Knocked down – but not out

by Seb Old

Anthony’s grown accustomed to pain as a kickboxer, his threshold higher than most. He arrived home after his fight, with the usual sweat and exhaustion, but knew something was wrong. The pain in his left arm was agonizing and he rushed off to hospital. The doctors informed him that he’d torn a tendon in his left tricep and, at 28 years of age, explained that he would never fight again.

This was the beginning of Anthony Law’s darkest period. After being bullied as a kid, the shy eight-year-old he signed up to kickboxing to learn how to stand up for himself, and had been training ever since. The sport became far more than a safeguard. Suddenly, the sport that provided him with his outlet, focus and passion appeared to grind to a halt.

The 42years old Anthony that sits across the table now is calm yet enigmatic, laid back but driven. He’s defied the doctors: he’s back training, sparring and coaching other kickboxers.

Anthony Law (picture: Seb Old)

His attire’s minimal and casual, donning his gym’s T-shirt. His hair’s short and tidy and his beard well groomed, there’s one or two faint wrinkles etched into his forehead, but overall, he has the glow of a healthy, happy man. He politely rejects the offer for a coffee, explaining that he fasts every day until 9pm. His dietary routine initially seems aggressively regimented and excessive.

“When I got injured, I got fat because I couldn’t train. I had no upper strength, which sucked as I’d always been so healthy. I was depressed and didn’t feel like I could do anything about it because I was told I couldn’t train. Now I feel wicked, the fasting’s great!” he explains with a grin.

Anthony works at his gym. The gym is called ‘Leicester Kickboxing’. It’s a name, like his simple choice of attire, without pretention that does what it says on the tin. He’s man who works in such an explosive, high-energy environment. It initially seems curious that he eats so infrequently. When he’s not training, he’s working through drills with his students, lashing out at kick-bags, pummelling punch bags.

“The only thing I allow myself in the day is water. You don’t feel lethargic at all, it’s the complete opposite. Mix the water with equal amounts of sodium and potassium and I get the energy I need. I’m explosive in the evening!” He smiles.

Abstaining from food to improve fitness is becoming an increasingly popularized idea. Whilst the benefits of fasting isn’t conclusive, there are many who swear by the process, and Anthony is one of them. His fasting is more excessive than most, the kickboxing coach has gone five days without any food whatsoever on three separate occasions.

“When I fasted for five days it made me incredibly awake. I didn’t find it helped me regain my explosive power, but I did train really well. My energy levels were brilliant, but I’d struggle to get to sleep.” He beams before elaborating,

“Glycogen is a form of energy stored in the human body and when you fast you deplete it, you’re forcing your body to use the fat stored as energy. Also, this allows for the autophagy effect to take place; the body isn’t just burning fat, it’s eating away at scar tissue. Well, it’s worked for me anyway. I’m always like this is this, I’ll try it. Something’s have worked, some things haven’t,” he concedes.

Listening to him discuss science is fascinating, but can be a little dizzying and overwhelming. The reason he is so tuned-in to biological theory is because it’s helped him understand his own body. This knowledge has made his recovery from injury possible, despite what the doctors forewarned.

It’s not just western science that’s helped him. He used more experimental treatments to aid his rehabilitation. These practices ranged from ancient Asian to Middle Eastern treatments. Hijama, an Arabic treatment, where an incision is made and wet cup is placed over the wound, was Anthony’s favoured method. What this all seems to suggest, is that Anthony is an open-minded man. Just because he values western medicine, doesn’t mean he’ll close a door to more far-reaching treatments. This open-mindedness seems to be a theme throughout his personal and sporting career.

When Anthony was 17 years old he heard that there was a showcase on at a local kickboxing centre and, the budding fighter and student of the game, went down to see what it was all about. He couldn’t believe what he saw; the standards were elevated far beyond anything he’d experienced before. There were two things that stood out to him: the impressive refinement of their craft and the fact that all the fighters were different shapes and sizes, and had their own distinctive fighting styles.

