cogan and ben-hamo.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
What's the English name for the sport?
The authentic name for the sport is Muay Thai, better known as Thai boxing. It uses gloves, punches, kicks, knee and elbow strikes.
How did you first meet up with Uriel?
Uriel was martial arts oriented since he was quite young. He used to train in a few different gyms and places from different styles. One day he came to my gym and since then, he's been there almost every single day. He came about two and a half years ago. He read about my gym and my boxers; he heard about them on TV and saw the development of that sport.
Actually, he was a very, very fast developer. Usually it takes somebody else like seven years to get to what he got, because he's very gifted. He has a lot of patience, and can concentrate for a long time - like a yeshiva boy who studies and studies. His devotion and dedication to the sport and the training, combined with the gift, his physical gift, he became the Israeli champion very quickly and beat everybody in the category more than easily - he wiped out all the boxers in his category over the last two years.
He's had two international fights against champions. The first was against the junior European champion, and he lost on points but it was a really good fight, in Latvia last June for the European championships. The second international fight was against a very, very strong fighter from the Thai national team who came here with a delegation - we had a match between our Ring and Combat Sport Association, represented in the International Federation of Muay Thai. It was even on their Web site. He lost on the last round on points, but he was leading on points. Let's say he fought the toughest, toughest fighters he could fight and was able to hold his own with them, and only in his second or third year of training.
What special traits does he possess that allow him to succeed in the ring that come from his other world?
Especially discipline, outside of the ring during training. He is very devoted and dedicated to his training, he gives everything of his energy, always there. And not everybody's like this.
From religious life?
Yes, I'm sure, because the yeshiva life gives you a lot of tools. If you study regularly, it gives you the ability to work much harder and to be very, very serious and think about everything, analyze things, ask questions, to learn better technique - so yeah, it comes from the other world.
It's not every day that a frum kid becomes Israeli champ in kick-boxing.
Yeah, he's the Israeli champion in kick-boxing which is a similar sport to our sport, the Thai boxing. In kick-boxing, he won first place easily; he was even a bit disappointed it was so easy.
Do you think he will be able to continue to combine two lifestyles?
Well, I think he showed it the first time he went abroad, when we went as the Israeli team, that he stays the same Uriel: humble, he says his prayers, he's kosher, he leads his Jewish life. And it's not the first one - we had some Jewish champions in the States, especially in boxing: Dimitry Salita, Yuri Foreman. They are famous boxers and are able to combine the two lifestyles. Let's say a lot of sportsmen are students at university as well, but if you find your four hours a day to train, the rest of the day you can study.
So taking best elements of the other life and putting...
I think the Jewish Torah in a way is like a manual, and if you do what the Torah says, it's like a guide that guides your life, and then you can choose between the good and bad things, have a conscience and respect for other people and in our sport that's very important - friendly, nonviolent behavior. When you go to a gym, you see all these famous champions and everyone is so nice and helps you - everyone's like that in our sports world.
Was there a problem with Shabbat in Latvia?
No, the hours there are very long - we were sure it was Shabbat, so we asked a few rabbis about what happens if we fight on Shabbat. Some of them told us not to fight at all, some of them told us that if it's against a goy and it's for goys and not Jews, and you can walk there and keep Shabbat. But in the end, it was not on Shabbat - it was daylight, but pretty, pretty late. He did ask a few rabbis what he was allowed to do or not do not to violate Shabbat but at the end, we didn't fight on Shabbat.
Do you see activities in ring strengthening tradition?
Of course. This sport is only a sport, but it makes you calmer, nicer in your every day life, more patient and not aggressive. That's why I suggest to other yeshiva boys that sometimes question their day's life, starting out for hours in the yeshiva, and they don't do sports, and they don't feel right or sometimes they feel aggressive and not happy. I tell them to go train and hit a bag a little bit and then they will see that all the frustration and tiredness will be taken out in the gym. Then they will feel happy and relaxed. I recommend it to students, yeshiva boys who have a long, tiring day.
How does representing Israel strengthen his Judaism?
I think there is link because... Listen, Uriel didn't change a lot: He stayed the same yeshiva boy, the same Jewish guy, humble. Doesn't let the titles or trips abroad or interviews to go to his head. He's still humble and it's very important to his personality and he hasn't changed his beliefs - keeps Shabbat.
What does fighting give him that's extra in terms of his observance?
It's just an occupation, it's just a sport - I'm not sure there's a link to Judaism; I don't think a guy becomes more or less religious.
What has he picked up from fighting that's useful in yeshiva life - preciseness, exactness?
That goes back to what I said: modesty, feeling good and not feeling bitter and tired. Because sometimes a person who's very observant and loves that, goes to yeshiva and can't hack it - he has trouble concentrating over time. And my sport helps with this... it helps keep these students at the study table.
Because they get their energy out on sport, they can learn more?
Yes, and it's also expressed in their behavior - the way they treat others, honor. They also learn it at the school - when kids come from not such great backgrounds and suddenly they see people listening when an adult speaks. All kinds of behavior patterns that we're not used to seeing in Israeli society change, because with me you don't behave that way. Sportsmen don't behave that way.
Other yeshiva students?
Yes, many others, from different haredi backgrounds and others who are observant, and I'm very happy to get to know their world; as a person it's very interesting. I have dozens of yeshiva students who come to work out.
So what do you have to say overall about a kid like him who's gone so far?
What's special about him isn't that he works at it, because many do, but the fact that he takes this sport so seriously and isn't embarrassed to take such great strides but to keep on working out regularly, because there's a difference between a person who works out twice a week and one who works more to get to the top. He does a private workout at home in the morning, goes to study and comes here later.
He's very friendly, and I have gotten to know his family, a good family - you can see that straight away. -