Updated: Apr 28
Sometimes I need a break from the tranquility here at Manor Bottom. When I do, I head to Conflict Muay Thai over in Ryde. I can’t get there as much as I'd like, what with the kids and my severed ACL, but when I do I come back refreshed in body and soul.
I retired from football at the age of 35, knees creaking. But I still felt the need to kick people, so I took up San Shou, or Sanda, a Chinese form of kick boxing (Essentially San Shou is a practical form of Kung-Fu, developed by the Chinese Military, combining traditional kickboxing techniques including close range and rapid successive punches and kicks, with wrestling, take-downs, throws, sweeps, catches, and in some competitions, elbow and knee strikes).
I was lucky to have an amazing instructor, Pete, a gnarly 50-year-old who’d been through a few battles. His martial art was technically near perfect – I felt like a lump in front of him, with my limited flexibility and lack of experience. But he saw my limitations and taught to my strengths (being aware of, and working within, your limits is an important lesson from kickboxing), and, with the help of great peers too, I was soon learning new skills, progressing up the belt ladder, making friends, and getting very, very fit in the process. I realised the martial art was a changing me as a person. Physically, I was toning my entire body without gaining bulk, I was building strength and improving my agility, coordination, balance and posture, I was concentrating my mind and I was relieving stress. (For those with less confidence, or dealing with anxiety, martial arts can be a great boost - one of the reasons Conflict are now working in many schools on the Island). It is possibly the best work out you can give yourself. And all the time I was learning a form of self-defence.
Soon I was wanting to go onto the mat. On my side I usually had size and strength, I had some technique, and a good brain, which gave me an advantage over most opponents. But occasionally opposition would come along who had a ‘something’. They met me in the other areas, or sometimes not quite, but they had that little extra. My strategies and strength could not match them – it could minimise damage yes, but the talent won out. But wow, it was great facing that talent!
I plugged on and got my black belt – I chopped bricks, kicked through wood, smashed tiles, and fought 2 on 1. I earned the belt and started casting my net wider. I did Judo, immense fun, to broaden my skills. I was knackered by the end of each two-hour session, having overcompensated for my lack of technique by overuse of strength. With anyone below a yellow belt I could hold my own. Anyone above that was a chess master and used my strength against me, twisting my limbs at will and bending my bones to near braking point until I tapped out.
When I arrived on the Island, I had to find a new place to train but having rediscovered football playing for the local team (the kickboxing stretching and strengthening making the old knees work again!), the martial arts took a back seat for a while. Then a footie pal came by occasionally for a sparring session. He had understated his ability and usually the sessions consisted of him battering me gently, then giving me a bit of coaching to make the battering a bit less likely next time…only it wasn’t.
Where did he get so good? Well, he’d trained for a long time, in various martial arts, but currently he was training at Conflict Muay Thai, just over the hill. I took myself along for what turned out to be an amazingly satisfying session. There were some very skilled fighters to learn from and the session was taught with knowledge and high intensity. It was as good as it gets. And so was the hip hop blaring out!
I go there when I can now, and in between do my own bag sessions in the studio here at Manor Bottom to keep myself ticking over. I’m not going to step into the octagon, I’m not an Avenger. But I can walk the street with confidence and good judgement. And, yes, I am getting older, but I listen to my body and know my limits. I have a good relationship with both, harmonious. I am an extremely fit 45 year-old, who can hold his own, and who bloody loves kickboxing!