Why Chennai’s youths are taking up kickboxing

A sea of black-haired heads bob up and down at Spitfire Kickboxing and CrossFit Academy in Anna Nagar, resembling a real-life whack-a-mole game. The trainees, as young as eight and as old as 24, are hard at work practising for the State-level WAKO India Kickboxing Championship set to take place in Chennai this June, and the National level in Rohtak, Haryana, in July.

“Being fit is the end goal for me. Every morning I wake up with the need to do something physical, to work out,” says 21-year-old Malar Vizhi, between rhythmic thuds of flesh against rubber — the students have moved onto fighting now. Punching, ducking, sweeping kicks and jumping. “It’s all the more important for women, given the host of gynaecological issues we have to deal with.” In the summer of 2018, Malar packed her bags to come to Chennai, from her village Thilampalayam near Erode. After graduating from the district’s Sathyamangalam college, her father, a farmer, sent her to the big city, hoping to see her as an IAS officer one day.

She is yet to take a crack at her UPSC exams. But she has found glory in something more physical but equally demanding: kickboxing. In her one year of training, Malar has bagged gold medals at the State and National levels.

Why Chennai’s youths are taking up kickboxing

While Malar represents Chennai, there are others like her — V Harshini from Kanchipuram, Dharani Dharan from Thiruvallur, and more — who have taken to the mixed martial defence form as a sport. Of those, many have made it into international tournaments; Malar hopes to soon be one of them.

New horizons

“The International Olympic Committee announced last November that kickboxing would be a provisional sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” says Suresh Babu, founder of Spitfire and general secretary of Tamil Nadu State Amateur Kickboxing Association.

Suresh hopes that this translates into more people joining kickboxing as sportsmen and women, rather than just a weekend fitness technique. And with it, the following Government support, “Right now, there’s only money in professional kickboxing. The last Nationals were held in Pimpri, Pune, and the cash prize was ₹15,000. Only seniors — older than 19 — with three years of experience in amateur kickboxing are eligible,” he informs.

Types of kickboxing
  • The Tatami sport is semi-contact in nature, and done on mats. It involves point fighting, light contact, light kick, where opponents are allowed to punch and kick each other, but using elbows and knees are forbidden, as is holding someone in a clinch. The other type is ring sports, that involves full contact, low kick and K1 styles, where the focus is more on sheer strength and power.
  • Kickboxing has also made its foray into dancing, with a musical form of tatami: a fight staged to show off martial art techniques, much like kalaripayattu.

TNSAKA works in hand with World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO), the group that holds international tournaments, to organise competitions in the State. As a member of TNSAKA, Suresh is also responsible for identifying kickboxing academies that train and identify young talent, to be taken under the umbrella of the association. Academies such as MMBC Club, Adyar which took Malar in when she first came to Chennai.

“Back in my village, we didn’t have many options for sports. Our school had karate classes, so I learnt that. Girls aren’t really sent to cities alone, even for studies. But my parents want me to become an IAS officer. So they sent me here with just enough money for that,” says Malar. “They didn’t support my passion for kickboxing initially… not until I started winning medals.” Until then, she says, her coach, Murali Moses, not only was her constant source of encouragement, but also sponsored her matches.

Different strokes

Fourteen-year-old AB Vasekaran, on the other hand, comes from a line of karate practitioners including his grandfather, mother and aunt — the former holds a black belt. Yet, he did not take up kickboxing until his father’s friend suggested it might help him lose weight. At just over 10 years of age, he used to weigh 85 kilograms.

Benefits of kickboxing
  • Increases stamina, quickens reflexes, sharpens focus, builds power in the core muscles

In his years of training, he has managed to get his weight down to 75 kilograms and maintain it at that. “It’s about more than weight loss now: It feels really nice to excel at something, and be praised for it,” says Vasekaran, who won gold at the WAKO World Diamond Cup help in Anapa, Russia last year. Recently, he won gold at the Open Nationals in Pune, and once again at the district qualifying round this month.

It started as a weight-loss attempt for 17-year-old Arjun Tanishq too, but he soon found that he had a taste for adrenaline. “In other sports like cricket and table tennis, there is lesser impact. But kickboxing, as a contact sport, is more painful. You need to build a particular mindset to get conditioned to the pain. It helps in channeling your aggression,” says Arjun, who also qualified with a gold for the State levels, and won bronze in the Russian tournament last year.

Why Chennai’s youths are taking up kickboxing

Our conversation is interrupted by the coach’s whistles. “Fighters, gather!” he barks. And 20 of them line up instantly: the air is military. Yet it’s here that Malar has found her freedom.

She used to be an athlete in college, so racing is not new for her. Now, however, she is racing against time. “In my village, women get married once they turn 22. I am still somehow evading that possibility. I just need four more years — I will prove myself,” she smiles, a steely glint in her eyes.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 8:12:33 AM |

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