PUNCHING AT A GLOBAL PANDEMIC: AN INTERVIEW WITH BOXING TRAINER BILAL MAHASIN ON HIS RETURN FROM CHINA

By JR Valrey

It is important for working class Black people, in the United States and around the globe, to know that the corporate mainstream media does not work in our people’s interest. So in times of a historic pandemic, it is important that we weigh out information from people with knowledgeable perspectives from all walks of life, who may be connected to the situation.

Bilal Mahasin is a professional boxing trainer who was working in China when the CoronaVirus pandemic started taking shape in the country, and on the international stage. Upon his return to Oakland, he has helped to set up a number of weekly free boxing and martial arts classes, at Lake Merritt, for the shelter in place youth to get exercise. Bilal Mahasin, has a very interesting, and unique, perspective and story.

JR Valrey: How did you end up training boxers in China? How long were you there?

Bilal Mahasin: In 2018, The CBU (China Boxing Union) were recruiting American boxing coaches to help develop boxing culture in China. I had just returned back to the States from working a training camp in Senegal, Africa, where I was training Senegalese fighters. Word reached me via Northern California USA Boxing Chief of Officials Lydia Razo. She’s the one who connected the dots. I believe it was the international boxing work I did in Senegal along with my reputation as a good professional boxer and amateur boxing coach, that qualified me for the position in China. I officially moved from Oakland to Shanghai, China in July 2018, and stayed there working until February 2020.

JR Valrey: How were you received? How are Black people from the US viewed by them?

Bilal Mahasin: I felt warmly received! I could tell they were very happy to have me there. From my experience I’ve noticed that being a Black American, in China, actually grants you a special privilege. Everyone wants to be your friend, everyone wants to show you off to their friends, because if you have a Black American friend, it’s like a sign of prestige. I gathered that some of the Chinese elders perceived my presence in China as a sign of China’s social progress and evolution. I have hundreds of boxing students in China who are my extended family.

JR Valrey: What did Chinese media say about the CoronaVirus while you were there? How and why did you come back to the United States? How long were you there?

Bilal Mahasin: I remember when the virus first struck China, areas were being locked down – quarantined. They were tight with tracking the spread of the virus and strict in taking action. The virus took off during the biggest Chinese holiday, which is Spring Festival, when all of China were traveling home from big cities to be with their families. Considering the time when the virus broke out, I think the Chinese authorities did an amazing job from the top down. My contract with the CBU was coming to an end, but I actually left early, when I noticed American Airlines were canceling flights to and from China.

JR Valrey: When will you be returning to China? What dictates if it is safe or not?

Bilal Mahasin: I’ll be returning to China, sometime next year. I still have all of my connections & relationships there. We’re building a “boxing bridge”, as I like to call it. China is already back open since the pandemic, and things are pretty much back to normal. I communicate with my Chinese boxing students regularly, and they’re constantly asking me to come back to China sooner.

JR Valrey: How would you compare US coverage of the corona virus to that of the Chinese media?

Bilal Mahasin: I didn’t like how the U.S. media initially disrespected China, talking about it was from eating bats, and all that. They took it as an opportunity to push like “Cold War” tactics and paint China as “the boogie man.” Instead of taking this reactionary approach, the U.S. authorities should’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about the virus, and how to prepare for it. That’s why we’re in these poor social circumstances now.

JR Valrey: When you returned, how did your training change?

Bilal Mahasin: I’m definitely more thoroughly organized in my boxing class structures, since working in China. The Chinese, especially in Shanghai province where I worked and lived, are very organized, detail oriented, spontaneous, and hard working. It’s all about being creative, innovative, and progressive with your work. So this has translated to my approach with boxing class structures.

JR Valrey: Can you talk about the classes that you offer for free to the youth? When and where?

Bilal Mahasin: Yes. Upon returning home to the U.S., I launched the International Boxing Institute! So far, we have 2 classes. One on Friday and one Saturday. The Friday class is from 3-5pm, for all youth ages 5 to 12 years old. We teach boxing from 3-4pm, and we have a great capoeira instructor Malandro who teaches capoeira from 4-5pm.

Then Saturday we have a boxing class strictly for young men of color ages 13 and up. I decided to launch these two particular classes, first based on our community’s physical education needs during Covid. When Covid first struck the United States, I sheltered in place with my family for three months, as I was expecting the shelter in place to only last about 2 to 3 months, as it did in China. After 2 to 3 months passed, I realized that if I didn’t get outside and get my body moving, I could die of poor health. I had gained about 30 pounds of fat while sheltering in place. Since then, I’ve lost 40 pounds and I’m back feeling great! I’m back outside helping others achieve similar health victories.

JR Valrey: How could people learn more about the classes you offer? How can they contact you?

Bilal Mahasin: To see visual photos and videos of our classes, they can go to www.deadgameboxing.com or directly to my personal Instagram page @rebellious510. They can contact me via email rebellious510@gmail.com.

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