It’s the second point that was more important to him. Anthony’s not the tallest man, so to see such talented kickboxers all built so differently intrigued him, but it was more than that. Whoever was coaching them was training kickboxing in a number of distinctive styles. Fighters with a better reach were using their body one way, smaller fighters were drawing their opponent closer. It wasn’t a case of ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’; whoever was training them was doing a sensational job. Anthony knew he was out of his depth in such a rich pool of talent, he imagined stepping into the ring with any of these powerful, technically gifted fighters would be like sending a lamb to slaughter, and yet he walked over, introduced himself and signed up. The gym was called Leicester Kickboxing where he’d go onto elevate himself as a fighter and become a coach. Just like his approach to medicine getting him back into his combative sport, his open mindedness would change his life for the better.

“All the best things in life that have happened to me have started off with my being terrified! Just before something great happened, I’d pretty much pee my pants!” He waves his hands around and chuckles.

 

The way Jag, his coach, was bringing out the best in each fighter shaped Anthony’s approach.

“You’ve got a fighter. If he was something natural, a natural a talent, enable his strength and improve the rest of his game. low his strengths to flourish and provide him with a well-rounded arsenal. Also everybody’s different mentally. If I say ‘shut up and do it’ that gives certain fighters that incentive they need. Some need more time. It’s about understanding how to get the best out of each person,” he explains.

Jag’s influence on him seems self-evident. Despite this Anthony claims not to have any role models.

“No. I’ve not got role any role models. I’ll ask if I want to learn something, if that something’s going to improve my game. I’m like a magpie, picking out the shiny bits,” he says.

Although Anthony is such an open-minded man, it appears he is also fiercely independent, and this might partly explain why he doesn’t see the need for ‘role models’. Independence seems like a big theme for Anthony. This probably comes down to being an athlete, even if only an ‘amateur’ one. It seems that Anthony’s entire life is geared towards his sport, from his extreme diet to his personal life (it’s upset a few girlfriends over the years), and he’s accustomed to making sacrifices for the sake of his love for kickboxing.

“I’m not gunna’ be imprisoned by responsibility! People go through their entire life, not questioning things. I’m like, no chance,” he says.

This sense of independence has often manifested itself in his self-professed extreme personality, his wild sense of adventure and his taste for thrill seeking. He often goes to South Africa to interact with big-cats. He’s played with lions, tigers, and even fully-grown cheetahs.

“The lion cubs were trying to bite me to begin with. The trick is to rough them up. If you don’t they’ll think you’re weak. Cheetahs are different. The best interaction I had was with a cheetah, I rubbed its flanks, its front, just not’s belly. It’s a trust thing, it’s exposing it’s belly, it’s vulnerable part, with the mutual understanding that you won’t touch it,” he says, getting visibly animated at the thought.

Where his independence nature is most prominent and impressive is when he talks about his father. After Anthony’s injury at 28, he stopped kickboxing, coaching and any real involvement with the sport. He worked as an operations manager at a shopping centre, a job which he explains was well-paid. Whilst he was working there his father fell ill. He’d suffered from cancer, a stroke and cardiac arrest. Anthony’s describes his dad, a mechanic and engineer, as an inherently tough man, a man with old-school grit. The kickboxing coach sees it a generational thing; the older the generation, the tougher they are. So when his father fell ill on three different counts, Anthony almost immediately quit his job to look after his father.

“I wasn’t happy at work knowing my Dad was so unwell. I’d go to work and hate every second of it. I decided I’d go home and look after him. I wasn’t going to let responsibility get in the way.”

His dad made a full recovery last year. Now, Anthony had time to himself again and he had to find work. After the fasting and Hijama, the inflammation on his left elbow had gone down he’d been able to start training again. It had given him his old explosive power and speed. He couldn’t fight and spar for as many rounds as other, but he certainly had his power back in more concentrated spurts. He could fight and he could coach and that was more than his doctor said was ever possible. It was at this time that Jag asked him if he’d like his old job back, and he snatched at it.

