One of the most prolific martial arts to burst forth upon the British Martial Arts scene & also something of a newcomer on the block, was when Muay-Thai the devastating art of Thai-Boxing arrived on our shores in the late seventies. Already Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Karate, Kung Fu & Taekwondo were already flourishing & few took little notice of this lethal fighting discipline from Siam. That was until Master Sken, Master Woody, & Master Toddy displayed with some awesome skills their truly incredible array of fighting techniques. But even then it was only a stalwart band of potential students that came forward to avail themselves of training in this 3000 year old battlefield art.
Today, thousands upon thousands of Muay Thai practitioners from every Country of the World are training in Thai-Boxing, students from 5 to 60 learn & assimilate the art & science of eight limbs. 30 plus years ago, to quote Shakespeare, "It was just a happy few" & from these seeds the Thai Masters began a nucleus that has blossomed a thousand fold. Most of these early students have gone on themselves to greatness & created clubs & schools of their own. One of the top first few students from those early days, who's unswerving loyalty & duty to his Master, (Master Sken) is Sandy Holt, Bolton Thai Boxing Club / Sandy's Gym, Founder, Owner & Chief Instructor. Sandy along with William Hilditch & Luke Durham were probably the very first students Master Sken ever took under his wing.
Today Sandy Holt is interviewd by magazines & sought by the media when questions about Thai-Boxing arises. His teaching articles in magazines are numerous, but at this particular juncture we are going to go back to find out what put Sandy Holt at the top. What was on his mind & the changes he has seen when he stepped in to learn this dynamic art about 30 years ago!
Sandy Holt is a fifth degree Red & Silver Kruang Lruang (Thai-Armband / Grade) which is equivalent of fifth dan Black Belt in Karate & is the highest grade a ThaiBoxer can achieve before becoming a Gold which is the mark of the Master. He is one of about four Red & Silver in the whole of the United Kingdom. As already pointed out he runs the famous BOLTON THAI-BOXING CLUB / SANDY'S GYM. He holds 3 Titles, 2 British & 1 European, Sandy Holt was there right at the beginning in those early days where you trained like a lunatic for a few weeks before a Fight, then turned up on the night to see if they could match you up with a fighter that was around or near your own weight.
Sandy Holt comments about his first days in Martial Arts, "I was one of the Bruce Lee generation boom, seeing Bruce Lee doing his stuff on the Big screen set my imagination running riot. For many years I had been bullied at school, not an occasional thing but on a regular basis spanning four year or more. I was one of the youngest at school & had red hair & freckles to boot, for some reason, they always wanted to use me as a punchbag, seing Bruce Lee led me to believe martial arts could be my way out from the hell at school. I started in karate in 1974 under Jeff Whitehead from Little Lever, which is a town outside Bolton, it was a mix of Shotokan & something else. I stuck at it for over 3 years, in that time I became proficient in Karate & I might add surprisingly the bullies didn't seem to want to target me so often".
"In about November 1977, I read an advert in the paper which stated "Learn the Awesome Kicks of Muay-Thai & that a class in the art was opening in Bolton, so I went along to have a look. That was a visit that changed my life, I sat there almost numb with disbelief as I saw Master Sken going through his repertoire of techniques. You have to bare in mind as well that i have seen alot of martial arts that were around during my 3 & half years in Karate, but I had never seen anything like this before, a man soaring up into the air & hitting suspended kickbags with elbows, knees & feet with the same amount of power a boxer hits a punchbag. That moment was to influence my life Forever".
"With Demo over I joined on the spot, a week later I was dressed in my Karate suit with my brown belt on not knowing what to expect. The class began, of which I spent most of it on my backside having had my legs taken away from me on numerous occasions, through being stood in Karate stance. I quickly learned that Muay-Thai natural stance prevented this from happening. The lessons & to my awakening, had begun!
