As ‘Eye of the Tiger’ sounds out around the Channel View Leisure Centre in Grangetown it’s impossible not to get motivated for a session of kickboxing with the Cardiff Martial Arts club.
Despite the soundtrack, the session involves more than just punching a joint of meat on a repeated basis, with kicking, aerobic fitness and stretching exercises all a key part of the hour and a half long session.
Cardiff Martial Arts is a self-run business established in 2005 by Kevin McCabe, a Cardiff University graduate with a passion for Taekwondo and the martial arts. Kevin, as he is referred to by his pupils, holds the rank of fifth degree black belt and is heavily involved with Taekwondo not just in south Wales but also on a national and international level. As the current European champion and World silver medalist, there seems no one better to teach two complete beginners the art of kickboxing.
After a brief warm-up we were thrown straight in at the deep end with the pads and gloves and it was time to get serious. Backed by some inspirational music, it was tempting to throw punches left, right and centre but Kevin makes sure it’s not just haymakers being thrown.
He starts the group off with some simple combinations and techniques and gradually builds them into a routine and it soon feels like a disciplined workout. Every five minutes there is a break in the bout and everyone gathers in a circle for some fitness and strength exercises.
These usually consist of press-ups, sit-ups and some core stability with the focus being on flexibility and balance. Every action is carried out with a sense of purpose and control. Kevin impresses the art of discipline on all his pupils even from a young age.
“I run a club called Little Dragons which is for four, five and six year olds. They do some basic skills and some punching and kicking, balance and coordination but it also helps with discipline and behaviour which the parents are really keen about,” he said.
“We have a grading syllabus for them, similar to the adult classes, but you’re not allowed to grade if you’ve been badly behaved.
“The parents are very enthusiastic about this because it means there is an external teacher that is helping with the kids discipline and confidence.”
Cardiff Martial Arts currently has over 200 members in 18 classes and represents Kevin’s full time job. And with the martial arts proving more popular than ever, the club is certainly going from strength to strength.
“I train three nights a week, taekwondo is something I’ve become very passionate about and the kickboxing is just an extension of what the school gets up to really,” said assistant instructor Jon Draper from Marshfield.
Jon, whose children are also members, has been with the club since its formation in 2005 and credits Kevin for his renewed fitness levels.
“The kickboxing tends to be more aerobic and more cardio so for fitness levels I found it made a big difference to my Taekwon-do,” he said.
“The main benefit I’ve had from it was that I was nearly 18 stone when I started taekwondo seven years ago and I’m now 15 and a half. “
Sali Moore, a teacher from Cardiff Bay, is also a convert to the martial arts.
“I tried circuits and other classes but I preferred this. It’s all about technique and skill rather than just exercise,” she said.
“I started two years ago, I’ve been doing it ever since and now I send my daughter to the Little Dragons class.
Danielle Pearson, a carer in a residential home, is a new member of the club.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. This is only my second class but I’ve just signed up,” she said.
With the club’s membership growing, success on a bigger scale is not far away for members of the club.
“We have interclub competitions in England and Wales and the national competitions can attract people from over seas,” said Kevin.
“A few weeks ago in the Welsh championships I had a friend bring his class over from Spain.”
But despite his success, seeing children come up and mature through his club is the main reward for the instructor.
“I’ve seen kids change completely from over confident and cocky to quite well rounded and mature,” he added.
“It’s very rewarding, I’ve got some students who started with me when they were four and now they’re 11 on the cusp of going to senior school and the difference in them is incredible.”
And after an hour and a half workout, discipline is still as an important an issue as it was at the start, the pupils bowing to their instructor before going their various ways.
The session was brilliantly run and immensely enjoyable. As Kevin put it: “We have a bit of a blast to the music” but the wider significance of his classes should not be ignored.