Oakland Institute for Boxing

Bilal-Mahasin-at-his-boxing-gym-Oakland-2023, Oakland Institute for Boxing, Featured Local News & Views
Bilal Mahasin in his boxing gym where he teaches youth classes and women’s self defense classes in Oakland.

by Zaire Saunders

Numerous pieces of propaganda have been written on the infamous Black brute. The savage Black man who has made it his path to plague society with harm through his “inherent” nature. On the flip side, there has been a pushback against such tired notions of Blackness and masculinity. Consider the Alabama Brawl, a rising moment of defensive action taken against racists and their will to hold dominion over Black people. What would have occurred if nobody rose up to defend themselves and Black people.

This led me to the idea of boxing, a sport that showcases the strength and discipline to better oneself. I spoke with Bilal Mahasin, a former boxer, Muslim and educator. Bilal has opened up to me about the craft, his place in it and the need for self defense in our community – and other communities as well.

Zaire Saunders: I’ve noticed in your gym you have the Black Panther Party’s 10 point program on your wall, specifically No. 5: We Want Education for Our People That Exposes the True Nature of This Decadent American Society. What does that mean for you? Why have it displayed here?

Bilal Mahasin: It’s to advocate for education. We do after school tutoring for the youth for free every Monday through Thursday 4 p.m. -5:30 p.m. One half is tutoring and mentor work – while the other half is boxing and physical training. All together it’s in the spirit of the Panthers, who launched the first free programs for the community.

Zaire Saunders: Tell me about how you got started boxing? Why choose boxing for this?

Bilal Mahasin: Boxing has been my life pretty much. It’s something that fell into place naturally for me as a fighter. Growing up, I’ve been a fighter. I’ve always enjoyed fighting and, you know, the excitement of the phenomenon – the shock of boxing. Until you’ve been hit in the face, you not really awake, you are not really alive. 

When you’ve been hit in the face, you become alive. And after a fight, it’s hard to sleep because you relive it and wonder: “Man, what happened? What could I have done differently?” That’s the most exciting thing for me. The phenomenon. So, I wanted to revisit it and do it better. It’s like having a nightmare and learning to master your nightmares and turn them into a pleasant experience – a heaven like experience. For me that was the journey of boxing. 

And after going to a gym and developing my craft and learning there’s a positive way, productive way, economically beneficial way to utilize this. Not just as a fighter but as a manager, a coach of amateur and professional fighters, kids’ programs, women’s programs. Cross culture relationships between boxers. I’m a referee and judge.

Zaire Saunders: So, were you born in San Francisco? What’s more of your background?

Bilal Mahasin: I was born in SF and in the Sunnydale housing projects until the age of 10. Then I moved to Oakland. From there it’s basically been Oakland. I did live in LA for a year. My family is from St. Louis. But it’s been pretty much Oakland.

Zaire Saunders: How can people get involved in your boxing gym?

Bilal Mahasin: So, we do all the sign-ups at the gym. If a person wants to get a membership, an adult membership, they can check the website for that. We have sign ups online, but it’s better to come in and sign up. The website is https://www.internationalboxinginstitute.com. But the best way is to come to 4606 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, California 94609.

Zaire Saunders: What is your opinion on using boxing for self defense for our community?

Bilal Mahasin: Boxing erases supremacy. I’ve seen whites, Asians, Blacks and Latinos be knocked out. It’s all about the craft. But boxing also extends across cultures. I believe boxing should be mandatory in school, like the arts. 

Zaire Saunders: What lessons can one learn from boxing? What would you say to someone hesitating to join?

Bilal Mahasin: Boxing can be applied throughout life. You never forget what you learn. Your confidence goes up knowing you always have something to use. There’s a few lessons on the wall. Changing locations a big one. It’s like life; you can remain where you are or change locations. The same applies to boxing. I would say continuous growth is another thing. In the ring and out. It teaches you to grow. And again, cross culture relationships happen in boxing.

It’s also very character revealing. Throwing a two piece shows where you are. Some come in more aggressive, some don’t use all the force and some will move around after throwing it. It’s revealing of your character. But I say everyone should come in because you grow and gain confidence.

Zaire Saunders is the copy editor and reporter for the SF Bay View Community Journalism Program, which is funded by the California State Library.