Cody Clay practicing Muay Thai at Grizzly Gym in downtown Kingston.

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For the love of boxing

There is a long and hard debate on whether boxing should be banned or not. it's considered to be a violent game. It's a combat sport based on how hard can one knockout their opponent. Those who compete in boxing are at high risk of serious facial and neurological injuries. Yet, so many choose to box because they love it.

For those who box it's an addiction.

The history of boxing dates back to 688 BC when it was declared part of the Olympic Games by the Greeks. Supporters of the game, whether traditional or otherwise, argue that it gives them self-confidence, discipline, fitness and physical health.

I have recently met Mike Martelle, mixed-martial arts champion and Grizzly Gym owner, who introduced me to Thai boxing or Muay Thai, the traditional sport of Thailand.  It's similar to boxing, but competitors use all manner of punches, kicks, elbows and knees to defeat their opponent.

The earliest records of Muay Thai's origins were lost when the Burmese army sacked the Thai capital of Ayuddhaya; however, it is known that it was used as a training method for the Thai armies by the 1500's. Over the following centuries it gradually evolved into a full contact ring sport, with the art becoming formally codified in the 1930's and adopting the rules currently used today, Martelle explains.

"Muay Thai is a very well-rounded physical pursuit that empowers people to enjoy their bodies and to challenge their perceptions of both their physical and mental limitations. By it's nature, Muay Thai is a very social activity as well, and the hard work involved forges personal bonds with others regardless of cultural or economic backgrounds," Martelle said.

Cody Clay, Paul Sylvester, Sophie Kassel, Rebecca Creasy and Paul Quick are five individuals who have been practicing Muay Thai for a long time and explain why they are in love with this traditional martial arts game.  

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Cody Clay

Film production student and a certified Muay Thai instructor. Age: 27  

Cody Clay have been practicing martial arts, specifically Karate and jujitsu, since the age of seven when he was introduced to the games by his father, Scott Clay, who was a professional fighter in the Ultimate Combat Challenge, Canada’s first Mixed martial Arts (MMA) organization.

It wasn't until he was ten when he started practicing Muay Thai at the hands of Eric Advincula, who was also the trainer that mentored Martelle when he started practicing the game as a young boy 22 years ago.

"I did it throughout as a kid and in adulthood and I think through those times it really helped me to be able to stand up for myself if there was any bullying, and have that confidence to be able to defend myself." Clay explains.

"Some things that come to mind that really helped me out with were discipline, respect, loyalty, physical health and fitness, teamwork, cooperation, communication and trust. All these skills you are forced to develop unintentionally and they are such beneficial skills that can be applied to family, relationships, any social setting and workplace… Everyone has their reasons for doing martial arts, but as an instructor, we develop these strong skills in people at a very young age, it helps them develop into wonderful human beings."

Clays' inaugural Muay Thai fight was in June 2013. No doubt it was an emotional roller coaster preparing for the fight. for Clay however, no matter how hard it was, he wanted to do it because it was "a way to test my skills."

Generally, people get into martial arts for different reasons. Some may get into it as a form of exercise, others are maybe looking to learn new techniques, or perhaps are looking to release a form of aggression, or anger management, and some may want to be instructors one day. No matter what the reasons are, boxing or Muay Thai can be a sport for people to achieve those goals according to Clay.

"It's a lifestyle and a way of respect for your surroundings, the people and the environment around it."

"I've never had something develop in myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically in such a fast and rapid manner, but it's also something that is even more rewarding when you're that catalyst or a component, no matter how small or big, that it helps someone achieve those same results in you and you see it happen. it's a very powerful thing."

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Rebecca Creasy

Total Compensation Specialist, Queen University. Age: 30

Rebecca Creasy was around 14-years-old when she started boxing. It was at a point in her life where she wanted to loose weight and felt practicing Pilates, the sport she was into at the time, was not the right one to achieve that. Her curiosity to boxing grew as she watched people get into the boxing class at the gym, and one day, she had the courage to go and ask.

"I started it because as a teenager i was not popular and it was something i wanted to do for me. It gave me some self confidence and everything that comes with feeling fit and good about yourself."

For Creasy, the best thing that came out of boxing is the fact that she gets to practice something that she loves and enjoys with her husband.

