Latu Talu is a man with passion. He is head coach at Cannons Creek Boxing Academy where over 120 boys and a handful of girls go after school to train and spar. But that’s not all they’re there for, as the Academy’s ethos stretches far beyond the boxing ring.
“People think it’s just a boxing gym,” said Latu. “Only a few percent is about boxing, the rest is about the values we teach. We have a Passport to Success with eight values that we teach the kids. If they memorise the whole book, they get a free membership for life. It’s about the opportunities they get from being here and it’s about making champion men, not just boxing.”
Latu is himself a student of Billy Graham and has been part of Billy’s Naenae Boxing Academy, which operates on a similar ethos, since it started. “I’ve never looked back. I look on him as a father. He showed me a different path.
“The boys at Cannons Creek Boxing Academy inspired me and changed me. They made me into a better person, a better coach and a better fighter, because I have to show them a good example. It inspires me every day the way these kids improve in their boxing and in their manners as well.”
The Academy has been running since July 2014. It started with fewer than ten juniors and has grown through word of mouth. Most students live within walking distance and the gym has a strong family vibe, which has contributed to its success.
“The parents come and have tea or coffee during class, and bring food to prize-giving, which is a great time. We have their kids here and they can trust that we’ll look after them. Some parents come to us and say ‘What have you done to our kid? He’s so different. It’s really good!’ We’re making a huge difference in their kids’ lives and that’s so rewarding.”
Out of 120 boys, only five box competitively. “The rest are here for the brotherhood and values we teach. We give them a path. Boxing is just a tool,” said Latu. “We also teach them that, if you don’t have the right gear and the right techniques, you’ll get damaged. We sit them down and watch the documentary Concussion. Other gyms don’t do that. The main thing we teach is safety. It’s not about being tough guys, it’s about walking away and not getting hurt. My number one rule is that they don’t use their fists outside of here. If they do, they can’t continue to come.
“NZCT’s funding means I can pay my rent and get the things I need, and it allows me to have the passion to keep coming here and making a difference. That’s the most important thing to me. I get up in the morning and think, ‘I get paid for doing something I love’. That’s amazing. I pinch myself every day when I remember that I do this.”