provide free classes for those who cannot afford, providing teaching we give these kids English lessons too here, and job placements in the sports industry for young Chinese kids. We host free education events and we build the community of like-minded people here in china. We put on twice a year in-house boxing events in which all of the money goes towards the foundation, so our members will train, participate, and we’ll find other boxers and kickboxers that will come and participate from other clubs in Shanghai. We have around 400 visitors that come and it’s a great event, it’s really a great way in which we can show China what we do here at Aboro Academy, what the mind-set is, and how we benefit the young Chinese kids that come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Awakening: What a commendable project, it sounds fascinating too. If anyone at Awakening is ever over in Shanghai we’ll definitely make sure they pay your Academy a visit for a photoshoot or something!
What are your observations of women in martial arts in China compared to the West?
Michele: I think when you look at females in martial arts in China and in the west, it reminds me of when I first went to a lot of East Block countries, the way that people are driven there, the way that they train, it’s a regime, it’s a big machine. There’s a lot of girls out here training.
There was one school I went to where I helped a young girl become a WBC International Champion, a girl called Xu Chun Yan as I said before. She trained with me for quite a while and it was the National Amateur Team in Ningbo. As I walked in, there was 80 young females boxing! It was the most females I’ve seen boxing in one place. It was breath taking for me.
These kids listen to what you say, they hang on every word. They want to achieve, they all come from very impoverished backgrounds where they hardly have anything. So for them this is in a way, you could call it “life or death”. It’s very different from in the west. A lot of people that do sports are not from the best of backgrounds, but these kids you know, it’s their one chance out of a horrible existence.
In Part Four of this Michele Aboro interview we ask her thoughts on the next steps of the growing female side of the industry, and we also ask the difficult question about fighting cancer.