by Sensei Neil Prime

Although I made only one ring appearance on a full contact kickboxing card I can assure you that you don't want to walk into the ring blindfolded.

I often wondered with the years of training karate how I would match up when the gloves are put on. I wondered if my karate training would help or hinder... after all, we do pull our techniques.

One thing is for sure, I learned a lot along the way.

Fellow karateka, Barry Irwin and myself decided it was time to find out.

We stumbled across a kickboxing trainer. He was working with only one guy at the time and loved our attitudes - we wanted to learn. Soon we were upstairs at Peter Diakows' Court Street Chiropractic Clinic (how handy this was). The first workout there were 5 of us, the 2nd there were 4. We found out very soon that many don't make it past that point.

Unfortunately our trainer relocated to the other side of Canada a few short months later and we were once again on our own.

With a solid base of Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace seminars and an well stocked video library we continued our quest and worked with anyone who was willing to put the gloves on. I thank all those people for their help. None of it was futile. Most of these people had no desire to compete full contact but were game to go a few rounds.

With very little action in most of Ontario due to a kickboxing ban for over 10 years, we pursued boxing clubs. Barrys' uncle had boxed and trained boxers and he enlightened us. He tried to set us up with ex-professional kickboxers but to no avail they were retired and we were on our own.

I knew at least one karateka who boxed (Scott Stapleford). I had done a bit of light contact sparring with him in the past but at this time he was committed to a full university workload. He did however get us into the boxing club where he trained. That was a disappointment.

We tried another local club. It was better but we still couldn't get any serious help. Even after pleading with the trainers, they just weren't interested in spending time with a couple of guys over 30 with some wild idea that we were going to kickbox.

We called upon many clubs that advertised kickboxing in the local area. Unfortunately it was only advertising to lure in the unknowing. So we went to the boxing club that made Billy Irwin what he is. They told us that they had trained kickboxers in the past, so we tried it. They were a little more open minded but I felt something was missing.

One night we went to work out and noticed that there were some guys in the corner with foot-pads on. Bingo! We were there on the right night. It turns out that former pro Kenny Graziano was getting his boys ready for a fight in Buffalo in 2 weeks. We introduced ourselves and he told us to come out to the fights to see what it was about.

We met them there that night and talked some more. We set up a night to meet again at the boxing club. It seemed that Kenny liked neutral territory and I didn't blame him for being cautious. After all, he didn't know us and didn't want to get involved with the wrong type of people. He even brought out a guy to spar with, you know, just to see how we react in the ring.

When Kenny got there I was already warmed up and ready to go. He wanted to see my technique so he put the focus pads on and we started to work. After a couple rounds of punching combinations he wanted to see if I could kick. I smiled... I like to kick.

Then Kenny says "in kickboxing you learn to take what you give" and he handed me the pads. I saw Kenny work out and thought to myself "he looks pretty good". When he kicked the pad the first time with a spinning back kick I thought I was going to go through the wall. He was a lot more than pretty good.

Next it was time to do a couple rounds with Stan. I was pumped (and very nervous!) We were to do a couple rounds of light sparring. I didn't mean to but the first kick I threw rocked my opponent. I didn't throw it very hard but because I hid it in a combination and he didn't see it coming. I felt bad. Kenny watched and later made it known that he was quite impressed that I backed off so that I could show him my technique. After all, that's why we were there.

After that night Kenny invited us to workout at his gym. His basement was his gym. It has everything you need to experience a gruelling workout.

After the first workout I thought I was going to die. We would walk in and do minimum 100 sit-ups on an incline. Next, stretch and tone, then shadow box for 2 rounds. All the training rounds were 3 minutes with a 1 minute break (in competition the rounds are 2 minutes). Then we would do our circuit which consisted of 3 different size heavy bags, a speed ball and various stamina and toning stations (biking, stepping, sit-ups, punching with rubber inner tubes etc.). There never went a night when we didn't get 1 on 1 attention with Kenny as part of our circuit.

I think the first night we may have barely survived 1 complete circuit of 7 rounds. By the time I was ready to compete we were doing between 15 to 20 and I was still able to do more. When we sparred we had worked ourselves up from about a minute and a half (no pulling) to 9 minutes strait. In that 9 minutes you had 3 fresh partners. Who ever was on the card got no break.

When the day came to walk in the ring I was nervous like crazy but kept telling myself that I was prepared and nothing was going to stop me. I weighed in at 183 lbs. When I started my training I was 200.

Now it's time to warm up. I was dripping sweat before I even entered the ring. When the bell rang I knew the other guy wanted the same as me, but it was yet to be determined who wanted it more.

By the end of the fight (3 X 2 minute rounds) I thought my lungs were going to collapse. They were actually sore for 2 days after, like when you get a chest cold. Believe me, I was in good shape and still felt this way after.

The whole experience was incredible. The odds were somewhat against us right from the beginning. Not many people over 30 are starting their full contact careers, most of them end it there. Both Barry and myself were the oldest fighters on the card. We still laugh at that. We got into it blind but walked out of it seeing a new light. We went through endless trips to Peters' Chiropractic clinic, endless bags of ice, a couple prescriptions of pain killers and anti-inflamatories for the 2 torn leg muscles, almost everyday with a new bump or bruise, and we both found out the hard way what it was like to be knocked out.

Sound fun?

I would do it again in the blink of an eye!

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