Concord martial arts studio builds life skills far beyond combat

Ronny Philbrick gets ready for his boxing class at Averill’s.

Ronny Philbrick gets ready for his boxing class at Averill’s.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s attempted punches during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s attempted punches during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s attempted punches during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s attempted punches during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick boxes with his brother Ronnie during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024.

Ritchie Philbrick boxes with his brother Ronnie during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punch attempts during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. They never land an actual punch during the class.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punch attempts during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. They never land an actual punch during the class. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punches during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punches during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick practices fending off his brother Ronnie’€™s punches during their boxing class at Averill’s  in downtown Concord. They never land an actual punch during the class.

Ritchie Philbrick practices fending off his brother Ronnie’€™s punches during their boxing class at Averill’s in downtown Concord. They never land an actual punch during the class. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punch attempts during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. They never land an actual punch during the class.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punch attempts during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. They never land an actual punch during the class. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punch attempts during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. They never land an actual punch during the class.

Ritchie Philbrick fends off his brother Ronnie’s punch attempts during their boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. They never land an actual punch during the class. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ada Sansone warms up for her boxing class with her dad, Ken, at Averill’s in downtown Concord.

Ada Sansone warms up for her boxing class with her dad, Ken, at Averill’s in downtown Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ada Sansone warms up for her boxing class with her dad, Ken, at the Averill's Boxing in downton Concord on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Ada Sansone warms up for her boxing class with her dad, Ken, at the Averill's Boxing in downton Concord on Thursday, March 7, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ada Sansone warms up for her boxing class with her dad, Ken, at the Averill's Boxing in downton Concord on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Ada Sansone warms up for her boxing class with her dad, Ken, at the Averill's Boxing in downton Concord on Thursday, March 7, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie.

Ronny Philbrick warms up for his boxing class at Averill's Boxing in downtown Concord on March 7, 2024. Philbrick is hoping to box in the future and takes the class with his brother, Ritchie. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Coach Paul Averill shows his boxing class the proper technique at his boxing clinic in downtown Concord.

Coach Paul Averill shows his boxing class the proper technique at his boxing clinic in downtown Concord.

By CHLOE RATTEE

Monitor staff

Published: 04-13-2024 11:01 AM

Modified: 04-14-2024 12:15 PM


Sometimes a life-changing moment can come from something simple, like a TV show.

For Paul Averill, the longtime owner of Averill’s Martial Arts Academy, that change in his life’s trajectory came after he watched Kung Fu, which aired in the 1970s. Watching it inspired him to not just practice martial arts, but to start his own studio and teach it.

“This guy could kick [butt], but he had a philosophy for life, and a way to temper himself against all things,” Averill of the wandering main character Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk, played by actor David Carradine.

Back in 1981, Averill found his life empty of any sort of philosophy and thought he could improve his self-control, he said. Averill decided that getting into martial arts might help – and it did.

After moving up to assistant teacher in the Concord martial arts gym where he started as a student, the owner decided to move to Connecticut in 1987. Averill, the highest-ranking student there, kept the martial arts studio in motion in the owner’s absence. In 1993, Averill’s was started as an LLC, independent of the previous business.

“I always had a full-time job, and then I always had the martial arts place,” Averill said. “But it ended up being my primary gig, and the full-time job was really my side gig, it seemed like in the end.”

Averill’s is located on Main Street and offers boxing, kickboxing, and Tai Chi classes and training. Averill has trained Golden Glove winners and has seen clients go to regionals, Olympic trials, and national championships. 

He trains just about every level and age, from children to 80-year-olds, and made it clear that everyone is welcome — the gym is not just focused on creating title-winners, but well-rounded individuals.

Life skills from martial arts

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Averill said that trying out something like boxing is a great way for those lacking confidence to gain it. At the same time, with the rise in popularity of watching mixed martial arts on television, some newer students think they will be fighting like professionals in no time.

“I’ve seen people come in with, ‘I’m going to be the next greatest fighter in the world, blah, blah, blah,’ and then a couple hours later, [are] like, ‘Man, I’ve got a lot to learn.’ So it can go either way,” Averill said. “It really can be empowering, bringing you up, and it also can be a reality check and bring you right where you should be.”

The workouts are HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, and combine cardio with strength work, all while practicing boxing fundamentals and technique. Averill said that students don’t need to be in shape to start boxing classes, and that attendees can use the gym to get in shape.

