Boxing clinic proves it’s as much about the mindset as the body

Boxing coach teaches youth life lessons in the ring.

Mario Cabillo

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

They are the most famous words ever to be spoken by the most famous boxer of all time. But what else does it take to prove yourself in the ring?

Mario Cabillo, the boxing director for the Bremerton Youth Boxing Association, said it takes your brain more than anything else.

“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “They’re not just coming for the boxing.”

Cabillo trains students at the Sheridan Park Community Center off of Lebo Boulevard in Bremerton. Most of the athletes are in high school, but he also trains several adults and offers classes for children 8 and older.

Cabillo has been boxing since he was little. “I grew up in a rough neighborhood and needed to know how to defend myself,” he said.

When he came to South Kitsap, he saw a need to pass on his knowledge to at-risk youths in the area. Although, when he first suggested the idea, it was brushed off as “too brutal.”

“This is an old-school community,” he said. “But it has been in the Olympics for ages, and Olympic-style boxing will never change.”

Although there are several other forms of hand-to-hand combat that Cabillo has experience with, his true passion is boxing and the connection he makes with his pupils.

“I’m a humanities guy,” he said. “It’s an egotistical sport, but I ask everyone who comes in, ‘What did you come here for?’ And then I try to give them that pebble.”

One student Cabillo trains with is a 14-year-old from Central Kitsap High School named Tom. After his first training session, he was hooked and comes back every week to learn — and to talk.

“He has promise. He’s tentative, but you can see he’s an athlete,” Cabillo said in between sparring sessions. As he pointed where Tom was to hit Cabillo, he gave him pointers between each punch: “Don’t run.” “Breathe.” “Don’t rush it, keep your elbow in.”

Cabillo said Tom will compete at the showcase he’s working to set up at the community center. He, along with Port Orchard’s gym Cal’s Olympic Boxing, are working with Mayor Patty Lent to set up the area’s first competition. And the thought gets Cabillo excited.

“Can you imagine the gym packed with people watching? Your son is competing against his friend and their family and friends are there. How many will come to watch them?” he asked.

Cabillo has trained several top-tier fighters in his time as a coach. Ramel Clasablanca, for example, a Bremerton High School graduate, won the Northwest Golden Gloves amateur super-heavyweight title (205 pounds and up) at the 65th annual Tacoma Golden Gloves championships in 2013.

Another is Gerald Washington, an undefeated heavyweight who also trained on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad.

Cabillo, 58, said he plans on doing what he does for a long time. Although his competitive days are over (“I can feel my injuries and where I had surgeries”), he enjoys what he does and wants to continue passing on that knowledge and passion to kids who need it.

“We’re small here, but it would be great to get another champion,” he said.

Cabillo coaches Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and can be contacted at 360-551-3134 for additional information.