KALISPELL — Boxing is one of the most popular martial arts, and Kalispell’s newest Hard Knocks location is providing a haven for all ages to enjoy the sport.
"The goal to begin with was to reach more people," said Hard Knocks owner Jesse Uhde. "See more smiles on people's faces as they're falling in love with the sport I love."
And after starting his first boxing business 17 years ago, that goal is finally being fulfilled at a high level.
"Jesse has just put his heart and soul into this gym," said co-head coach Isaiah Burkhalter. "And from being from the garage and everything and just watching him grind and when the opportunity presented himself, he sat down with me and all these other people and we were like, ‘Dude, you've got to do it. We know you have it in you.’ There's just something about someone with that much passion and love for the sport, you can't not succeed."
Success that was evident right from opening day.
"I couldn't believe how many people came in and the energy we have," said Uhde with a big smile. "All my past competitors and students, they swarmed back, everybody's just loving it."
One of Uhde’s newest students, Royce Conklin, had no prior boxing experience until joining Hard Knocks, now he’s already preparing for his first fight.
"He's been dedicated, he's only been training with me for a little over three months," Uhde said of Conklin. "He comes in multiple times a day, takes advantage of a weekend training, and he's just so coachable; you say something and he responds."
After participating in football and wrestling at Glacier High School, the 19-year-old Conklin knows there’s something that separates boxing from the rest.
"The competitiveness, it's a different kind of feeling to get hit and have to hit back," said Conklin. "And the mental edge, it's just different. There's no sport like it."
When it comes to the community he’s found at Hard Knocks, nothing compares.
"I don't really know how to describe it, but you build such a good relationship with people you know," said Conklin with a smile. "It's weird, you hit somebody, and they hit you back and you love each other at the end of the day and you give each other hugs. And it's like I said, there's nothing like boxing."
As for what drew him to the sport, Conklin cites the life lessons that it teaches.
"I really want to become the best man that’s possible. And I feel like this is a step a lot of kids, especially my age, should take," said Conklin. "And just really push them through getting hit in the face but still having respect to maintain your anger, maintain your emotions. And you can walk around composed and come walk around with that confidence and that emotional stability and it's something I think a lot of kids need."
Still adjusting to the new location at the Kalispell Center Mall, Hard Knocks plans to provide the best experience to anyone who wants to lace up the gloves.
"We're giving 110% to every person that comes in here. And if you leave and you're like, ‘Oh, I don't feel like they spent that much time with us,’ said Burkhalter.
"We're more than willing. You tell us, and we'll do one-on-one with you guys to make up for if you don't feel that way. We're always willing to go that extra mile to make you feel like this is where I want to be, this is the best."