One of the very first places we visited in Cuba was a short walk from our hotel through Old Havana to the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym or the Rafael Trejo Gimnasio al Aire Libre. The gym, like many places in Cuba was named in memory of a revolutionary figure, this time after Rafael Trejo who was a Cuban law student, killed in 1930 during protests against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado.
The gym, like many places in the crumbling streets of Havana is easy to miss from the street and marked by a single, small sign. Walking through the door you enter perhaps the oldest boxing club in Havana, an open air arena nestled in the center of a courtyard with seating on two sides, nestled in-between a couple of three level apartment buildings with windows open to the training area. Like just about everything in Cuba, the training equipment is well worn with the exception of a brand new heavy (70-80lb) punching bag. Despite its well worn and neglected appearance, it is one of the more famous boxing arenas with a number of Olympic champions having trained here.
I was pretty excited to see this place as this is about as fundamental and raw as boxing gets. However, we arrived late morning and the light inside the gym was atrocious with all sorts of harsh highlights coupled with shadows underneath the awning. Keeping exposures under control was a nightmare as people moved from light to shadow, but I figured some of that could be an advantage, especially with RAW files that give you a little bit of extra dynamic range. The gym was also a relatively small place and having even a few photographers moving around along with boxing students and others made it a pretty tough environment to shoot in. But when was I going to get back here? Might as well suck it up and make it work…
Boxing is perhaps Cuba’s second most favorite sport behind baseball and apparently folks of all ages come here to train. Today however, were boxers in their 20’s that were there were in pretty good shape with a couple exhibiting fierce and sharp reflexes. After watching for a few minutes, I was asked who I’d least want to get into the ring with and I responded that the two people I would not have wanted to tangle with were the old guy who was doing the instruction at the school, pictured above (incredibly fast, precise and controlled) and the young woman pictured at top, who was *in it*. Apparently, the instructor was a 5 time Cuban national champion… Unfortunately, I did not get their names as I did not want to interrupt their training, but it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to watch them train.
Erik Couse shown immediately above, shot this image from the gym.
There has been a movie produced about Namibia, the boxer seen in the introductory image that is used for the film’s promotional materials. More information about Meg Smaker’s film can be seen here.
It can be hard to contact the gym, but this is the latest contact information I have for them:
Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo
Calle Cuba 815
Tel: 00537 862 0266
Links to other images others in our group shot.
Dave Cohen shot these images from our visit.
Aaron D’Souza shot this image.
Vincent Mo shot this image.
Matteo Slanina shot this image.