Lorissa Belcher knows how to roll with the punches. Belcher, owner of KO Boxing and Fitness, transitioned from years of dance training into coaching boxing, and she emphasizes the fitness and focus aspects of the sport, not the fight. She’s been coaching in some way for more than 30 years, and Belcher said her goal is to help people find a fitness plan that works for them.
“I can have a 65-year-old at their level alongside a star athlete at their level and they motivate each other,” Belcher said.
Belcher began dancing at age 2 and danced at a studio in Junction City for 15 years. She taught her first classes in gymnastics at age 14. She majored in dance at Wichita State University and in 1990 opened a dance studio and gym named CATTS in Wamego. She sold it in 1993 to pursue dancing professionally.
While living in Arizona and working as a professional dancer, she met a boxing champion and threw a punch in front of him. It was apparent right away that it was something she could be talented at, Belcher said. “It was empowering,” she said. “I felt strong and knowledgeable and it was something I wanted to pass on to others. I wanted somebody else to feel what I was feeling.”
Belcher and her husband moved back to Kansas in 1999, and she started teaching boxing classes at K-State in 2000. KO Boxing and Fitness, now in its third location in Manhattan, opened around the same time and offers classes in boxing, dance, gymnastics and more.
Belcher said many of the movements in dance are similar to boxing. Both require rhythm, hand-eye coordination and balance. For Belcher, it was natural to transition into boxing.
“It all played together for me,” she said. Belcher said people think of boxing as a blood and guts violent sport, but that’s not how she runs her gym. Some people never even hit another person.
Belcher starts new students just going through the motions of learning punches and footwork. As they progress, they can move from bag to bag and eventually, if they choose, into the ring with an opponent. Some eventually train to fight at a competitive level. Students choose their own paths, though.
“Step by step, you learn how to spar,” Belcher said. “You can go to competitions if you like, but it’s a personal choice.”
It’s important to Belcher that students feel comfortable with what they are doing as well as in the gym, and she said she tries to foster an environment of discipline and respect.
“Anybody who wants to show off, they’re not going to stay,” she said.
At KO Boxing, Belcher said, all types of people and skill levels are welcome. She encourages her students to support and motivate each other.
“Sometimes it’s hard just to start,” she said. “I do what I can to help you start. I want to reach out to those people.”
Belcher said she tries to help each person find an individual workout routine that will work for them. She might set up a circuit for people to come and go as convenient, or have cardio exercises for larger groups. (The boxing classes are available for credit at K-State through UFM Community Learning Center.) Aside from coaching and teaching, Belcher tries to use her business to help give back to the community. She works with the Flint Hills Job Corps and Riley County Juvenile Intake to help provide youth in the area an activity that can teach them focus and discipline. She also established a fund, Hope for Manhattan Kids, that provides scholarships to classes at the gym.
“If I have a single mom and she works three jobs and goes to school, you can afford it here,” Belcher said. “You can keep being a great mom, and we’ll help you out.”
Johnny Taylor, director of the Flint Hills Job Corps Center, said Belcher gives young people in the area a chance to be a part of a community. Taylor used to coach boxing with Belcher and has referred people from Job Corps to her programs.
“She’s been a strong advocate for our students, giving them an opportunity to stay in shape and learn a skill but also for peace of mind,” Taylor said. She helps them be a part of the community and to pay attention to their body.” Taylor said Belcher and her students help motivate others to accomplish more with their hard work. “In that interaction with other students, they see they can go to college as well,” he said. Belcher said it is rewarding to see the young people she’s coached walk away as success stories. Whether they graduate from college, enlist in the military or win belts as boxers, she said she is impressed by their focus and dedication. “They now have something they’ve excelled in,” she said.