Boxing and mathematics are my passions. Interview with the Polish Champion mgr Rafał Perczyński

Left and right hook on the one hand, partial differential equations on the other. UG doctoral student Rafał Perczyński is potentially facing a very exciting summer - the defence of his doctorate and possible participation in the Olympic Games. Everything will turn out at the Olympic qualification in early March this year. Marcel Jakubowski talks to a doctoral student at the University of Gdansk's School of Natural Sciences and also a Polish boxing champion, about combining these two passions.

Marcel Jakubowski - What came first: the passion for boxing or mathematics?

Mgr Rafal Perczynski: - Boxing was my first passion. I started boxing when I was less than 12 years old. I was a very quiet child. My dad took me to the boxing gym and it stayed that way. I've been training for 19 years and it's all gone like one day. When it came to maths, I didn't have very good grades at the beginning of my high school education. It was only in the second grade that studied hard for a test and got an A. Our teacher at the time, Ms. Elżbieta Świda, author of the textbooks, was pleasantly surprised. From that moment on, I believed in myself more and did better in my studies. Boxing was always important to me, and my parents encouraged me to go to university. High school math came easily to me, so I chose this field to combine sport and study. At university, however, I was brought back down to earth because academic mathematics is much different from that in high school. There was abstraction and a lack of repetitive tasks. In my opinion, studying mathematics is difficult but very interesting at the same time. The studies gave me peace of mind because I knew that after mathematics, one could work in an interesting profession.


- What did boxing teach you that was useful to you in mathematics, and vice versa, what did you take from mathematics to boxing?

- Boxing taught me discipline. This skill came in handy when I was studying mathematics. Often, when you sit on a problem for a long time, you can't give up, you just walk away for a while, come back, and try to understand it again. On the other hand, mathematics teaches a person to think, which is useful everywhere. I often ask myself after a fight: what could I have done better? why did I take a punch here? how can I improve my boxing to look more favourable to the judges?


- You graduated with a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Warsaw and then decided to take up a PhD at the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Gdańsk. What made you decide to continue your academic career?

- I moved to Gdańsk in the fifth year of my master's degree because I started working with the club Sako Gdańsk. I used to come here for sparring with coach Marek Chrobak, I really liked his approach and how he dealt with the players. I like maths, it's my second passion and I didn't want to stop studying. At the same time, my dad encouraged me to continue my education, so I went for my doctorate with momentum, you could say, going with the flow.

- What do you do for your doctoral research?

- I'm involved in computational mathematics. In a nutshell, I want to find an approximate solution to a partial differential equation, as it is usually impossible to find an exact solution. The approximate solution should, on the one hand, be very accurate, i.e. determined with a small error, and, on the other hand, retain the relevant properties of the initial solution of the equation. I study highly oscillating equations, which are difficult to approximate with standard, well-known schemes, as they result in a large error. Hence the need to look for new computational methods.


- Where do such equations occur?

- In mathematics, it is useful to deal with problems that are of interest to other mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, or chemists. This is an opportunity for more citations and a greater contribution to the field. I deal with problems concerning quantum physics. Such equations are important and the more we know about them from a mathematical point of view, the better. In general, partial differential equations are found everywhere and describe our lives, e.g. they appear in physics, chemistry, finance, and biology. They are an extremely broad area of research.


- To achieve the kind of results you achieve in boxing and fulfil yourself academically at the same time, you must have no free time, I suppose?

- It's true. Since I won the gold medal at the 2023 Polish Senior Championships in Toruń, I've been considered for the Olympic qualification and I'm practically not at home. I'm at training camps or tournaments. Now it's difficult to combine sport and science, but fortunately, my promoter prof. Antoni Augustynowicz supports me in sports and in my scientific work. I already have my doctoral thesis written, we are currently working with the promoter on editing. The professor is demanding but also very understanding. I hope he will not retire, but will stay at the university to support young scientists with his vast knowledge and extensive experience.

- Which are you closer to - boxing or mathematics?

- There were times when I had to choose something and it was difficult. Sometimes, I strained the kindness of coaches, lecturers, or promoters, but I could always count on their support. Boxing and mathematics are my passions and it is difficult to choose which is closer to me.


- You won the Gold Medal and the title of Polish Champion at the Polish Senior Boxing Championships Toruń 2023, and by my calculations, you are 30 years old...

- It's a bit confusing name. The senior category starts from the age of 19 and lasts until the age of 40. Similarly, 'amateur boxing' is also referred to. This term connotes that someone does not take the sport fully seriously and treats it as a hobby. The correct name is Olympic boxing. I currently train twice a day, so it has nothing to do with the ‘amateur’ approach.


- Do you feel you're in the best shape of your life right now?

- Yes. After the Polish championships, I had a week's break and then I started training intensively already during the holidays. Ahead of me is an appearance at a very important qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games. This is the tournament of a lifetime, but I can handle the pressure and the importance of the competition.

Rafał Perczyński

fot. Marcel Jakubowski

Marcel Jakubowski