Florida Jacks is a tiny door tucked between Sunrise Records and the Burgundy Bar on the south side of the Bloor/Yonge intersection. But head on up the narrow staircase and a world of pugilistic wonder awaits.
Let's make things clear. I. Hate. Gym. I loathe repetitive motions that induce perspiration with an end to building cardio and muscle tone. But I also love poutine. And in an effort to have my cheese curds and functional arteries too, I wave a white flag and always choose sporting clubs over Extreme or GoodLife. In an ideal world, I like my instructors to be slave-drivers with a thorough understanding of body mechanics and up-to-date training.
For some reason it's difficult to find right amount of slave-driver in a boxing instructor who doesn't also subject you to old-school training routines that haven't been seen since Steve Prefontaine burned up the track in short shorts and a handlebar. And when it comes to boxing, a sport with a long and noble tradition, old-school is unfortunately very prevalent. Not so at Florida Jacks.
First of all, Jacks feels the Alberta of boxing gyms. In most clubs you're jostling for space in front of the mirror or lining up for a turn at the bag. At Jacks there's miles and miles of space between you and your neighbour. On a Saturday morning when the corporate crowd retires to their 905 homes, everybody gets a heavy-bag. (And, ventilation's good enough so that you don't smell your neighbour either.)
The intro boxing class includes a circuit-style mix of plyos, jump-rope and bag work with nary a bouncing stretch in sight. The pace is brisk, but instructors understand if you have to sit a few rounds out. Newcomers note: sparring and partner-work is reserved for advanced members, so there's no chance of leaving with a black eye.
For a gym at the corner of one of Toronto's busiest intersections, I was surprised to see that the first-floor cardio and weight area was so sparsely populated. The dance-club techno in the background wasn't quite to my taste, but wasn't loud enough to seep through headphones.
I've made the round of a good number of boxing gyms in both Toronto and Montreal and it's pretty rare to find a club that offers classes that aren't strictly martial arts-related. Sure, the cardio-striptease on the schedule is clearly an offering geared toward the female contingent, but that doesn't mean I won't be checking it out just to shake things up, if you know what I mean.
Writing by Charlie See. Photos by Jesse Milns.