After my very first kickboxing class, I realized two things. One, don’t eat a big meal beforehand, and two, even if you think you’re in good shape, after a two-hour class muscles you never knew existed will make themselves heard.
Ben Rudis, a longtime resident of Dawson City, teaches a form of kickboxing called Muay Thai three days a week in the local school gym.
Muay Thai combines boxing moves with well-placed kicks to the body. This style of sport, together with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was used mostly by the fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Club (UFC) until television and arena spectacles made it popular with the mainstream public.
Many people now see it as a fun way to relax and relieve stress.
The class I went to included Graeme, another newbie (thankfully!), and Shirley, a 15-year kickboxing veteran. On Tuesday, when I was too sore to rejoin but passed by to ask Rudis another question, there were nine students, a more typical class size.
Rudis is also a 15-year veteran. At age 28, that means he’s been kickboxing more than half his life. When I asked why he decided to pursue the sport, Rudis replied, “I don’t like volleyball.”
As a teen, Rudis was looking for something to do and decided to join Dawson’s boxing club. This class eventually morphed into kickboxing when local martial artist Charles Eshleman took over.
Before donning boxing gloves and practising various moves, we did a warm-up. We started by running laps around the gym. Rudis ran without shoes, insisting that muscles in the foot are better developed without support.
Round and round we went. As my lunch began to speak to me, Rudis yelled out to switch and run sideways – not an easy thing to do! I prayed my feet wouldn’t get tangled and send me crashing to the floor.
My lunch was now screaming and I didn’t think it could get much worse. But it did: Rudis called out to run backwards! Sweat started to pour down my face.
“Hey Ben,” yelled Shirley as we ran, “Remember when you made me run backwards for 10 minutes on my toes?” Good lord, I prayed, please don’t let him be in the same mood now.
I was in luck: after six minutes, the running was finally over. With only a minute or two to hydrate, we began to skip rope.
If I thought I was clumsy at running sideways, I soon learned that skipping was even worse. After continuously tripping and feeling the sting of the rope on my bare toes, I eventually gave up and just hopped up and down in place, frantically swinging my rope off to the side.
Next came push-ups, crunches and other forms of torture. The squats were the worst. Halfway through the set of 40, Shirley yelled out, “Hey Ben, remember when we used to do 250 of these?”
Oh God, I thought, who are these people!
After 30 minutes, Rudis informed us that he was being easy on us and the warm-up was now over. Time to put on the gloves. Being a newbie, I wasn’t allowed to hit anything yet; I had to practise jabbing and cross-punching my reflection in the mirror while Rudis put pads on his hands and worked with Shirley.
As I worked to perfect the movements and stance, Rudis called out various punch-and-kick sequences to Shirley while he held the pads in place. The pace was quick, the thud of her kicks and punches loud.
They told me later that although training with pads is quite a workout, sparring with someone is the most exhausting. “It’s more of a mental game when you have to respond to someone else,” said Rudis.
Two hours later, the class was over. After some cool-down stretching, we stood around and talked about the sport.
Rudis recalled the time he went to Thailand for two months to study at a Muay Thai training centre. It was so hot and humid there that three minutes of skipping and a few rounds with the pads constituted a warm-up.
When I mentioned how sore I would be tomorrow due to our extensive northern warm-up, Rudis reassured me that after three or four classes, I should be able to see a difference and handle it better.
“You come to each class and you push yourself more and more,” he said. “If you’re not tired by the end of a class, you didn’t work hard enough.”
Oh good, I thought, I must have worked plenty hard to feel this exhausted!
Rudis says he’d like to find more people to help teach the class. “It’s easier to work with the different levels of skill when you have enough people to work with everybody,” he said.
He’s also hoping to apply for a city grant in the new year to buy more pads and equipment as there’s not enough to go around right now.
Before we parted ways to change out of our sweaty clothes, I had one more question: what about injuries?
Rudis and Shirley looked at each other in puzzlement as they thought back through the years. They recalled one student a few years ago who was a bit of a klutz and injured himself constantly. Otherwise, they said, injuries are rare.
“You just end up with the normal amount of bruises,” concluded Shirley.
“Hmm,” I thought as I headed towards the change room, “what exactly constitutes normal?” Maybe by next class I’ll have improved enough to find out.
Try out kickboxing in the Ancillary Room at Robert Service School, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Info: 993-2350. Free.