The Boxer’s Heart by Kate Sekules

3rd Aug 2012


Kate Sekules 2001 memoir of her time as a professional boxer, The Boxer’s Heart: A woman fighting, has been rereleased to coincide with this milestone.

It’s a well-written, fast paced book that pulls no punches, and well deserves a second outing.

The Boxer’s Heart follows Kate’s life from her middle-class upbringing in London, unhappy and anxious about her weight, through her rebellious youth (including an appearance on the Peel Sessions) to eventually ending up at Gleason’s boxing gym in New York.

She describes her training and the atmosphere among the other boxers in the gym clearly and warmly and she builds up the tension to her professional fights as well as any promoter.

Sekules, who went on to become a successful journalist, is intensely self-aware: what marks this book apart is her excellent discussions of themes which are still beneath the radar of much feminist writing.

Boxing and violence in general is anathema to traditional views of femininity, and she and her fellow female boxers each have their own way of approaching the apparent contradiction which they embody.

A recurring theme is the way that boxing can offer an alternative narrative of the female body.  Rather than losing weight for the sake of taking up less space in the world, in boxing you find your body’s natural weight and box in that weight category.  Rather than fighting her weight, Sekules is fighting at her weight.

Each woman’s motivation to box is different.  Some have been fighting all their lives, some are naturally angry and need to express it.  For others it is about the purity of the skill, the martial art.

The author’s discussion with Lucia Rijker, one of the best female boxers in the world, about what drives her to fight is one of the highlights of the book.

What comes across most strongly – though the subject is never broached directly by Sekules – is that aggression is natural in women, and that we ignore this at our peril. Whether that aggression is a reaction to personal abuse, societal repression or is simply naturally-occurring rage – it happens.

The one point that the book fails to sufficiently question is our culture’s glib application of the terms ‘masculine’ to aggressive behaviours and ‘feminine’ to nurturing ones, something which links these characteristics to an individuals sex in a way that other societies don’t.

The dynamic passion of aggression and the calm inclusiveness of nurturing are energies that can occur in a person of any sex.  The beauty of any pugilistic sport is that it allows aggression to be harnessed and released in an arena with strict rules of engagement.

The reader finds herself asking, “Could I look another woman in the eye – and then punch her in the face?”  This book provides a safe place where the answer can be “Yes”.

The Olympic women’s boxing begins on 5th August and can be followed here. Duckworth’s 2012 edition is out now and is available in paperback priced at £8.99.

Rating: 4.5/5

Recommended for: Anyone with an interested in sporting biographies, as well as anyone interested in discussions of femininity and masculinity.

Other recommended reading: Fleetwood Assassin by Jane Couch, and the writings of Mischa Merz.

Jenny Tipping


  • Jenny Tipping says:

    On 9 August 2012 the first woman to win an Olympic boxing gold medal was Nicola Adams from Leeds. Saw her box in the quarter finals and it was fantastic – the atmosphere and support from the crowd and the power speed and skill from the boxers. I hope this contest has silenced the critics.