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Thomas Banks wins ISKA World Championships
The ISKA Kickboxing World Championships
2nd-7th November 2010, Alicante, Spain
The first time I considered entering the World Kickboxing Championships was when I was training for a fight, hosted by English Contact Karate Association (ECKA). I had noticed that some members from my old club in Solihull had recently won the International Sports Kickboxing Association (ISKA) European championships. I decided that as they were experienced international fighters I would go back to my old kickboxing club, Solihull Kickboxing Academy, to have a controlled fight with one of their star fighters, Callum Hawthorne who had just won the gold medal in Rome. The person in charge of the Academy was Paul Gilmore who was my old sensei (martial arts instructor) and who also happened to be the head of the ISKA England semi-contact team. He suggested having a trial with him and this eventually led to my selection to enter a competition to join the England team. When it comes to semi-contact the only success I have had was with the ECKA nationals and ECKA Open tournament that happen once a year. Almost all my other training has been categorised as ‘light continuous’ and that is a completely different technique.
I went to the first England squad training with no idea of what to expect, everyone looked like they had a lot of experience, during the ‘pad work’ everything was going fine, but when it came to sparring, I held my ground for a while. My inexperience, particularly in semi contact showed as I was getting picked off because of my lack of knowledge. However my speed made up for my errors and I could demonstrate that I had potential. I had to remember that I was already a successful kickboxer but the goal was to become much better. In order to demonstrate my potential I had to fight off for my place in the team against two other under 71 kg juniors. In the first round I won 12-8 and the second one I was losing 4-3 then I received a head kick that temporarily knocking me out - I stupid mistake that I was going to rectify. I was allowed to get back up with 30 seconds to go and ended up winning 10-8. This gave the selectors the evidence that they needed to offer me a place in the England team. This gave me the impetus to become better and to start a train of events and preparation that eventually led to my success. It might seem obvious but one of the most important aspects of kickboxing is the ability to be a very flexible kicker. I discovered that the more I concentrated on stretching exercises the more I could achieve the kicks that could give me those extra points. I stretched every day, for around 30 minutes from July to the event and with professional advice adapted my training to suit semi contacts points fighting style. I came up with my own pad drills and watched clips of experienced fighters. I also went to a few smaller tournaments and watched all the videos of my fights to look out for those characteristic weaknesses and strength in my fighting style so that I could adapt my training.
After several months of preparation I flew out from Gatwick airport to Alicante on Tuesday the 2nd of November with one contingent of the England team (the other flying from Manchester and Birmingham). We arrived early evening at 6:30pm knowing that the final weighing finished at 8:00pm and we still needed to get our luggage and travel to the harbour where the weighing was taking place. When arrived at our destination we had a medical check to make sure we were fit to fight, to register and be weighed. I weighed in at 67.9kg so I was in the clear to fight in the under 71 kg category. Unfortunately I had been registered in the adult category so had to spend a bit of time explaining that I was in, in fact a junior. The process was made that much more difficult because of our lack of Spanish. Eventually everything was sorted and we met up with the rest of the teams so that we could go to the opening ceremony at the harbour. What an experience, in between all the contenders for the Miss ISKA beauty pageant, drums beating, flamenco dancing, fireworks and the press and TV companies vying for team videos and photos. Once that was over we headed back to the hotel so that everyone was able to get an early night sleep and prepare the fight the next.
We turned up outside the venue for around 9 o’clock, every country including England were waiting around outside the venue for around an hour, waiting for some conformation about organisation, this included passes for the fighters and spectators. The wait gave me some time for reflection when I decided to increase my chance of success by entering another category, the light contact under 71 junior boys. There was nobody representing England in that category. Once we had got in all of the fighters were gathered in the warm-up area, just to make sure they could keep security under control. It was clear by the size of their contingency who were the dominant countries, the Spanish, Germans and English.
The first events were the full contact fights, the traditional forms, and semi contact woman’s fights. Despite the preparation I didn’t fight on the first day so I took spent my time taking photos of the venue and looking at all the kickboxing stalls that were around during the week. I also decided to be organised and bought souvenir t-shirts. Later that day I went back to the hotel for a short nap, when I got up and went out for a meal I met up with some of the team, to find out that an hour before I arrived that most of the whole England team had met, spoke to and had a photo with Joe Calzaghe - Britain's only undefeated boxing world champion.
