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A Boxer’s Roadwork Through the World Community

Jan 21, 2008
Eiji Yoshikawa

In New York in 1983, I lived in the West Side YMCA on 63rd Street and Broadway. It was one minute to Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle and Central Park. Since I had applied to and registered with ALP (the American Language Program) at Columbia University, the YMCA gave me the student’s weekly rate. It was around seventy-two dollars per week -- the cheapest in town.

I first got a room in a corner on the 5th floor. The room had a weird layout, with part of the ceiling in the middle coming halfway down, so that I had to dodge it each time I turned around. The window in the corner was too small to shine any light into the dark room. Since there was a wall in the middle of the tiny room, there wasn’t enough room for anything on either side of the wall.

After sleeping there for one night, I asked the receptionist if they had something else. I got a better room (room #718), which was a very simple cell-like room. It was rectangular, with the small bed on the right taking up about seventy percent of the room. On the other side of the room, one small table with one chair were sitting by a window that didn’t open more than two inches. There was a lamp stand, which was about my height, that had a very primitive globe, and that was it.

The only shower on the 7th floor was in the same room as the toilet, which was used by everyone. My room was only three rooms away from the toilet, which was good since all my drinking water came from the sink next to the toilet. I did my laundry in the same sink.

Every day I ate sliced white bread which was around sixty-nine cents per bag. It was the cheapest food in the cheapest supermarket in the cheapest area around 8th Avenue and 57th Street, which was an area that was filled with broken beer bottles and trash. Back then, the exchange rate between US dollars and the Japanese Yen was really tough for me. One dollar was the equivalent of two hundred and fifty Japanese Yen. Now, a dollar equals one hundred and five Yen. Every so often, I had the great luxury of spreading Philadelphia cream cheese on the white bread, and eating it with the water straight out of the toilet sink.

I didn’t mind the prison-like situation of my new life at all, and I actually thanked God for giving me at least the daily necessities. I loved being alone, and so far away from home. I felt that it was the only way to learn about myself, properly say “bye-bye” to my days as a boxer, make completely new friends, learn absolutely new things and discover myself totally anew.

Besides the economic reasons, I chose the West Side YMCA because they had a boxing room inside their sports gym. You could use it as much as you wanted to if you were a resident. I punched the sandbag, shadow boxed, sparred with other boxing guys, jumped rope every day and ran in Central Park.

When I run, I think a lot. There were two main things going on in my mind.

One was to look at myself internally. Why was I doing all of this; what did I need to achieve; what did I need to overcome; what kind of person did I want to be, and so on. Answering these questions was the purpose of my coming all the way from Japan.

The second topic was more accidental. Being in a city where all kinds of people were living together opened my eyes to see and think about the world. What I saw in the city was that it was Indian people who were selling newspapers and magazines. Korean people ran the grocery stores and also sold hats and gloves on the street. Turkish people were selling carpets and leather jackets. Italians were in the restaurant business. Many signs in the subway were in the Spanish language, and many of them were offering mental and physical help. Yet, people who went to see the operas at Lincoln Center were well dressed, and it seemed that there were only white people in attendance. Chinese people seemed to only stay in Chinatown. Only African-Americans were selling burgers and French Fries at the Burger Kings in the city, and they sat in bleachers that were the farthest away in Yankee Stadium.

Why? I was pursuing my dream. Everyone must have had a dream. How about those who never went downtown while living up in Harlem and the Bronx? Were those youngsters who were selling hot dogs at the baseball games getting closer to their dreams, little by little? All people looked very interesting to me. I thought that everyone must be carrying their dreams with them, and had reasons to believe in them.

The funny thing is that these two different thoughts -- the personal one and the external one about other people -- sound like two separate things, but they’re actually one.

To know who you are, you need to know about other people. To understand your neighborhood, you have to learn about the world. To act in the right way, you need to know about yourself and external society.

We will all learn if we travel from one end of the world to the other, and climb over all the border walls. That’s the only way you can serve well in your own community, which is a part of the world’s community. Unless you step over to the other side of the river, you will never know what’s out there. That’s the best way to really understand the side you are from.

The little boxer from Tokyo was learning so much, every moment, about how people could be happy, as he was running through the woods and trees in Central Park -- a park that was surrounded by skyscrapers, shops, museums and apartments where millions of people were living their lives, clinging to the dreams in their minds.

Eiji Yoshikawa is a retired Pro Boxer who majored inFrench literature and did his thesis on Jean Cocteau and Cinematography. He founded the "Peacemakers", Japan's first neighborhood watch, and spends much of his time visiting schools and communities teaching children about non-violence. In 2004, Japan Inc. Magazine called him the "Compassionate Pugilist". We are proud to offer "Letters from the Compassionate Pugilist" as our first guestcolumnist. Contact Eiji at or via email.

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