“Ganbatte, ne.” — the phrase sick children across Japan hear several times a day. “Hang in there!” “Keep fighting!”

No child should have to suffer from serious, life threatening illnesses but the fact remains that many do. After accidents, cancer is the leading cause of death for children in Japan. Although prognosis for childhood cancer and other life altering conditions has dramatically improved, treatments remain gruelling, with many young people experiencing more physical suffering in their short lives than adults three times their age. These children are true warriors, and to celebrate their fighting spirit, this year’s Executive Fight Night will benefit Shine On! Kids (SOK), an NPO that supports children with cancer and other serious illnesses. On May 25, 16 international fighters will trade blows in the ring to raise money for these amazing children. But there’s a twist: the competitors aren’t professional boxers but high powered Tokyo executives. For 12 weeks, prominent individuals from various countries and industries have been balancing their stressful day jobs with a gruelling boxing training routine for a shot at beating their opponent.

What makes Executive Fight Night compelling is its message of teamwork and unity. “The metaphor of the fighters in the ring representing our kids fighting through their personal treatments is powerful,” says SOK co-founder Kimberly Forsythe-Ferris. “Everyone in life has to fight at one time or another. The battles are different, but as humans, we all have challenges we have to overcome.” Each fighter is assigned to a family with a child suffering from a serious illness who they meet during the training process for fun and mutual support. For the children, having someone to cheer on and give support to is as important as knowing the fighter is in their corner. “Everyone’s always telling them to ‘ganbatte’ and today they get to say it to someone else which is really special and empowering,” Forsythe-Ferris explains.

Executive Fight Night Reginald Azubuike

IT Engineer Reginald Azubuike trains for Executive Fight Night

Fighter Reginald Azubuike, an IT executive from Nigeria and the UK, explained the importance of meeting his assigned family and forming a relationship in person. “It makes it real. We’re not just fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for a cause, for a child.” Seeing the good luck posters made by the the families with makeru na (don’t lose) written in childish writing is really moving. “Even after going through something most of us can’t even imagine, you and your loved ones continue to fight on. We all have nothing but admiration and respect for you all,” is Azubuike’s message to the children.

Japan has a globally-renowned healthcare system and the medical community work tirelessly to give children with serious illnesses the best possible prognosis. However, in the area of patient support, Japan still has some work to do. SOK provides crucial, evidence-based tools to equip kids and their families to deal with the unbelievable amount of stress, fear, uncertainty and anxiety that can compromise both short-term approach to treatment and long-term psychological recovery.

This year’s Executive Fight Night is raising funds for SOK’s Facility Dog Program, the first of its kind in Japan. A nurse is paired with a specially-trained therapy dog to work full-time in a children’s hospital. Together they improve outcomes and the children’s approach to medical treatment through various animal-assisted interventions — such as accompanying kids during medical procedures and visiting them regularly during their hospital stay. Program leader Yuko Morita describes how facility dogs Bailey and Yogi help her patients: “We hear so many comments like, ‘With Bailey, I can overcome painful and tough treatments.’ ‘If Yogi is with me, I can undergo an operation.’”

Executive Fight Night Therapy Dog Even as the cause is serious, the event promises to be hugely enjoyable — necessarily so, to represent the positivity of SOK’s joyful mission. May’s championship will be the eighth Executive Fight Night and the event is famed for its luxurious food, wine and spectacular Vegas style boxing — a rarity in Tokyo. Finally, for the many people who work under these executives, Executive Fight Night offers fulfilment of a fantasy that it is hard to find elsewhere: seeing your boss get punched in the face. And as it’s for a good cause, you don’t even need to feel bad about it.

Executive Fight Night is held at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo on May 25. Dress code is evening/cocktail dress or black tie. Visit www.executivefightnight.com to get your tickets or pledge a fighter.