Kickboxing is a family affair for Christel Clarke. She has practiced the martial art since 2001 and, along with her husband, now teaches in Tauranga at his recently established kickboxing academy, Warrior Sports New Zealand. Three of the couple’s five adult children also teach various martial arts in South Africa.
The art of kickboxing combines traditional boxing with a range of different kicking styles. Some people practise kickboxing for fitness or self-defence, and others might choose to take the sport to a more competitive level.
However her immersion in kickboxing was almost curtailed as soon as it began. She was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer not long after beginning lessons, and after surgery, doctors told her to stop all sports involving use of her arms. She didn’t know it then, but, rather than end her kickboxing career, her training was to play a big part in her recovery.
“I was a fit, active woman, but after six chemotherapy treatments my heart was affected. It felt like I was in overdrive, and was exhausted and out of breath all the time. I chose not to continue treatment, chemo nor radiation, but after research, focused instead on my nutrition and a physical, emotional and spiritual approach to my recovery. This was my decision and what worked for me. Physical exercise, even walking, is very important. I chose to keep training and that helped get me through. I believe because of training I’ve never had lymphedema.”
At age 40 Christel went on to win gold in her weight class, age 18 to 35 years, in the Kick Light Division at the 2008 World WTKA Kickboxing Championships in Italy. “Training for the world champs, is a huge commitment and the team trained three hours a day for several months, in preparation. At times, I wanted to give up, when my body was sore and tired from training – but with the team and my coach’s encouragement, we achieved our goals.”
In 2011 she achieved her black belt in and became a certified Kickboxing instructor. Last year she did the Krav Maga Civilian Instructor’s course. Krav Maga is an Israeli self-defence system.
“My faith in God has strengthened since my diagnosis. I studied the Bible and learned the biblical principles of healing, and God’s promises of healing. I reached a place where I believed within myself that I was healed. Faith is simple but people are complex. We are influenced by what we have learned and are exposed to in life. Faith, for each of us, is a personal spiritual journey.”
Christel has continued to train, teach and work full-time and is grateful to have not needed any further treatment for 15 years. “My focus has been on living life!”
A new adventure
Earlier this year, Christel and husband Trevor started a new adventure, when they relocated from South Africa to Tauranga where Christel began working as a personal assistant and event planner for a local business. She fits her full-time role in between her commitment to martial arts training. “We love New Zealand, what a beautiful country, with great people”. (Have you seen another amazing Tauranga resident from Africa, by the way?)
“I train most mornings before work, using kettlebell weights and practising kickboxing techniques. In the evenings I help my husband teach classes four nights a week. Kickboxing improves co-ordination and fitness, and helps increase self-confidence and self-discipline too. It’s so rewarding to see how students change, physically and emotionally, as they achieve goals set before them in class. Self-discipline is a natural outcome from martial arts training.”
Kickboxing had a positive effect on Christel’s own son. Back in 2001, she took him to his first lesson because at age 10 he was being bullied at school. She hoped learning a martial art would help develop his confidence.
“He was seen as different because he wore thick glasses. He didn’t necessarily enjoy the classes at first because he struggled with his hand/eye co-ordination, but he soon overcame that and his self-confidence definitely improved. At school the bullying just stopped because they didn’t see him as a victim anymore.” Christel’s son has built a career for himself in kickboxing and manages one of the family’s Warrior Sports branches in South Africa.
Learning can start at any age. Warrior Sports – located in Welcome Bay and Bethlehem – caters for children from age seven, to adults and families. For more information about kickboxing classes visit www.facebook.com/WarriorNZ
Words Millie Freeman