On the second day we knew what to expect with people on the door checking passes and stalls of kickboxing gear. We walked down through the stands, seeing full contact fighters that we had missed the previous day. Things were starting to seem a lot more organised but I was still unsure of when I was fighting. Then around mid-day, I noticed that the junior boys under 50 kg were fighting, so I checked the running order for area 1 and I was told I would be on in 4 categories, so I got changed into my fighting suit, stretched off, and had around three rounds on the pads to get me warmed up. I walked out to area 1 after watching Callum Hawthorne win 2 fights and go on towards the finals. I then looked around at my opponents and noticed that I was considerably smaller than most of them. I looked at the rest of the fighters weights and it turns out I was fighting in the heavyweights section 71+ instead of -71 kg. I had been placed in the heavier section because there was nobody in my category. Each fight consisted of two, two minute rounds. My first challenge was an opponent from the Czech Republic. The first round I got off to a flying start, the Czech’s game plan was to close me down, by rushing at me whenever he got a chance, so I used the large matted area to my advantage, showing off my flexibility and my confidence to the crowd, landing sidekicks to the head and body when he was in range. I had the English adult champion Owen King in my ring corner as well as my trainer Paul Gilmore. Owen had been observing my opponent’s tactics and told me “every time he rushes in land a jump back kick on him”. I took his advice and during the fight I landed four of them on him, to the point where he realised that his plan was not working and I was free to fight the way I wanted. The first round was up, and I was pretty tired from all the activity but I event with so much anxiety I had the motivation to win. The fighting spirit took over, I had that adrenaline rush but his punches were turn into dangerous swings and he was hitting me with excessive force. This is contrary to the spirit of the rules of light continuous kickboxing but I couldn’t let him get away with it even if the referees were ignoring the rules. It had become a full contact fight, with both of us getting two warnings each for excessive power. It was clear that I was dominating the fight and won the first challenge. There was then had around a 10 minute wait till the semi-finals against a fighter from Austria, who had only just won his previous fight against a Spanish fighter. The Austrian came up to me before the fight, stating that our fight was going to be light contact, so I didn’t know whether to take seriously or not. He did as he said, with full use of the mat and constant jabbing to the head and body with the occasional kick to test his distancing. I hit him with a jab to the face which unexpectedly stopped him. I was somewhat concerned as there was little or no force behind the punch so I stopped to see what was wrong. It turned out one of his contact lenses had fallen out and once we had found it the fight continued, but my opponent just didn’t look like he wanted to fight. There was another break when we realised he had a nose bleed. At this point my corner was telling me not be so nice and put more pressure on him. So when everything had been cleaned up, I threw a jump side kick combined with a back kick in the same jump, a kick which I hadn’t ever done before in a competition and it just so happened to land, followed by a combination of roundhouse kicks spinning hook kicks in one combination. This drew a close to the first round. It was obvious that I was fighting fit and had a relaxed spirit. The second round started and I came straight back out with the jab, because I had most of the crowd watching my fight I thought I would gave them something to cheer about, so I dropped my guard and started mocking my opponent, then when I could see it bothered him I would land a reverse punch to his head, I did this twice, shortly after I could see that he didn’t want to continue. The referee asked if he wanted to continue and the Austrian decided he could live with a 3rd place. This guaranteed my place in the final to fight off against a German on Friday. Later on in the day I also had to fight in the boys juniors -71kg semi contact category where I had to fight off against a Spanish boy. I watched him stretch off to see how flexible he was - I noticed that he wasn’t very flexible, so my plan would be to kick my way to an easy win. The fight started and he ran at me, and I panicked and every time he ran at me I tried to kick him in the head but the Spanish referees were not scoring it and I was just getting frustrated. My coaches told me to side step him when he runs at me then blitz him with a reverse punch into a backfist, this started to work and the points kept piling on, to an easy victory with my opponent only scoring one point. This meant that I had my second final on Friday. We eventually left the venue at around 8:30pm went out for a meal with some of the team and decided to have an early night because we were all aching from the day’s events. I ended the day by completing my stretching exercises.
