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Kickboxing, although seen by many as a martial art is in fact a hybrid sport. It incorporates many martial arts, defined as a fighting art used by a national army or police force but is not in itself a traditional martial art. The techniques of kickboxing come from a variety of sports and arts, refined over time. The hand techniques of kickboxing are those utilised in Boxing whilst its kicks come from an amalgam of martial arts with the more powerful ones from hard style karate and the fast kicks from tae kwon do. It also borrows from Muay Thai/Thai Boxing by utilising knee and elbow strikes in its training.
The history of Kickboxing is shaped by many sports with its earliest roots being found in Pancration, also called Greek Boxing as far back as 336 BC. Other influences as time went on were traditional Muay Thai and Savate, also called French Foot Fighting. However kickboxing did not emerge as a recognised art form until the 1960’s and 70’s when it was first called full contact Karate.
Karate tournaments up until this point had operated on a points system and a competitor could be disqualified for using excessive contact. Realising this approach had not gained the sport the media attention boxing had a distinct branch appeared where mats were exchanged for the ring and point scoring was changed for continuous fighting with rules more similar to the boxing ring. Open hand techniques made way for boxing gloves and new equipment began to be developed which allowed a change in competition with more contact being allowed.
Promoters of tournaments such as Ed Parker began to offer full contact rules in tournaments changing from a matted area to a boxing ring. Many of the top fighters found, however, that their conditioning and stamina was not sufficient for this style and fighting in boxing gloves hampered some of their traditional techniques. Turning their attention to boxing they began to modify their training and fighting methods. This in turn lead to an increased interest in this new sport which was soon rechristened Kickboxing.
After venturing to Thailand only to be soundly beaten by the devastating Muay Thai boxers with their arsenal of elbows and knees the Kick boxers also incorporated the pad work and developed the art further using the lessons they had brought back with them.
I started my training in the martial arts two and a half years ago in American Kickboxing, a so-called fighting or sport art before changing clubs and turning to Korean Kickboxing, Han-Kuk-Mu-Do, used by the Korean army and therefore a martial art. In truth I notice very little difference except that I have a slightly changed syllabus incorporating a student creed we have to learn, more self-defence and we are taught some rudimentary Korean such as numbers and basic commands. However, the club I now attend is not massively traditional so this is not strictly tested merely mentioned in our handbook. A bow at the end of the class is mandatory though.
Kickboxing, like boxing, has sanctioning bodies, each of which has championships of its own. The first to be established was in 1974 in the United States and was the PKA, or Professional Kickboxers Association. Others which have been founded since are the World Kickboxing Association (WKA) the International Sport Kickboxing Association (ISKA), founded from the now defunct PKA, the World Kickboxing Council (WKC), International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) and the United States Amateur Kickboxing Association (USAKA).
The rules of kickboxing are reserved mainly for the ring and competitions. In classes students are expected to follow certain club rules such as respect for other teachers and students, cleanliness of themselves and the uniform and the use of protective equipment but these can vary from club to club. In competitions or the ring however the rules followed are laid down by whichever sanctioning body the club falls under.
In amateur tournaments the rules are that the fight is three rounds long; each round lasts two minutes and has a one minute rest period in between. Championship bouts are five rounds long. Children’s tournaments are three rounds long but each round only lasts one minute. The winner of the round is given 10 points with the loser getting nine. Points are deducted for knockdowns or fouls. In the case of three knockdowns the fight is over. No knee strikes are permitted except under Thai rules and each round the fighter must throw at least 8 kicks with all kicks being waist height or above.
At professional or international level the rules change slightly. For a professional bout, also called full contact (although amateurs can also fight these full contact rules) for a championship in the US or UK there are twelve two minute rounds with a one minute rest between them. Contenders bouts are four to ten rounds long. The rules are still in place about the number of kicks per round, which is still 8 and all above waist height with no knee strikes. Fighters are also required to apply for liscences following medical checks. This can be revoked for misconduct or ill health.
