Kim, Sophia

Sophia Kim: As a future soccer player for University of Chicago in the fall, I was looking for a sport I could play for the summer to cross train for soccer. I had started to plateau by just running and going to practice to get in shape, but merely going to the gym and working out had never appealed to me. I knew that playing a sport would both entertain and push me to become a better athlete.

I had always wanted to try boxing but never mustered up the courage to look into it. Finally, after a former fighter recommended RSU, I came to watch a class with my dad. It took some convincing, (he was concerned for my safety) but I got permission from both my parents to start boxing in the summer.

After only two weeks of taking boxing classes 3-4 times a week, I could tell that I had gained a significant amount of strength in my upper body and core. In the short amount of time that I have been boxing at RSU, I have gained an appreciation for the game and the amount of not only pure strength, but also the stability, mental keenness, and cooperation that boxing entails. About a month into my time at RSU, I also started to take kickboxing. Even as a soccer player, this class really challenged me, as I had to break my soccer habits and really pay attention to the technicality of kickboxing.

RSU is unlike any other gym in the sense that it’s smaller and has more of a sense of community among the members. There is a diverse group of people who are friendly and are all willing to push each other to become better boxers, no matter how experienced or inexperienced. Everyone is very welcoming and encouraging at the club, whether it is to try a new class, start sparring, or simply help with a question or basic skill. I was never pushed to do anything I was not comfortable with trying yet, but always supported in my ventures to do something harder. Mark and the other coaches put a great deal of emphasis into the technical and mental aspects of the game into our classes through their individual attention. The discipline that they’ve encouraged during class has helped me to keep the same mentality when training by myself outside of class.

Now, with boxing 6 times a week, having soccer practice 3 times a week, and doing extra running, ball skills, and core work on my own, I feel the best I ever have physically and confident that I am ready to compete at the collegiate level. Unfortunately I won’t be able to continue boxing during school in Chicago, but I fully look forward to coming back during breaks to continue training at RSU.



Originally, I was drawn to boxing as an alternative to marathon training. In fact, I found Sidekicks -- the boxing gym where Kim and Mark Messer were teaching at the time -- because it bordered a popular running path. Every Sunday, as I finished my long training runs, I would see the sign advertising “executive boxing” and every Sunday, I’d will myself to remember the phone number. Finally, after too many Sundays to count and after a particularly grueling 20 mile run, the number was lodged in my memory, and I soon found myself wrapping my hands and embarking on what has become a life-altering personal journey.

Anyone who has spent time in a boxing gym will tell you the physical aspect is only a small part of what boxer’s learn. In fact, I refer to boxing as a mental activity with amazing fitness benefits. The fact that I lost 45 pounds in 4 months or took 2 minutes a mile (!) off of my running pace is secondary to the life lessons I have learned in the gym. Even after 7 years, I still learn something about myself every time I wrap my hands or get in the ring..(Especially) when I get in the ring !

My boxing skills have seen me through many tough situations outside of the gym. I have learned the challenges and issues we face in real life magnify themselves in the ring and in order to face them inside the ropes, I need to visualize and practice at all times.  The result of this focus has made me more confident, less shy, less fearful and much more effective at controlling my reactions and emotions in stressful situations outside the ring.  Recently, I had someone close to me tell me I saved her life because of the way I talked her through a particularly difficult and emotional situation. I told her the only reason we made it through that conversation without arguing with one another (versus focusing on the issue) was because of my boxing training. Had I not been focusing on the art of discipline, I’m not sure I would have been able to control my reactions.

As I’ve gotten more involved in the sport and met boxers from many other gyms and trained at other gyms, it is apparent that Mark Messer has an amazing gift. Not only does he share their passion of the sport with his students, but he also teaches all students the same basic techniques they teach their fighters. In fact, many of the basic boxing students have gone on to be fierce competitors with only minor adjustments to their training schedules. 

Coach Messer’s has a deep knowledge of the sport and an uncanny ability to transfer that knowledge to anyone who walks in their door. He takes a different approach than most coaches I’ve encountered. For instance, he doesn't just teach students how to punch..but he teaches them how to stand, how to move, how to hold their hands, how to defend themselves, how to work in an offensive and strategic way as well. He also teaches all students how to work the heavy bag and hold the focus mitts for a partner.  And above all, he puts intense focus on technique and attention to detail. One of Mark’s favorite sayings is, “Practice doesn’t make perfect – PERFECT practice makes perfect.”  And that’s the bar to which he holds his students. You can always pick a Messer boxer out of the crowd.

I thank the Messer’s everyday for sharing their passion and introducing me to mine.

Shelby Barnes

Laflen, Jamie

I joined RSU after moving to Seattle from Chicago.  Due to the stress of moving across the country and adapting to a new, hectic work schedule, I weighed in at 252 pounds after my orientation, the most I had ever weighed.

When I lived in Chicago I used to attend a generic fitness club’s boxing/kick-boxing classes, using those programs to help me to get into shape and to challenge myself.  When I joined RSU, I expected classes similar to those I had taken in Chicago, but I was in for a surprise – RSU was much more professional and challenging than any program I had taken in the past.  For the next couple of months I rediscovered muscles I had not used in a long time and developed a cardio regimen that could sustain me during the basic boxing workouts.   It was tough making it to RSU three days per week for what was sure to be a humbling experience – where I just barely hung on through the whole workout.

After three to four months at RSU I took the basic kick-boxing orientation and began taking kick-boxing classes as well as continuing to train in boxing.  I continue to enjoy the combination of kicks and punches and the coordination I have developed that is necessary to combine these two elements of fighting.  After four to five months, I hit my stride – the workouts were still challenging, but I began to gain the ability to focus on learning and applying new techniques.

Since joining RSU, I have lost between 40 and 50 pounds.  I did not modify my diet much, other than eating smaller, more nutritious meals – after all, how could I put a bunch of garbage in my body after spending all that time at the gym?

Going to that first class was hard, but the workout I did last night was also challenging.  Because of the rigorous nature of the workouts I complete at RSU, I come to the gym prepared to push myself on a continuous basis.  Pushing is hard and does involve some pain, but the result is worth it – I get in better shape and learn each technique as it would be applied in the ring.

After all, pain is just weakness leaving the body!  Jamie Laflen


Jin Jin Yuan Testimonial


Ring Sports United runs a nonprofit organization, the East Side Pugs that supports local youth to keep them off the streets.

This is the same organization that supported me when I was competing. Boxing saved my life. It kept me out of trouble and taught me life lessons of discipline, hard work, sacrifice, and fighting through adversity.


Coach Mark Messer saw something in me; He believed in me, He trained me for free. He traveled and took me to fights and sparring sessions for free. He gave me a job at the gym allowing me to lead some of the classes when I was just starting my career as a coach.

I will never forget the lessons and sayings he drilled into my subconscious “Footwork is fundamental, Head movement is key, Give them something, take it away, Make em' miss, make em' pay!" (Coach Messer)  I will never forget those who have helped me succeed, because success is never achieved alone and I will never forget Ring Sports and the East Side Pugs.