To cut a long story short the day of the finals came. The previous night I couldn’t really sleep that well. I wasn’t worried about my semi contact fight because I wasn’t expecting to win because my opponent was a four times World champion and had won many other prestigious tournaments such as the Irish and US Open. However, I wasn’t so nervous about my light contact fight because I had watched my opponent in all of his previous rounds, he was a good kicker and his objective was to hit his opponent as hard as he could so I knew I would have a hard challenge ahead of myself. I arrived at the venue, not really saying much to anyone, I stretched off at the start of the day, to try and get mentally prepared for the day, and then the time had come the boy juniors categories had all been called up, I nervously waited and watched almost all of the England kids/ junior taking either gold or silver on the podium. Then my category was called but for some reason they had moved our fight to the other side of the venue and a lot of supporters had to move to see the final fight. It started at my own pace, I flicked several sidekicks to try and get an instant three points with a head kick, but every time I tried to kick, he would try and counter my kicks and go over the top with punches, some of his were successful but most of my kicks were successful and kicks are worth more points than punches, then the final whistle was blown, and I looked at the scored bored and I won 8-4 with a disallowed head kicked and also a disallowed jump head kick, so another possible 8 points. But either way I was happy, I just turned to my coach and just said thank you for everything, and I didn’t really celebrate. For a while I just walked around on my own and then tried to let it all sink in. I don’t think it really did because I was still optimistic about my light continuous final later on that day, but it was nevertheless a real confidence booster for my fight. During the day, there was a lot of waiting around, watching all of the adult finals. Finally they called up light continuous finals and the fights to end the tournament. My second final was still two, two minute rounds, but in those four minutes I wanted to give everything I could. In round one, I thought that he was going to come rushing in, with his sidekick and then followed by loads of punches like in his previous fights. But surprisingly he stayed calm and seemed to make all of his moves based on the way I was fighting, when I moved forward, his back leg would move and then he would try to through a powerful side kick, because I could see this every time I would try and make him look predictable by making him miss by a lot, then when he landed I would then send my kicks towards him. Then things started turning around, my corner were telling me to step into his predictable sidekick to jam him and close him down, then attack with my punches. But now the long day and previous fight were taking its toll and this category is about stamina and because I was tired I couldn’t move quickly enough at times and he repeatedly caught my guard making me frustrated. I wanted to win so badly that my punches became a bit wild, and slightly out of control, so I ended up getting two warnings for excessive power. The fight ended and I knew it was close and nobody could call a winner. However, the referees took into account my warnings which made me just loose. I had never felt so devastated at a fight before, because I knew that I could have fought better, and I just didn’t do enough to win. Again I went off and had a moment to take it all in, and in all honesty, I did enter that category last minute, and I hadn’t trained for that style of fighting for about 5 months, and I only went out to the World Championships for the experience of it all. I had to appreciate that I would be coming back home with 1 World Championship title and a silver medal – not so bad after all. When it came to the evening, the whole team celebrated the night away, in true English fashion.
The day of the closing ceremony and medal presentations giving get off to a good start as it was planned to start at around 11 and be over so everyone could enjoy their last day in Spain. No worries about fighting now so a few team members, including me went off for a nice full English breakfast by the harbour, followed by a lot of sitting around siesta-style, cracking jokes, and remembering the good, the bad and the ugly side of this tournament. The time came for the medal ceremony, going through each category one by one, I was surprised there wasn’t a national anthem for each winner, but I think to speed things up they had decided to miss that part out. The first medal I got was my silver medal, then about an hour later I went up to receive my gold medal, and to be announced as World Champion. After all of the medals were given out we went back to the hotel, some of the team went out straight away, whereas myself and some of the other fighters took advantage of the fact that we had passes for the rest of the night, with a World title Thia boxing fight and other events. We had our photos taken with Tong Po, the kickboxer who has a fight with Jean Claude van Dam in the film ‘Kickboxer’.
The next day was a depressing flight back to the not so sunny England where it was 5°C compared with Spain’s 20°C+ all week. Overall I went out for a great experience, a great time with the England team, meeting some great World Class fighters, making a name for myself - I definitely had all of that but most importantly come back as World Champion.
Thomas, pictured with ECKA Instructor Sensei Mark Featherstone