IN the centre of a boxing ring in an upstairs room of the former school buildings in Burton’s Guild Street, I’m stood head-to-head with my sparring partner.
I block a kick to the chest, quickly followed by two punches and another kick from my far more experienced opponent.
But rather than this being uninhibited violence, all the moves, though forceful, are controlled and the blows softened with pads.
The opening lines of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger began playing in my mind the second chief coach of Burton’s Kickboxing Academy Chris Squirrell invited me to join a training session.
“Of course I’ll come”, I told him. Being a bit of a fitness fanatic I felt quite excited about trying a martial art for the first time.
That being said, the vision of me becoming the next Rocky was short lived – even if the soundtrack played in my head the whole time.
Chris had invited me along because he wanted to dispel what he said were unhelpful stereotypes about the sport. Namely, that kickboxing is violent, uncontrolled and leaves those who take part with brain damage.
With 20 years experience and three International Sport Kickboxing Association titles to his name, which include the world amateur champion, it is fair to say the 45-year-old knows what he is talking about.
“I understand why people might think that, but the truth is very different,” Chris said.
“If people think we are just out to give people brain damage then I’m happy to through the door open to them to come down and see what we’re really about.
“Because for me, it’s important the community knows we are trying to teach a martial art and a lifestyle.”
The sessions take place in the academy’s new purpose-built state-of-the-art facilities which include brand new punch bags, a ring, weights, mats and plenty of floor space.
They are a far cry from the working men’s clubs the academy has operated from for the last eight years.
Joining me are about 30 others for the first of three hour-long classes which the academy runs six days a week.
We warm up with some jogging, stretching and me realising my hamstrings aren’t quite as flexible as I thought – I certainly won’t be performing the splits just yet.
Afterwards, we buddy-up and Chris demonstrates some basic sparring moves, which include my favourite technique, the Superman punch – it sounds better than I could perform it.
The move involved me jumping through the air with my right leg trailing and landing a right-hand blow on my partner’s pad. After a few failed attempts, some of which involved me missing the target, I seemed to get the knack.
By this point the image of me being the next Mr Balboa was still there, just about. But I’ll be the first to admit this was probably based on misplaced and misguided over-confidence rather than actual ability.
But it was all good fun and by the end of the session I had felt like I had certainly learned some basic techniques.
I also learned I perhaps wasn’t quite as fit as I thought, that’s if the wheezing and the beetroot red colour my face turned at some points were anything to go by.
But getting in shape, along with building confidence, is a big reason why people turn to the sport, according to Chris.
“We have parents who put their child in because they might have low self-esteem or their child might have been bullied at school,” he said.
“What I say to the parents is that if they are asking me to show their child how to fight, then that’s not exactly what we do.
“But we can get them down in the gym and through training, discipline and respect they will gain a bit of confidence.
“They will carry themselves a bit differently and I have found from experience that bullies tend not to pick on the confident kids.”
Chris is also keen to stress that the academy as a family-orientated project which benefits the community.
“It was important to me from day one to not have the stereotypical male-dominated kickboxing club.
“I wanted something for the children with a community and family feel.”
The Burton Kickboxing Academy runs classes six days a week in 2 School Yard, Guild Street.
They run from 5.15pm on Monday and Friday, from 6pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and from 11am until 2pm on Saturday.
Anyone who would like to take part can call Chris Squirrell on 07903299012.