Mental benefits include discipline, confidence, and an overall toughness in facing adversity. Averill said that learning to perform under pressure and walking with the added confidence of knowing you can defend yourself, can help in everyday life. The ability to maintain composure and stay focused even when things are challenging is “huge,” Averill said.

Ken Sansone and his 14-year-old daughter, Ada, of Concord,  have been attending classes since the holidays.

“It's been really fun and then we get home and we love to talk to my wife about what we've done, and you know we've been able to learn together,” Sansone said. “I think that's been the best part of it.”

Overcoming challenges

People start boxing or kickboxing for a myriad of reasons. Improved fitness is a no-brainer, but Averill said that sometimes newcomers join because they have some kind of tension in their lives.

He’s had many people speak directly about picking up boxing and kickboxing to help them overcome their specific struggles. Some have been direct with Averill the first day, and have told him they’re trying to lose weight, quit smoking, stay clean, or deal with mental health issues.

“I’ve had guys through the door that have had those kinds of issues, and have had won titles in boxing and kickboxing,” Averill said. “And have turned themselves into, like, these productive members of society, and have a family and kids, and, have just gotten in a really positive direction.”

Sometimes those challenges are immensely difficult.

Last year, one student, and, Averill added, a great athlete, who had been going to the gym regularly but had been struggling with mental illness, took his life.

The gym’s community was shaken. Averill said he always makes a point to bring up the importance of mental health during class. His business logo will be on the t-shirts for this year’s NAMI Walks rally, an event focusing on mental health that members regularly participate in as a team.

A sense of community

The gym community is incredibly strong, not just physically. Averill said that members check in with and encourage each other about progress or hard work they’ve noticed. But it doesn’t stop there: they’ll also compliment each other’s band t-shirts and ask about weekend plans.

“That community spills over into everything we do,” Averill said. “Somebody will say, ‘I’m putting a deck together this week and [here’s] my plan,’ and you got four other guys going, ‘Well, I’ll come over and I’ll help you and we’ll do [this] stuff,’ so it’s that kind of a family that we have.”

It’s this community that Averill was grateful for during COVID.

“For me to navigate [the pandemic] with the help of this community was pretty amazing. So I was really grateful to the community here,” Averill said. “We did stuff online, people showed up for online classes and then, I don’t know, to see that kind of commitment was pretty amazing.”

Averill thinks a lot of people have a different idea of a boxing gym than the reality. The hardest part about boxing or kickboxing, Averill said, is the first day when you don’t know what to expect, and think you’re going to get beat up by a bunch of people who are bigger, stronger, and way better than you. It’s not that at all.

A welcoming social environment is something that Averill hopes keeps people coming back.

Sansone and his daughter Ada said they both feel like they’ve been progressing. Ada is a competitive horseback rider, a sport that she’s enjoyed since she was little, but the two wanted to try something new.

“I like the atmosphere,” he said.  “You would expect trying to learn a completely new set of skills like that with a group of people — some of whom are very experienced and have literally been doing it for years — would be very intimidating, but we haven't found it that way.  Everybody has been very welcoming, and you can just tell that, in the atmosphere, everybody is having a lot of fun, so that's really what I think we like about it the most.”

Sansone said he’s really enjoyed learning boxing with his daughter.

“I think it's been really great,” he said. “In fact, we were doing a drill, I think last week, where the point was to try to use your jab to set up a right hand and Ada did that and got me really good like right under my ear and  I  was just really proud of  her because that was the point of the exercise.”

 Averill’s wide training background makes it possible for the gym to offer additional programs, like Tai Chi classes and an extracurricular program when specialized classes are taught. It’s also why some people drive over an hour to get to train at his gym.

“I’ve been in this for 40-something years and I’ve really been fortunate along the way to be able to train with world-renowned people,” Averill said. “I don’t know whether it was by luck or by, you know, some divine plan, but I really have that good experience with a lot of stuff.”

Averill thinks it is important for everyone to have the skills and confidence to defend themselves, but he also emphasized the responsibility that comes with learning moves that could potentially hurt someone.

This balance is seen throughout Averill’s philosophy and trickles into his coaching. Of course, Aver ill enjoys seeing students get into great shape and become stronger athletes both physically and mentally.

“But the best reward is just seeing people prosper,” said Averill. “I guess if you leave this planet and you’ve done something to help one, or two, or three, or however many people with their life,  then, not a bad life.”