Kicked while it’s down

in Speaking of Sports by

We all – at least the males among us – have seen movies like Bloodsport and Kickboxer on manly movie marathons in our lives. Jean-Claude Van Damme gets into a ring or cage or some sort of ring-cage hybrid and proceeds to get beat up before hulking up and demolishing the bad guy in his way.

Yup, the ’80s were good years.

In spite of those films, which attempted to set an entire sport back decades in the name of being a guilty pleasure, kickboxing is an athletic endeavour far more about grace, skill, smarts, and focus than it is about smashing some guy’s brains in.

While I don’t kickbox myself for medical reasons, I train at a club in town that offers a kickboxing curriculum. Streams include non-competitive, competitive, and ladies kickboxing, and it gives people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities the chance to get in shape while learning self-defense.

None of the people I’ve come across look anything like Van Damme, or any of the bear-like mutants he would invariably have to face on his way to winning tournaments during his film career.

It’s a sport, not Fight Club

In fact, most of the people who train are as normal as the guy in the cubicle next to you at the office. Students, young professionals, people with families. No one on steroids. No one with flame tattoos where their hair should be. Just regular people.

Without officials, there is a true concern that the sport simply won’t be able to sustain itself.

What I’ve seen from the competitive team indicates a group of highly skilled athletes who train hard and put their bodies through more physical exertion than athletes in just about any other sport. The dieting, constant training, and weight cutting all put incredible strain on the body and mind, but are required for these athletes to enter the ring at their finest.

These athletes face a legitimate concern for their sport at the moment.

A lack of officials has put Kickboxing Newfoundland and Labrador behind the eight-ball, so much so that officials have been flown in from other provinces just to keep things running smoothly. In talking recently with one of the Council of Amateur Sport Kickboxing’s higher-ups, it was revealed to me that without officials, there is a true concern that the sport simply won’t be able to sustain itself.

It doesn’t mean as much to those who don’t compete, as their curriculum is designed for fitness and self-defense, but losing the option of competing would be a serious blow to a promising sport in the province.

Promising athletes need the chance to hone their skills

As recently as two weeks, ago a team of Newfoundlanders returned from the Canadian Nationals with a fistful of medals and an eye on sending a group to South Africa to compete on a world stage. If that’s not promising, I don’t know what is.

Historically the island has had a hard time producing truly elite athletes. The opportunities here versus most places on the mainland simply don’t exist. Sure, we’ll produce the occasional solid NHLer or a guy like Brad Gushue who wins big at the highest levels, but isolation and low population makes producing high end athletes tough.

Now, with a chance to break out and show the world what we can do, a sport in which we’re excelling may simply not have the legs to keep operating long term. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when it’s not due to lack of athletes or coaching.

Newfoundlanders are known around the world as much for their fighting spirit, their natural grit, as they are for anything else. Call it a stereotype, but for my money there are worse brushes to be painted with. Our proven success in amateur kickboxing, a track record which goes well beyond the more recent history I’ve touched on here, as well as an interest in the sport, is something that goes hand-in-hand with that spirit.

To lose it all because people other than the athletes aren’t available to keep it going is just not acceptable.

Check back next week for Matthew’s take on his first night as an amateur kickboxing judge.