"For a time & also through loyalty I continued to train in Karate, but eventually about 3 or 4 months down the line, in fact when i was ready to take my Karate Black Belt I declined & began to train in Muay Thai almost everyday of the week. I am an extremist by nature so therefore this new training virtually occupied my every working moment, each lesson was an insight into concepts of fighting, that until then I had only imagined. In my class there were only a few students, who were William Hilditch whom I believe was Master Skens first Student, Luke Durham who is now a Doctor, Tony Moore, Alan Bentley, Mark Hoyt, Keith Granger, Humphrey & Oliver Harrison, Junior Salmon & of course Adrian Thompson also known as Carl The Cool Cat Thompson who was the World Professional (WBO) Cruiserweight Boxing Champion. All these early fighters became known in magazines, incidentally through "Fighters" Magazine as Master Skens Men. It was all over the place, leaving opponents on the canvas & making names for themselves in the process".
"About 3 years after beginning Muay Thai I had my first Thai-Boxing Fight, it took so long because as Muay Thai was in its infancy in those days it was nearly impossible to get a real fight so we had to suffice with kickboxing fights, but Master Woddy & Toddy pooled their resources with master Sken & held a real Muay Thai Fight Night in Leeds. Fighters from the different Masters Camps were on the Bill, plus a team from Holland had come over, I think it was 7 of Master Skens fighters, we won 6 & drew 1, I was second on the card, I got into the ring, immediately on the bell the guy came at me, he caught me with a front kick so hard it cut into my stomach and actually drew blood. This gave me more of a rude awakening rather than feeling hurt. I returned the compliment & just blitzed the guy with everything i had got, basically it was all that i had learned in the gym, it obviously worked because within the first minute of the first round he was down & out & I took the fight.
"My baptisim of fire was over & i was successful, I then went on to (some months later) fight for my first British Title held under the old British Thai-Boxing Council (BTBC) which at the time was the governing body fot Thai Boxing in Great Britain, My opponent was Kevin Llord whom i fought & beat to take the British Lightweight Title in a 5 round contest, I took it to 3 rounds, then at at the start of the fourth he wouldn't come out of his corner, so I took the Title with a TKO (Technical Knockout), My Second British Titlewas at the same weight in an all styles contest. This was when they allowed any style of Martial Art that practised full contact, to enter the fight under Thai Boxing rules but with added point of allowing throws. I won that one as well, with 2 Titles under my belt, I felt it was a far cry from those days at School when bullies wanted to show me how hard they were everyday. I have never been bullied since & I would never let it happen to anyone I know. Thats why today i involve myself with the schools & the anti-bullying campaigns they have instigated, through the martial art training I have done I have proved a smaller man can defeat a much larger man".
Sandy Holt is involved in a campaign called "Bully Busters" which involves going into schools & teaching & helping kids to stand up to bullies, it is part psychological & part physical training programme, because as a kis Sandy Holt was one of these playground victims, he better than most, is qualified to know what it is all about & also know where those who are being bullied or the ones who are bullies come from. The success of this concept is now being studied to see if it can be adopted nationwide. If Sandy Holt does nothing else for the rest of his life he can sit on his laurels proudly knowing that he instigated this programme that will for many, mean that they can now walk out of the Valley of the Shadows & into the Sunlight for the rest of their lives. If that sounds a touch melodramatic just ask a victim of bullying if that phrase sounds over the top, or maybe ask a parent of a child that has committed suicide because they were being bullied.
Just staying with bullying for a moment Sandy felt like he could have gone down the suicide route, but luckily he turned a negative in to a positive & channelled all his frustrations of being beaten up at School by fighting back through doing martial arts, that was his drive. Even today he's 100% fit through his daily manic training regime. Revenge is a very pertinent point on one's mind when you are being bullied.
Sandy comments " My European title bid in 1987, a decade after i had first entered into the Thai-Boxing ring, was kind of a 10 year crossroad. The fight was arranged by Phil Mayo & his brother, the weight was a lighter weight than the one i always fought at, so it was quite a dramatic effort to lose the pounds to make the weight".
