Fighting for Peace of Mind

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A newspaper clipping of one of Phil Garcia's early fights in the ring with "Golden Boy" Bernie Magallanes.

On any given day of the week, if you walk into Malibu Health Club, you may catch a glimpse of a boxer moving around with the sprite of a person a third his age. Phil Garcia shows impressive agility, matching the movement and speed of his younger trainee as they engage in a form of simulated boxing.

The two men finish up and Garcia trots over to a patio table and chair. Garcia does not appear to be winded at all from his training session and has barely broken a sweat. When he sits down at the table, he immediately bursts forth with a disarming smile, revealing a broken tooth on the left side of his mouth. He constantly moves his hands as he talks. Besides adding enthusiasm to his smoky-voiced recollection, Garcia’s hands, and fists, have shaped his life.

“I was fat,” Garcia chuckles, as he reveals why he decided to get into boxing.

After beginning training, he noticed not only a change in his physical appearance but in state of mind as well. “I was more confident every day,” Garcia recalls.

With a blossoming confidence and physique resulting from his training, it was not long before he became addicted to the sport. It was an addiction that would ultimately lead him into the amateur ring. In one of his early fights, Garcia fought Bernie “Golden Boy” Magallanes, a top amateur contender in his weight class. Though Garcia would ultimately lose the fight in a close decision, Garcia sees it differently. “I beat him,” he says. “He knew it.”

Garcia’s success in the fight, though not officially recognized, inspired him to continue with what would become a successful career. In his career as a fighter, Garcia finished with a record of 15 and 6, including three official victories over Magallanes. After 10 years, Garcia opted to hang up his gloves. However, he was not ready to give up the sport he had grown to love. Garcia quickly began working as a trainer for other fighters. His love of boxing made him an appealing hire for fight teams. Working in whatever capacity was necessary, Garcia’s career as a trainer moved quickly from training Olympic amateurs to top professionals. He’s worked with some of the best fighters in the world, including “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, as his personal masseuse. “Muhammad’s a great guy,” Garcia says, pausing for a moment.

Later in his career as a boxing trainer, Garcia worked on the fight crew for James Tony, another successful professional boxer. “Working for James Tony was good,” Garcia recalls. “Oscar De La Hoya, when he was an up-and-comer, used to fight on Tony’s under-card. That kid was always a gentleman.”

When briefly discussing both men, Garcia never mentions their skills as boxers, only what he thinks of them as people. It is no surprise then, that when he left the world of training boxers to fight, he turned to training people to live better. Now he uses what he’s learned as a boxer in his current work as a personal trainer.

“I like to call it Buddhist boxing,” Garcia says. “I’m not here to build fighters, I’m here to help people.”

“It’s [boxing] really graceful,” he adds. “Boxing is an art-form.”

His qualifications as a trainer have led him to work with many noted professional athletes such as the NHL’s Chris Chelios to celebrities like singer-songwriter Seal, not to mention countless noncelebrity clients.

“I can train anybody, man, I’ve trained Buddhist monks,” Garcia says.

It is Garcia’s belief that training through boxing is unmatched in the way it fine-tunes both the body and mind. He contends that, by overcoming the physical and mental rigors that accompany boxing training, a person will become more confident and at ease in day-to-day living.

The training itself includes workouts punching a speed bag and a heavy bag. Exercises to improve footwork and balance, and a seemingly endless amount of jumping rope, are part of the regimen as well. The workout seems intimidating at first, especially to those who are completely new to boxing. However, Garcia is a teacher first and believes anyone is capable of succeeding with his training.

“If you can’t jump rope, I’ll get you to jump rope,” Garcia says. “If you can’t do the speed bag, I’ll teach you. I’ll get you to do things you’ve never done before. I want you to believe in yourself.”

Garcia believes that by pushing his clients to new physical limits, their confidence grows. Developing a skill that teaches a means of self-defense only adds to their peace of mind.

One of Garcia’s students, a 15-year old girl he prefers not to name, is a good example as he tells it. He has been teaching this particular student since she was seven, though typically he only takes students 10 and up. Over the years, he has watched her confidence grow as she trained with him. Recently, the self-defense aspect of her training paid off.

“This guy grabs her trying to control her,” Garcia retells the story of how she was accosted. “She showed me the black and blue mark. So she turned around and broke his nose.”

As a result, the girl avoided further physical harm.

The benefits of Garcia’s training are noticeable in the man himself. He is in great physical shape for a man whose prime days as a boxer were in the 1960s.

The person Garcia is training on this day is one of Garcia’s advanced students, Malibu resident Ted Phillips. After finishing a jump rope routine, which lasts more than an hour, Phillips is eager to extol Garcia and his methods as a trainer.

“He’s [Garcia] great,” Phillips says. “I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Phillips has a martial arts background to go along with a lifelong commitment to personal physical fitness. As far as the mental aspects of the training go, Phillips says, “It [the training] makes you mentally tough in all aspects of your life. You can handle life challenges because of it.”