Sitan Gym NY sits nestled cozily on a block full of shops in Astoria, Queens. On one side of the studio is a 99 cents store–the kind of cornerstone you’d find in New York City, with brooms and plastic flowers displayed outside. On the other side is a Middle Eastern restaurant, with meals so loosely defined as “Middle Eastern” that anyone from Iranian to Turkish could walk in and find a dish they often ate at their grandmother’s table.
“It’s almost like a past life for me, I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s like night and day.”
Back at the gym, Guch is in a corner of the mat while the rest of the team is practicing knees on heavy bags. He is pushed against the mirror and is forced to redo the same kicks over and over again until Aziz thinks they are perfect. As instructor Joel teaches the class, he occasionally glances over to see what Guch is doing now and offers a few words of encouragement while the students work on their technique.
Nabih is completely bedecked in orange: an orange shirt, orange shorts, orange leggings, and an orange longsleeve. He has on an orange belly pad, thigh pad, and Thai pads, and appears as a very serious tiger looking to protect his cubs.
Guccione on the other hand, is the complete opposite. His Thai shorts are rolled up, his stomach and chest tattoos with the moniker “GUCH” and a man riding a bull are on full display. He’s red-faced and sweaty, but still smiling even while coaches Aziz and Sean shout instructions at him. Guch is tired after working all night for ConEd, but is pushing through.
Training has finished and the three men have cleaned up. They sit on the chairs that are at the front of the academy and talk about their plans for the rest of the day. Aziz is going to go for a run at the same time as Joel, but first he needs Joel to run to the bank for him.
“I trust him, I trust these guys,” Nabih says, “They’re like my sons, they are my family. They know my daughters and my wife, and we all love them.”
James has different plans. Always on the go, he has a meeting to head to and then will go spend time with his daughter as his wife goes to work. If either of them are running late, they can call someone from the gym to open the store for them. It’s more than just a community of trust, it is as Aziz says, “a family”.
The family continues to grow, as James’ daughter Story has now started doing Muay Thai at nearly four years old. Aziz himself held pads for her, as James watched proudly.
Writer: Pari Aryafar (@pariunderthesea)
Editor: Kyle Antonelli
Photos courtesy of James Guccione, Joel Estevez, Sitan Gym, Joshua Brandenburg, and Friday Night Fightsaziz nabih, cutman, Fighters of New York, james succione, New York, NYC, sitan gym, the upper cutmen