Getting his kicks in the ring
Prize fighter Colin O'Shaughnessy is relishing his next bout – making kickboxing an olympic sport, writes Alison O'Riordan
Kickboxing champion Colin O'Shaughnessy has been a life-time admirer of and contender in stand-up combat sports based on kicking or punching techniques.
From Cork, the 41-year-old prize fighter started Taekwon-do in 1988, a Korean martial art which combines combat and self-defence techniques with sport and exercise.
Historically kickboxing can be considered a hybrid martial art formed from the combination of elements of various traditional styles.
"In the 90s all the best fighters from all the martial arts went to kickboxing to see who was best, so that's the path I took. Kickboxing has evolved from the traditional martial arts into a sport, but we still keep a lot of the martial arts principles of respect and discipline," explains the father-of-four sons.
There are three main types of fights/sparring in the sport of kickboxing, with the most popular being points fighting.
Basically once a strike is landed, either on the body or on the head, the point is awarded and the fight is paused.
The fighters return to their starting positions, about three feet apart and then the fight recommences. Points fighting is a very fast and tactical sparring style and is most suitable for beginners.
Then there is light contact where the fight is continuous like boxing, but with kicking above the waist allowed.
Thirdly, full contact. The same concept as light contact except one is allowed to knock people out.
If the number of rounds is reached without a knockout (KO), the winner is the fighter with the higher number of points scored.
Colin competes in light contact and points fighting mainly, which comes with his own warning: "Don't be fooled by the term light contact. International competitions are hard-hitting, the name is just to differentiate the style."
Kickboxing is practised the world over for self-defence reasons, general fitness or even for the benefits of it being a contact sport. And Colin believes that absolutely anyone has the capabilities and credentials to get involved.
"Anybody can kickbox. I have kids, teenagers and adults of all ages and sex in my classes. To be good at anything you need a willingness to work hard and learn. To compete at top level you need to be physically and mentally prepared. An international athlete in any sport these days has to fit in weight training, skill training, conditioning and mental preparation."
Showing his talent for the sparring game, the martial arts extraordinaire soon made the progression from kickboxing in Ireland to competing internationally in 1999 when he crossed paths with the current president of Kickboxing Ireland, Roy Baker, a former World and European champion.
"I met Roy Baker who was a leading light in kickboxing. He travelled around the world fighting, I saw him doing it and started travelling with him and then on my own as well."
As the sport is a purely amateur one to compete in, Colin and his teammates need to participate in a lot of regular fundraising work to be involved in the discipline, such as paying for flights and hotels, fighting fees and fighting uniforms. "We could travel internationally up to 10 times a year," he says.
Having won several Irish, European and World titles to date, the most memorable victory for the kickboxing pro is a silver medal he won in the WAKO World Championships (World Association of Kickboxing Organisations, founded in 1977) in Hungary in 2005.
"Even though I lost the final, I can truly say I did everything I could to win. At that point there was nothing more I could have given. There is a satisfaction from knowing you did your best and now you have to go back home and work on improving for the following year."
Undergoing surgery on his knee last year, people pleaded with him to retire but instead the hard-as-nails fighter chose to throw caution to the wind and compete in the National Championships, going on to win the 18th Senior National Kickboxing title.
"The nationals are held over two days, one in February and one in March and one has to win both days to win the title. I was nervous and rusty this year but I managed to pull it off and the only way for me is now up."
With three sons involved in the sport, who all started training under the direction of their father since the tender age of five, they began by learning the standard kicking techniques such as side kick, hook kick and the roundhouse kick from their dad. They also throw the family reverse punch or RP for short when coaching.
"My eldest boy is Craig (23), then Dalton (17), thirdly Cameron (15) and my youngest, Jake, is only 18 months, so he isn't competing yet, but in last year's World Championships in Italy the eldest three all won gold in their respective divisions which was the proudest achievement of my life even though they did the work, but it was so great to be there and be a part of it."
Ironically, Colin had to make do with silver in Italy despite teaching them firsthand the fighting skills as mere novices.
"It's hard to coach and fight and then fight at the same event, but there is no excuse really, I was beaten on the day so I want to go one better this year."
Coaching kickboxing every night to all levels of men, women and children is something Colin thrives on.
"People choose to do it for so many different reasons, be it fitness, self-defence and even confidence reasons as well as to compete in competition and enhance co-ordination and flexibility.
"Over half my classes are female, it's very popular with girls of all ages. We have always had a strong pedigree of woman fighter with several Irish ladies winning European and World championships.
"Kickboxing is something that everyone can do, I have several autistic kids in my classes – all kids can benefit from fitness and confidence."
By day the fearless fighter runs a strength and conditioning gym in the Marina Commercial Park in the Cork South Docklands where he specialises in rehabilitating people with injuries or post-surgery.
"The gym is split into three parts. We do Olympic weightlifting for all ages and levels and have equal numbers of girls making themselves stronger and fitter. I even have a teenager with Down syndrome learning to lift. Then we do strength and conditioning for all types of athletes from professional rugby players to mothers after childbirth and then I mainly concentrate on rehabilitation work.
"This is both mentally tiring and fulfilling because I help such a wide range of people to either prevent surgery or recover from it.
"For example, currently I am working with a nine-year-old girl who has Ehlers–Danlos syndrome, a 25-year-old spinal injury patient and a 77-year-old golfer with a frozen shoulder. Trying to get them a better quality of life is a key motivator for me."
And on top of all of this, the competitor is a Skechers performance ambassador for the American shoe company and will be running in the FIT series race on Castle Road in Mahon Amenity Walk in Cork at 10am on Sunday, July 13, a new departure for the fitness addict.
"Paul Gallagher – who owns Skechers in Cork – made me an ambassador, which is great because they provide me with runners for training, which is a great help in an amateur sport. I saw Paul limping one day and then rehabbed his calf injury and have helped his son with injuries too."
Having introduced some running into his training regime for conditioning, but mainly in the form of sprints, the kickboxer is currently preparing for the Kickboxing World Cup in June – his main focus at the minute.
"I am a heavyweight fighter, so I am built for speed not distance, so I will use the run as a training run and just complete it."
Currently kickboxing is not an Olympic sport, something kickboxers of Ireland hope to change in the near future with Colin and his supporters working hard to get it there.
"A few months back we were accepted into the 2013 World Combat Games in Russia, which was a huge step towards the Olympics.
"Kickboxing has been in the last two Combat Games and as of this year, it was fully accepted into the World Games by the International Olympic Committee. This is the last stop before full Olympic recognition. It's been a lengthy and arduous process but we are getting close."
- Kickboxing Champion Colin O'Shaughnessy is a Skechers Performance Ambassador and will be running in the FIT Series in Cork wearing Skechers GOrun 3.
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