"I was to fight the Dutch Champion (Tekin Donmez) who had reigned for 3 years as Dutch & European undefeated Champion. I had seen the guy fight before, he was a Dutch Turk, a very hard man. He had also fought in Thailand fighting 4 fights, winning 2 & losing 2. I hadn't even been in the ring with a Thai so far, so I knew my fight was to be the toughest to date, but Master Sken rigorousley pushed me through a strong, hard & intensive programme to get me ready. Master Sken told me that I could win the fight & I believed in him 100% & trusted him. So it was with this psychologically & intense training under my belt that i stepped into the ring".
"After that fight I retired from the ring with 2 British Titles & a European Title behind me, I felt I had done enough. A decade in the ring is more than most achieve, so in 1987 exactly 10 years to the month (November 1977) I hung up my gloves as they say. Earlier that year in (1987) before my Victory over Tekin Donmez, I fought & won a rematch that had been niggling me for some time, so all round my retirement year, though I prefer the term "Stopped Fighting" to retirement, was a fortuitous twelve months. The niggle incidentally, was a fight with Liverpool's Jeff Bullock.
"Four years earlier I had lost to Jeff Bullock in a Fight in his home town (Liverpool) on a split decision. This was one of the only 2 fights I had ever lost in my ring career. Jeff was the much more experienced fighter & I realised that I had given him too much respect at the time & as a fighter, It was only towards the final rounds of that fight I actually got it together. I caught up well & was behind by only a point, but it diddn't quite make the tape & I lost. I tried for years to get a re-match which didn't happen until March 1987. This fight I won & convincingly, but it was very scrappy fight that I still feel bad about. I must say Jeff & I have a great respect for each other outside the ring, infact he was on a very big cable TV martial arts gala commentating whilst I was doing a demonstration, he commented on air that he had always been impressed with my level of fitness & stamina, so Jeff if you're surfing the net, respect buddy".
"So you can see 1987 was quite a year for me. Also my European Title was recognised by the World Muay Thai Council, which for me was the ultimate acolade, because in those days Titles were handed out all over the place, by so called organisations. So to Truly earn your honours as a fighter & be recognised as such was really special. After that momentous fight I took a year out of fighting to allow my arm to heal, it didn't stop me training, infact I trained harder with my left hand to such an extent, even though I am right handed, that today I can punch stronger with my left than I can with my right. My concept is & has been for life,is that you train around your injuries & not on them".
"I am a great believer in Harmony within the body, total balance if you like the yin & yang concept. We are born with 2 arms & 2 legs (The Fortunate People). What is the difference between your left & your right? Nothing! so why is it that we are dominated by one side of our bodies throughout our life? I have always said, no matter what the pschologists say, everyone should train to use both sides of the body equally, because one day when you have an injury like i did, or become incapacitated, you will have to use the other side of the body. The left & right are there for a reason, you were born with them, so it should be natural to use both equally".
"If you try a simple test such as writing with your left hand (if you're right handed), or open a car door with your left hand, you will soon see how weak we are as human beings, how the co-ordination from our right side to the left of our bodies are out of sync, simply because we are not utilising what we have been given. In the concept of martial arts say for instance we are taught to kick off one leg, then that supporting leg should be strong as the one kicking, if it's not, then we fall over, we lose balance. I believe that balance & co-ordination is a very big aspect within martial arts training".
"Now I had stopped fighting I concentrated more upon teaching instructors the art of Muay-Thai, so much so that I have taught instructors from all four corners of the U.K. my own club (The now Famous Bolton Thai-Boxing Club) began to expand quite rapidly. It has always amazed me how far some of them travelled. Looking back over the years, there are too many to mention, but i will single out one as an example, in respect for the many that did. His name is John Craig from Glasgow, he travelled a 500 mile round trip every week for five years! He trained throughout the weekend at my gym, paying out in travel & expences around 2 thirds of his wages for the privilage. He never missed a weekend in all the time, he passed all his grade examinations & is an outstanding Instructor. Today he has one of the biggest Thai-Boxing organisations in Scotland. That is what I call total dedication".
