It’s 6pm, after a long day of school, when my 4-year-old son and I climb the narrow spiral stairway to the gym. We don’t know what to expect yet when we get to the entrance of Level Ground gym in Dorchester… and we were mystified. My son immediately started playing with their resident cat and glancing at the bunny behind the counter. I was welcomed by Andre and other teen members who where preparing the gym for the night. After being signed in, my son and I were shown the academic area, a space where students come to study and where children can set up their toys or eat snacks. Immediately I felt like this space could support my needs as a student, fighter, and parent. And isn’t that what most people look for when they come to a martial arts gym? A place where they can feel comfortable exploring and perfecting their art with people they trust?
Level ground, a progressive martial arts school in Dorchester represents a strong community by valuing resilience, preservation, and opportunity through mixed martial arts, Ju-Jitsu, kickboxing and yoga. Funded as a non-profit organization, it enables the gym to be accessible to all residents who are seeking a way to get fit and be a part of their community. The gym’s unique atmosphere serves to “empower members of all ages to embrace a healthy lifestyle while enjoying connections to a supportive family-oriented community.” You could feel this as soon as you walk in the door.
As a local Boston resident and amateur Muay Thai fighter, I found it challenging to find an affordable and inclusive gym that caters to the needs of inner city parents and children. However, Level Ground has welcomed us like long lost family. During adult classes children can listen, participate, run around and let off some steam in safe spaces or relax on the couch in the academic area. Constructing a Martial arts space that values community and family as a priority honors the traditions of passing down teachings through families and children, taking the time to learn a skill and passing it down to others.
For example, The Fierce Females is a popular class at Level Ground for women of all ages to come and learn self-defense tactics when threatened. Ali, the gym’s director, teaches this class and her drive to empower all women is intoxicating. By the end of the class young girls and grown woman support each other on bags and pads. They work together to practice defensive techniques such as the round house elbow, knees, and how to correctly throw a punch or land a kick in order to protect themselves. Through some giggles and conversations, I’ve met ladies in their young teens that enjoy bringing their friends to participate every week and older woman who used to train martial arts or just want to gain some knowledge of fighting.
Through multi generation classes, the older children are responsible for the younger ones and the adults are responsible for being role models and guiding the youth to improve academically, professional, physically, and mentally. Shaping a community that fosters the well being of all age groups has brought this art alive today as it continues to link people across borders, fostering understandings across diversified and historically unequal groups, and aiding underrepresented communities in creating maintaining and sharing their stories.