Dancing With Attitude
Dancing is a natural human instinct. So is fighting. Turn up any weekday evening at the Fighters Loft on Harrow Lane – a pair of gym rooms which used to be the Ashdown House Social Club – and you’ll find a full-on dance work-out for up to fifteen couples. Only there’s no music, and the fit-looking young men and women paired up together (generally men with men and women with women, though that’s not obligatory) are wearing head-guards, and being taught not dance steps but the complex combat moves that make up the sport of kickboxing.
For such a potentially violent sport – see the report below on Marlon Gillett’s recent pro fight – these workouts are co-operative and appear oddly pacific. As gym owner and trainer Ed Lofts stresses, there is no requirement for kickboxers to engage in competitive combat at all. The aim for many is simply to learn to defend themselves confidently: the violence is always subject to self-control.
When they do enter sporting competition, the combatants are divided into quite narrow weight classes, so that there is never an uneven contest between them in terms of size and physical power. There are also diffuse sets of rules which allow for different degrees of contact.
In semi-contact bouts the aim is to land the first clean blow with a punch or kick. In light contact the fighter accumulates points by a succession of such blows, as in Queensberry Rules boxing. In full contact kicks and punches to both body and head are scored. Under K-1 rules knees become weaponised and targeted. Finally in Thai boxing pretty much anything goes – apart from head butts and froin shots.
At all grades of combat, success comes from technical proficiency, marked as in almost all martial arts by attaining different colour belts – light-coloured at junior levels ascending to brown and black at the top – backed by extreme fitness.
Kids can start in the Fighters Loft gym in a ‘Little Dragons’ class, covering ages 4 to 7, on a Wednesday evening or Saturday morning. Classes for those aged between 8 and 13 are held on four evenings a week, divided between beginners and ‘invited only’; and similarly for adults (anyone aged 14 upwards), again divided between beginners and the more experienced. There’s no upper age cut-off.
Friday evenings are set aside for the more combative clientele. A tough conditioning circuit is followed by a sparring class, when fighters get to try out their moves for real. Then most Sundays Lofts will take a team of fighters to regional or national championships convened by a variety of promoters at venues all over the country – last Sunday, for instance in Hertfordshire. And it’s big business – up to 2,000 fighters, most of them competing over a number of different rule sets and paying significant entry fees for each.
Lofts has been doing it himself for 25 years from bases in Hastings and Bexhill, and has a huge collection of belts and silverware, including several world championship cups and medals, to show for his individual prowess. These days he is prouder of the fighters under his tuition, in particular 24-year-old Marlon Gillett – see Marlon Gillett – Hastings Very Own – and female twins Alex and Anya Hughes, who are gaining international trophies and reputations. But most of his time, and certainly the majority of sessions at the Fighters Loft, are devoted to teaching the moves co-operatively to anyone of any age who wants to get, and stay, fighting fit.
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