In international rules in the US and UK the only rule for kicking is no groin kicks or knee strikes.
In Asia and Europe the rounds for a bout are three minutes long with a one minute rest and all fights are for five rounds. Kicks are allowed anywhere except the groin and knee strikes are permitted.
Muay Thai Kickboxing rules outside of Thailand are to kick anywhere except the groin. Knee strikes are permitted but elbow strikes are not. There are five three minute rounds with two minute rests. In Thailand the only change in the rules is that elbow strikes are also permitted.
Generally Kickboxing programs do not accept children under the age of eight, some will even place a higher age limit on this. However, when they do begin to kickbox they are only allowed to spar with light to touch contact.
If a child is entered for a competition it is generally under amateur rules with only one minute rounds with a one minute rest I between. These competitions are for three rounds. Although they have kick requirements it is for six kicks only with all kicks above the waist and no knee strikes. In children's competitions the divisions are not only broken up by weight and gender as with adults but also by age.
Occasionally they may compete at the junior level at full contact professional rules if they are deemed skilled enough. Generally they are advised to wait until at least the age of ten and preferably twelve before competing. This means they will learn to spar with full contact rules but as with any sport is a decision made by the coach, the parents and the child.
Cardio kickboxing is a growing craze. Given names such as Tae Bo or Tae Geri these are aerobic workouts utilising kickboxing style punches and kicks. However, they are often seen as the equivalent to self defence classes or the like which they are not. Although they will get an individual fit and flexible they are no substitute for proper self defence training.
When I started my training I chose a club that, unknown to me was not affiliated to any martial arts organisation effectively rendering my belts unrecognisable. Unfortunately this meant that when I began training at my new club I had to begin at white belt. However after a slow start I am about to grade for my fifth belt and thoroughly enjoying my training, I have also been thinking about dual training in Tae Kwon Do depending on my money situation. I only say this as a cautionary note to anyone looking to join a martial arts club. If you decide you want to go to a club where you will be graded for belts please ask them what organisation they are affiliated to. I now receive an internationally recognised certificate to go with each belt. Although it could be construed as a setback it has in fact given me an opportunity to improve my techniques and my sparring ability and have also begun to teach classes under supervision.
I don't agree with people who say that one art is better than another as every art has its strengths and weaknesses and the man himself, Bruce Lee advocated taking what works from each art to combine them into the best system for you. For example, on the ground I would not last five minutes against a Jui Jitsu fighter but in the standing position I could probably out kick them.
So what will you gain by choosing kickboxing? Well first and foremost you will gain a lot of new friends I have friends I started off kickboxing with who I now also socialise with on a regular basis. Your flexibility will increase (Being almost able to achieve front splits my aim is to master side splits by the end of the year) as will your cardiovascular fitness. The sense of achievement you feel when you are presented with a new belt is indescribable. Sometimes I think I get more of a kick out of it than I do from my exam results. Most of all you will have fun. I regularly make a fool out of myself usually from floor level following an attempt at a new kick. My friend's favourite story for the new comers is the first time I ever tried a roundhouse kick (very powerful, you pivot on one leg and use the shin and instep of the other to hit your opponent) only to overbalance, landing face first against the office window next to me. As I recall the school owner looked most surprised at my goldfish expression squashed against the glass. Or it could be the time I didn't duck quickly enough during speed drills only to be hit on the side of the head by a rogue focus mitt and land on my a** on my instructors feet.
I pay £38 per month for my training but that entitles me to train as often as I like. Although this is expensive for me at present as I am looking for a house of my own and am unsure if I can continue training at this level I have got the addiction now and could never just stop training totally.
You will generally begin learning the basic kicks and punches, later learning to combine them into cohesive attacks. At some point you will be introduced to sparring (controlled fighting wearing protective equipment) and decide whether this is for you or not. Some people are some aren't. If your dojo is worth its salt it will not rush you into making the decision straight away.