"The transition from fighter to teacher / trainer was not has hard as I thought it would be. I get a great kick, if you will pardon the pun at seeing my fighters win. But there was still a great gap that needed filling. The excitement & adrenaline flows from ring fighting were still there, so even as an instructor I had to decide which direction to turn. So I turned towards gaining more knowledge of Muay Thai & perhaps even going more manic in my own training. I began training even more with Master Sken, the decision was the right one, because he satisfied my thirst by teaching me Krabbi Krabbong (The Weapons System of Muay Thai). He also taught me Ling-Lum which are the traditional techniques of Muay Thai, where there are no holds barred. It is how the ancient siamese used to fight using Muay thai as a battlefield skill in days gone by, long before it became a sport with rules etc. Ling-Lum covers all the grappling aspects & ground work, locks, holds, sweeps, etc. of the art. For want of a better name you could describe it as Ground Thai, because this is such an advanced stage of Muay Thai, very few people even bother to learn it".
"Today when I reminis about my early training days & the fights I had, I never once took an eight count, nor was I ever knocked out. This I firmly believe was soley due to the training Master Sken gave me & the other Instructors. His training methods were such that they gave me the will to win, & the driving force to go into the ring with the fundimental beliefs of never showing pain in a fight & to never give up. If you ask any of those instructors who used to train with Master Sken at the Famous Deansgate Gym U.K. run by Danny Connor (Tha Martial Arts Centre Circa 1976 - 1982) they will tell you about Master Skens amazing will to instil the psychology of the winner into the psyche whilst training you in the techniques of Muay Thai".
"It was at the old martial arts centre that I first met William Hillditch, the Harrisons, Humphrey & Oliver, Adrian Thompson who boxed under the name of Carl Thompson & won the WBO Worl Cruiserweight Boxing Title, Phil Nurse, Paul Thompson, Junior Salmon, Luke Durham (Now a Doctor), Tony Moore & many more, all original students who trained with Master Sken. I learned alot from them all & I hasten to add all proved themselves in the ring countless times".
"The people I have trained to Instructor level & beyond over the years at Bolton Thai-Boxing Club have also become friends, people such as Howard Hughes & Karen Ouzey From Torquay in Devon. Tony Powe who used to travel all the way from Cumbria, Pat Davies from Aberdeen Scotland, Craig Sewell & Robbie from Co. Durham, Ian Davies from Falmouth in Cornwall & Keith Granger from Stoke. These people have travelled thousands of miles to train at my gym & support us"
"it is perhaps in magazine articles such as 'Fighters' you reflect upon many aspects of your career & the various people you meet along the way. No one does it alone, I believe that everyone touches someone's life along their own journey. So at risk of sounding a little like a rhyming off a whos who in martial arts, I would just like to thank a few people I have met & been influenced by along my own journey. I apologise now if I forget anyone. Master Sken who has been the biggest single influence in my life & career, Master Woody, Toddy & Krin, Benny the Jet, Sammart & Chart Pyacharam, the famous Thai Champion brothers from Bangkok who ruled the rings in the eighties & held seven Titles between them. I had the good fortune to train with them at Master Yodthongs Camp in Pattaya, Thailand, which was an incredible experience for me. Alsothe likes of Chuck Norris, Jean Frennette, Cobra from the Gladiators, John Dawson, Lance Lewis, Bob Sykes, Rick Young, Dan Inosanto, Kirkwood & Winston Walker, Kash Gill, Paul Clifton, Pat O'Malley, John Harvey, Dave Hodgson, Robert Clark, Alfi Lewis, Kevin Brewerton, Pele Nathan, Richard Smith, Dave Jackson, Ronnie Green, Ronnie Thompson, & Joe Tierney to name a few. It is people like these that have made martial arts what they are today & influenced me. On a final note I would like to thank Jussy Senturk, who incidentally holds 4 concecutive titles, Darren Phillips & Craig Fitzsimmons who aided me with the pictures on this page. Thankyou".
Sandy Holt was also presented with his Red & Silver Mongkon (Cerimonial Headband) off Master Sken, when he had reached 20 years service to Muay Thai, this is an award from Master to Student in recognition of loyalty. Probably the highest award & acolade a student can receive from his Master. This award incidentally is the first Master Sken has ever given.