fighter (n). 1. One who fights. 2. One who makes their way through struggle. 3. One who engages in battle. Chan Ho-cheung is punching hard. He moves like a king cobra coiled to strike. He sways one way, ducks and weaves; and then he drives for the chin with a straight right. It connects. The blow cracks like a welding rod sparking on hot metal. His opponent, a tall, talented Indian boy, blinks under the onslaught but slips away. 'Stick to him! Stick him! Stick him! You got him! Keep punching!' yells Chan's trainer, a hulk of a man with a balding pate and penetrating blue eyes. Around him the gym echoes with the sounds of battle. The small crowd of onlookers grunts approval. A motley mixture of coppers, street kids, good kids and reforming triad gangsters, they are all here to train and to box. Mesmerised, they watch the fight raging. Like staring into the embers of a fire, there is something primal about the rhythm being pounded out to the thud of gloved fist on flesh and bone - a spell broken only by the bell. 'Great stuff,' says Chan's trainer, Danny Lawley, as he tenderly dabs away the boy's sweat. 'Man, you really are coming on,' encourages the police superintendent from whom compliments are rare. Chan, 18, realises it is a special moment. He can't help himself. His eyes flicker with pride and respect. And the two former adversaries, police and street-tough, share a grin. The Tai Po-based Police Boxing Club was the brainchild of Supt Lawley, who trains the young fighters with about 15 colleagues (almost all of whom are Chinese officers, both male and female). Members include young cops and highly trained members such as those in the 'Flying Tigers' special duties unit. Most join for the benefits of the physical training but see building relationships with otherwise errant youths as a bonus. 'I wanted to make a difference,' says Supt Lawley, explaining what led him to start the programme five years ago. The South African former heavyweight fighter who speaks fluent Cantonese adds: 'I wanted to show our troubled youth, some of whom come from a very tough and difficult home environment, that there is light on the other side.' His success comes at a tense time for authorities. Senior police across Hong Kong are expressing growing concerns about a loss of respect on the streets. They fear an erosion of authority, and after a number of confrontations between the police and street gangs and triads, they are clutching at a series of new measures to regain a foothold in the common market of respect. Police Commissioner Tsang Yam-pui recently said the number of assaults on police increased by about 68 per cent to 243 cases in the first five months of this year, a jump of 142 cases compared with the same period last year. There are many possible reasons for increased aggression against authority. It could be a result of the economic climate or social pressures, or just a case of someone having a bad day. It could also be because of what a former head of the police criminal intelligence bureau has called 'a culture of complaints' against the police, which had made officers less assertive in dealing with the public. Another cause could be that triads have been told they cannot be prosecuted for verbal abuse. In one incident, a group of alleged Wo Shing Wo triad members humiliated police when they were stopped for an identity check in Yau Ma Tei in February. 'We own the streets after dark,' the gang warned the outnumbered police officers. 'You get off our patch.' An official police spokesman, when asked about the growing dilemma, could offer only dim insight. 'It is believed that in a number of cases, this is really an expression of some kind of anti-social behaviour,' the spokesman said. 'Police are taking very positive and decisive action when frontline officers are being attacked,' he added, stating that there had been prosecutions and arrests. 'Police also feel the courts are handing down very realistic sentences, including imprisonment.' But hard-core officers like Supt Lawley have a different answer. They think by taking the toughest of the triad kids and showing them the human face of the force, they have a better chance of communicating at a personal level. And from the boxing ring, they can then look to build respect. Former street-fighter Wong Fu is one success story. The 20-year-old lopes around the gym with the grace of a big cat. He has movie-star looks and a certain 'bad-boy' charm. Five years ago, he was arrested twice for aggravated assault. Mr Wong's first arrest was in connection with a fight that resulted in one of his opponents sustaining serious internal injuries and requiring hospitalisation. He says he was running with a gang known as 'Crazy Ken'. 'Crazy Ken was one of the gang leaders of Sun Yee On, so we were not officially triad members; it was just by virtue of the fact that our boss was supposed to be a triad boss,' says Mr Wong, adding that the 10 or so gang members were all school friends. 'We were what people would call rascals. We would fight in the street; I knew it was against the law, but I never thought it would get me in trouble. We wanted to show who was the most powerful.' Nearby, a beam of sunlight bounces off the image of the fighter known simply as 'The Greatest'. It is the glistening face and outstretched fist of Muhammad Ali, who has inspired thousands of wayward youths to 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'. Mr Wong fiddles with the laces on his gloves and seems to be genuinely shamed. The first time he was caught, he was given a superintendent's caution; the next time, however, he was brought before Supt Lawley, who gave him two options: the boxing club or a boys' home. Mr Wong learned the meaning of respect in the ring. 'It is more of a challenge to fight in the ring,' he says. 'You get more satisfaction in the ring. On the street you don't get such a feeling; it leaves you feeling hollow and empty.' Mr Wong has now returned to school (Form 4) and says he has a different feeling towards police officers. He even wants to be one. Chan Ho-cheung, 18, also reveals he was identified as a 'problematic' student. 'I was fighting at school,' he shrugs. 'Mainly, because I was being challenged by others.' But he, too, has found a positive outlet. 'Boxing allows you to expend your energy. It gives you good speed, balance and discipline too. Now I do not feel the need to prove myself on the street.' The young fighter agrees the programme is a good one to combat rising aggression on the streets against police. 'Once I moved into boxing training it gave me a completely different opinion of the coppers.' He claims several 'very bad' experiences where he was stopped and interrogated by police. 'I thought they were worse than the triads,' he says. 'But now I see many as my friends.'