First and foremost decide if sparring is for you, most good places have some onsite equipment you can use whilst trying it out (I love to spar but then I am a bit of a scrapper!). If you decide you enjoy sparring you will need to begin buying your own. Most importantly take your time and dont let anyone rush you into buying the equipment. Most instructors have links to specific suppliers and can provide you equipment at a slightly discounted price but it is worth buying a martial arts magazines and phoning around for some brochures. If you have internet access ( and I assume you since you are reading this opinion) then even better since the magazine can point you to a variety of websites to search through. Remember that not everyone will like the same sort of equipment and take personal preference into account alongside cost and quality. At the end of the day it is you that has to wear it so if it doesnt feel right dont use it. Weigh up the cost against the quality - you dont have to pay a fortune to obtain good quality goods.
Basic equipment consists of gloves (10 ounces), a headguard, a gumshield, foot guards and shin guards.
Gloves : Ten ounces are the generally recognised and used weight although it is worth checking with your club before buying but personally I also own sixteen ounce gloves for bag work on the basis that if I can hit fast with them I can be that much faster in tens. This is purely personal preference. If you end up competing you may need a set of twelve ounces depending on your weight as anyone weighing over 160 pounds fights in twelve ounce gloves. Foam, PU or leather available - I prefer leather for its hard wearing qualities but PU could be more cost effective for some and foam may be for people doing other arts where open hands are needed. They come with velcro or lace up styles but I find for general day to day training velcro is quicker and simpler. Prices start from as little as £12 for PU and upwards for better quality. Personally mine set me back about £40 but they are very high quality.
Gumshield : Whilst you can do no better than a dentist made one this is not always cost possible (approx £35-50). A basic £2 boil and bite will do but its your teeth and I would search a bit further afield. I currently have two - a shock doctor (£7) which disperses impact along the jaw and a WIPSS jaw joint protector (£25) which is the best boil and bite available at the moment but tends to make me gag.
Headguard : Absolutely imperative unless you like seeing double. Decide if you want the extras of a chin guards and cheek guards although I found them constrictive and made little differnce to protection given. Make sure you have good hearing and range of vision or you wont see those fists coming and make sure it fits well or you spend all match readjusting it. Again they come in foam, leather or PU and I chose mine in leather. I personally dislike the dipped foam as its single velcro fastener means it slips about and after a good shot tends to try to fly backwards off the top of my head. I have two headguards and my favourite one is made by an american company called Title and is designed for boxers. It set me back about £30 but does give very good fit and range of hearing and sight.
Foot protectors : Very much of a muchness with open soles and figure of eight fastening. Just make sure they are secure so you dont end up on your bum before the match begins. Again they come as padded or foam and there is little difference except I would say you sweat more in foam. You can look in the area of about £15 for this.
Shins : Available in cloth or leather/PU. I have cloth ones which are great for slipping on and off quickly without chafing but need rather regular washing! I also have leather ones which are hard wearing and solid so I wont bruise but took a while to break in and do leave strap marks on my legs. Cloth ones start from as little as £5 while I paid £40 for my leather ones.
Extras you may want to invest in are hand wraps,a groin/abdo guard some basic medical supplies such as freeze spray or gel, a sturdy bag and a large water bottle. You may also wish to invest in some form of cleaner for your equipment - I have seen spray deodorisers. This will end up being a neccessity as I have opened equipment bags belonging to people where if the kick doesnt get you the smell will. In the meantime I suggest that at the end of every session you use a towel to wipe your equipment dry. Good luck in what ever you decide. Just allow yourself time to pick whats going to be best for you. Most of all just enjoy studying your art!
God this is a long one and I expect I lost you all somewhere at the beginning. But what can I say when it comes to the martial arts I am an obsessive. If you made it this far thanks and I hope you might consider giving it a go yourself one day - it really is one of life's great buzzes.