Shop Talk: Zen and the Art of the Left Jab

Charlie Giordano’s new boxing studio has a distinctly mindful vibe.

Boxing and yoga? It may not be the most obvious partnership, but according to Charlie Giordano, owner of Strong Martha, a mixed-use fitness studio new to West Tisbury this summer, it’s a one-two punch that makes perfect sense.

“It’s not a yin and yang,” he said. We sat on the floor of the newly opened space, three punching bags hanging from one wall, an altar with bonsai trees and a statue of the Buddha on another. Though he’d originally considered that the ancient fundamental concept of yin and yang, or complementary opposites, might play a role in the branding of his new venture, he quickly realized that the relationship between yoga and boxing wasn’t about opposites at all. “To me, it’s a natural fit,” he said.

After teaching boxing in various Island gyms and studios for the last fifteen years, and even a program for inmates at the jail, Giordano was eager to open his own space. When a friend wondered if he’d be willing to take over the lawn mower shop that previously occupied the cozy State Road location, he saw his chance. He turned down the lawn mower gig, but agreed to take over the lease.

In short order the one-room retail shop was transformed into a welcoming workout space. “In the old days I would have had a muscle-head gym,” he admitted. “But these days I’ve transcended.”

Though he sports a boxer’s physique, a few minutes spent in Giordano’s presence (or on his Instagram feed) reveals that he’s not your typical gym rat. When not teaching boxing or running a successful motorcycle parts company, Tailgunner Exhaust, he studies Taoist and Buddhist teachings, practices the art of bonsai, creates impressively balanced sculptures out of beach stones, and plays mandolin and fiddle in the PickPocket Bluegrass Band.

It is perhaps this holistic and spiritual approach that has connected him to a new audience, primarily through classes he’s taught for years in Edgartown, first at Evolve Pilates and then at Yoga on the Vine.

“There was a strong connection between the way he teaches and the way I approach yoga,” Yoga on the Vine owner Lora Ksieniewicz Antinori remembered of her first classes with Giordano.

“Yoga and boxing are both about being in the moment and being fully present. The stakes here are a little bit higher; in yoga, maybe you fall out of a pose. In boxing you get punched.”

Right away, Giordano felt that his new studio should offer more than just boxing. He asked Ksieniewicz Antinori if she and Yoga on the Vine would partner with him to offer yoga classes in the new space, and she was thrilled by the idea of a collaboration.

Over the summer, the studio offered several group boxing classes a week, combination classes, and private lessons. Yoga classes happened in the morning (the punching bags hook into the wall to make room for sun saluting). Giordano said there are plans to offer more classes and workshops down the road.

Like boxing and yoga, the two teachers share complementary approaches to their chosen disciplines. Ksieniewicz Antinori, who has a background in kinesiology and a history of working with college athletes, incorporates a strong understanding of anatomy into her teaching of yoga. “She represents the scientific side of the practice and also the esoteric side,” Giordano said. “It’s a good synthesis of both.”

Ksieniewicz Antinori, for her part, was particularly impressed by how welcoming Giordano is to having women in his classes. “In my experience, boxing felt not inviting as a woman,” she said. “I was intimidated, or it felt dumbed down. What I appreciated about Charlie was that he wanted me to tap fully into my strength.”

She is hopeful that aligning her studio with a traditionally male sport might help broaden her audience as well. “In the same way that I, as a woman, felt that Charlie made boxing accessible for me, I can make that guy comfortable who says, ‘I’m not flexible.’”

Both teachers feel a strong commitment to serving their community; going forward they hope to connect with student athletes and other young adults. In addition to the physical advantages boxing and yoga can offer, they agree that the most far-reaching benefits are the ones their students carry outside of the ring…and off the mat.

“The bottom line is I’m too old to be champ,” Giordano said. “Most of the people I work with aren’t ever going to be champ. The best thing I can offer is to try to help people feel more empowered, stronger, and more confident. Ultimately that’s the goal.”