Off duty
Off duty

Gary Beckley CMIOSH, director, SHE Management (UK)

I came to kickboxing very late; I’m 51 now and I started around five years ago. I was fairly typical for my age: a bit overweight and I had suffered a few injuries over the years playing rugby. I was a bit bored, really. I did try going to the gym but I didn’t enjoy it. A few doors along from that gym in Maidstone, Kent, is the TKO Kickboxing Academy. I popped in one day on the off-chance, was offered a free session and never looked back.


Kickboxing is a contact sport. It combines boxing and martial arts techniques, and uses your legs and arms and other parts of your body. When I was in the military years ago, I did a bit of boxing, but I hadn’t done anything similar to kickboxing, so when I started it was all relatively new to me.

I go to the club three times a week for about an hour and I thoroughly enjoy it. It has completely changed my health and I’ve lost quite a bit of weight – around two stone. My fitness has improved dramatically and I sleep better. It’s been brilliant. 

After I left the army, I didn’t do very much – I wasn’t especially flexible and I had various old sporting injuries. But the more I learned kickboxing and the more I trained, the more my stamina and flexibility increased. The harder you work, the better you become. As well as the training, we do competitions.

Apart from the fitness side, what I enjoy most are the people I’ve met through the sport. Even though we do spar and fight each other, everyone gets on. Perhaps because it’s a martial art as well, the people are helpful and friendly. No one is there to hurt anyone; it’s all about discipline and friendship.

The age range is broad. There are a few of us older guys. Four of us are either approaching 50 or in our 50s already, and one is close to his 60th birthday. When you see him train he is phenomenal and an inspiration. There is a cadet division for children, where you can start at around five years old. Then at around 16 or 17 you transfer to the senior group. There is a grading system and if you’re fit enough to grade you can do it at any age. Most classes are mixed – men and women – although there are some classes for women only. My daughter started kickboxing around a year after I did and she is doing well. We often train together.

The benefits to how I feel have been the most surprising outcome. When I joined, I could do perhaps only five or six press-ups before I started getting pain in my shoulders. Now I find doing 50 or 60 is fairly straightforward and my aches and pains have gone away. In fact, when I go on holiday, take some rest and don’t train for a couple of weeks, I find they start to come back.

Life doesn’t have zero risks, and I don’t think we should aim for zero risk

I have two more gradings to go before I get to black belt. The grading system is good because there is always a target to reach; you are continually striving to achieve. Last year I was awarded student of the year, probably more through determination than skill but it was nice to get that.

I run my own business, and what is good about kickboxing is that you can’t think about anything else when you’re doing it, so it really gives you a break from work. As a health and safety adviser, people are often surprised that I do something they might see as dangerous. But the risks in kickboxing are well controlled. It is a choice, I suppose. Life doesn’t have zero risks, and I don’t think we should aim for zero risk. Risk management is key. I try always to advocate sensible, proportionate risk management.

Martial arts are good for anyone, particularly children, because of the disciplined approach. It is about control. I would recommend kickboxing to anyone, at any age – anyone can gain something from it.


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