A kickboxing club is celebrating a triple success — thanks to readers of the Ripley and Heanor News and Belper News, and visitors to the newspapers’ websites.
Fighting Fit Kickboxing, which was reformed at the start of the year at Kilburn Village Hall by former British champion Russ O’Keefe, was featured in an article in the summer.
We highlighted how O’Keefe, 36, had fought off serious illness to restart the club he first launched in 2001, paying for its growth out of his own pocket because of his passion for passing on martial arts skills to others.
Now the delighted mixed martial arts instructor with 26 years’ experience in various styles — 26 years in full-contact kickboxing, 11 years in Muay Thai, and five years in karate, submission wrestling and ground and pound — has said a massive thank-you for the support he has received since the original article.
O’Keefe said new members were joining, a new endurance club that had been launched and it was attracting people from other sports, and six sponsors had come forward offering hundreds of pounds worth each to help towards new equipment, clothing and the future running of the kickboxing club.
“Since the article things have exploded a bit,” he joked. “We have had several enquiries from new people and literally had at least one new person starting each week.”
The club, which meets on Sundays and Tuesdays, will move to a new base in November because of its influx of new members. The class teaches self-defence and weapons defence, allowing members to take gradings towards their Black Belt 1st Dan and compete in tournaments.
Members Josh Shaw, Dean King, Jake Newcombe-Smith and Mark Smith are currently preparing for a fight night at the Genesis Centre, Alfreton, in October.
In November, the four fighters will be joined by newcomers Scott Rhodes and Callum Shelbourn, who will be making their debuts in the ring, at Walsall. Shaw has also been given a shot at a national title — the vacant WRSA Pro Am Super Cruiserweight English title.
“I started with nothing and now I have six sponsors. Without all their support none of this (the expansion and new equipment) would have been possible,” O’Keefe said.
“It just wouldn’t have happened. I couldn’t have afforded all this on my own. So many people are on board living the dream with me.
“I’m so glad I went for it and started it all back up. It has been worth all those stressful late nights and sleepless nights too.
“A very good friend of mine once said to me — opportunities are like a snowflake on a river, here for a second and lost for a lifetime.
“Ever since that day I have never backed down from a challenge, never been negative, never said that’s impossible. I try to make sure I achieve everything I set out to do.
“This year is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see the fight team we have for 2017. It’s going to be epic. Everyone is behind me 110 per cent.”
O’Keefe said the new members were a mixture of men and women and he was confident that by Christmas there would be a well-established female group within both the kickboxing and endurance classes.
Recently Dawn Edwards, 51, of Ripley, a former student and black belt of Fighting Fit Kickboxing, and her son, Reece, 25, also a former student of the club, returned to train with O’Keefe.
He said: “It’s great to see some old faces back in the club after 10 years, I was really happy to see them both.”
The endurance club, which is based at Ripley School of Boxing & Martial Arts, Park Road, meets from 6pm to 8pm and is called Fighting Fit Endurance.
O’Keefe explained: “After our last fight event I realised I needed a permanent three nights a week and not just a part-time third class for the six to eight weeks before an event.
“We had been renting Kilburn Village Hall on Fridays so the fighters could do extra training sessions, but realistically we needed somewhere that had a boxing ring set-up
“Luckily I got talking to an old friend, Lee Wragg, currently the WKU Pro Am Super Cruiserweight world champion.
“Lee has the gym in Ripley and after a chat we realised the times and dates I would like to use the room would be available, so I decided to set up a Friday night class there called Fighting Fit Endurance, which opened on 19th August.”
Endurance is a two-hour class of circuit training and sparring, from bag work drills to lifting light weights, running, skipping, tyre throwing, lifting barrels, moving heavy objects, using a rowing machine and practising ring craft in the two rings.
“Learning how to use the ropes to your advantage, fight scenarios, cornering techniques etc can all be practised,” said O’Keefe.
“The best thing about the endurance class is that people don’t have to do kickboxing if they don’t want to. We have had people start training with us who don’t have any martial arts background and only want to do the fitness side of the class.
“But after seeing what goes off in the two-hour session they have been tempted to give it all ago.”
O’Keefe said he had designed new T-shirts for the class that took a less aggressive form and were more fitness orientated.
He added: “The dictionaries say endurance means the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way. That was the perfect word to use for the class as at the end of the day I always say to my students - Train hard, fight easy... Fighting Fit.”
Fighting Fit Kickboxing Club, runs classes on Sundays, from 7pm to 9pm, and Tuesdays, from 8pm to 10pm, at Kilburn Village Hall. The classes will move to Ripley School of Boxing & Martial Arts from the beginning of November.
O’Keefe added: “We decided we needed to have the chance to use rings full-time and the move will also give us more floor space and the chance to use bag stations and the equipment for endurance.”
Fighting Fit Endurance runs from 6pm to 8pm on Fridays at Ripley School of Boxing & Martial Arts Gym. The classes are open for 15-year-olds upwards.
To join Fighting Fit go along to one of the sessions or call Russ O’Keefe on 07919 924486.