"From my perspective, it's a great time where we can just spend an hour and a half or two hours as a couple doing something that we both enjoy, and it's kind of our break time from work and everything else."

"In that sense it helps me. If there's anything that I'm coping with because i know he's there and we can talk things through, it's a nice stress reliever and i'm doing it with someone that i really care about."

As a child, Creasy admits that she was never good at sports. she did play games such as softball, but never excelled in. With boxing however, the benefit for her is the fact that she is not relying on anyone to play the game.

"It's just me. I'm the one. It's a team sport that in the sense that you are all working together towards a common goal of bettering yourself and your technique. But with Muay Thai, it's just me that I have to worry about."

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Paul Quick

Correctional Officer. Age: 46

Correctional officer Paul Quick has been boxing on and off for few years, and only recently decided to get back into it when he decided to start practicing Muay Thai. 

"Something like boxing, or specifically Thai boxing that uses not only the hands, but also the elbows and knees and the legs, I think it gives you a full body workout. It teaches discipline, accuracy, speed, coordination and control. Its an amazing workout, you are driven really hard. It's a really difficult workout, and it's fun too."

For Quick, Muay Thai is a sport that extends beyond the benefits of physical health and fitness. it contributes to his mental abilities specially is his profession as a correctional officer.

"I guess you could say it helps in my profession, but of course we don't box with people. We're not allowed to box or hit or punch anybody. The speed, the footwork, the coordination and the strength, that definitely helps with my day to day job."

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Paul Sylvester

A masters graduate in environmental studies and currently a PHD student in geography. Age: 35

Paul Sylvester has always led an intense physical life; skiing and mountaineering in the landscapes of British Colombia. But when he moved to Halifax seven years ago to pursue a masters degree, he found his life sedentary and esoteric without any physical aspect to his existence. One day he decided to walk into a boxing gym.

"Right away i just completely fell in love with the sport. There was that really intense physicality and i found after doing it for few months, I never really done anything that i felt it sort of lived in my body. Like I'd be walking downtown and just found myself I always want to be going through those motions and those movements and it just felt so natural."

Sylvester admits, during his years of practice in Halifax, boxing has helped him get though some difficult and emotional struggles. for 2 hours of the day, he was able to step away from everything in his life and and be present in that moment, it was a retrieve, a mental and a physical healing space.

Sylvester trained in traditional boxing and kickboxing. After moving to Kingston to pursue a PHD in Geography, he decided to practice Muay Thai instead. Being a student again where his life is in a state of wandering, Thai boxing is giving him a sense of immediacy.

"It's something for the time I'm doing it gives my life this immediacy and it's very present in the moment. There is no having a mind that wanders away, you're very much there."

"I just find my physical intelligence, my ability to control and move my body over the years of training is quite an amazing thing to behold after a while. Like wow, this is really good for me on so many levels."

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Sophie Kassel

Global development and politics student, Queens University. Age: 19

19-year-old Sophie Kassel started boxing when her school stopped offering gym classes after Grade 9. Boxing was the sport she always wanted to do but never had the time to do it. When she was forced to accumulate the needed active hours for her school, she decided it was time to box.

"It's the component of combat that i'm interested in, yet it's still a very artistic sport. It's a skill you have to learn, it's not just a gym class."

For Kassel, it's the also the extreme complexity of the sport. Whether it is practicing combos or remembering how to properly react to an attack during sparring, her mind is so engulfed in boxing that she has no room to think of anything else. Because of this, when she's at the gym, she often finds herself freed from all the worries and stresses of the day.

Moving to Kingston was not easy for the young student. This is her first year at university and boxing she feels, gives her a sense of community, helping her overcome home sickness. More importantly, Kassel feels since she started boing a year ago, it has increased her self confidence tremendously.

"As I’ve been practicing sparring I’ve been growing more and more comfortable with throwing punches and kicks, responding to attacks. I find that this has translated into my everyday life at school. Studying politics, much of our tutorial classes are filled with debates. While beforehand (in high school) I would be too shy to raise a refusal of somebody’s point or even introduce my personal opinion, feeling that my ideas were probably wrong or that they were not worthy of discussion, I now feel no fear when speaking in class. I feel that my opinions have equal value to my class mates. If someone rejects my opinion, I will often respond, trying to “fight” for my point / idea as much as I can. So I guess in that sense, boxing has taught me to stand my ground and see the value in myself.

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