Anthony’s diet and training exercises may seem like an excessively governed regime. Perhaps his personal life has been affected by it, but these aren’t just strict rules and regulations of a sporting fanatic. These are steps enforced by Anthony so that he could prove all those doctors wrong, and reconnect with the sport he adores.

 

From gaming pro to video editor

by Zuzanna Inczewska

Esports as an industry is growing and growing, but it wasn’t always a sustainable career path for people with a passion for gaming. Whilst now, the most successful professional video gamers earn millions yearly, it’s still  a small percentage of players who get to that point.

Joe ‘Joekerism’ Kent was one of them. He started his career in 2013, slowly but surely falling in love with the game League of Legends. League of Legends is one of the biggest competitive games to date, with hundreds of millions gamers playing the game every month, and long-standing professional competitive tournaments like LCS.

Joe said: “I played ranked games with a friend, and he was much better than me. I wanted to get as good as him, so whenever I had time I would play solo and want to get as good as possible.”

For UK gamers, one of the biggest gaming events to attend is Insomnia. There are two to three Insomnia events a year, and it’s the place to be as a growing player.

Joe Kent (picture: Scott Choucino)

“While I was playing League of Legends, I was also playing Counter-Strike on a team. We weren’t very good, but we actually went to an [Insomnia] with my friends, and we played in the tournament. We finished like 30th or something, we got absolutely destroyed by everyone, but it was a lot of fun. And that’s when I realised competitive gaming was actually a thing, all these people getting together in an area and you had prize money and all that kinda thing and I was like ‘Wow, this is actually a viable thing for people to do’.”

Events like Insomnia are exactly what makes people who love gaming realise how much of an industry esports actually is. Nowadays it’s a viable career option, whether as a player, a coach, or someone working on the business side of it.

Joe was a part of many UK organisations, which at the time seemed like a revolving door of players switching places with each other, all hoping to be on top. But at the time, there wasn’t much money going around in the UK esports industry. Sponsors weren’t really a thing, and a salary was a myth people hoped to see the evolution of one day. Three years later we see the evolution of that, players having stable incomes and sponsors sticking around with the organisations, all to make sure playing is the only thing they have to worry about.

When Joe realised he would have to spend a lot of time and energy playing League of Legends exclusively for just a chance to make his passion a career, he turned to a different passion he’d been pursuing years before.

“Most of the time I was freelancing or working whilst playing anyway. I’ve been doing editing for a long time now… I’ve been doing that for about eight years now, way before I even played League of Legends.”

Whilst playing League of Legends competitively was something Joe loved to do, he realised he wouldn’t be able to support himself jumping from org to org. It just wasn’t sustainable.

“After sixth form I went to do an apprenticeship in a production company in Northampton, and they produced all kinds of corporate videos like adverts, promotional films, that kinda thing. I’d either edit them or do all the graphics, and from then I just kind of built up my portfolio, and after a year at that company I completed that and went freelance, so I would do freelance graphic design and motion graphics for about two years before I started at ESL.”

ESL is the world’s largest independent esports company, it is known for events such as the UK Premiership, ESL One, Pro League, and IEM. It hosts events and tournaments for a number of competitive levels for gamers who are just starting out, all the way to pro players who earn millions a year. In 2018, ESL hosted ESL One Birmingham, the first Major to be hosted in the UK.

“I wasn’t really proactively trying to better myself [in League of Legends]. Maybe if I spent more time playing and coaching myself I could go professional… but I never got around to doing that because I was working. And I enjoyed my work as well, so I didn’t see myself doing anything different because I was enjoying working so much.’

To the question ‘Do you regret not trying?,’ Joe responded immediately. ‘Oh yeah, for sure. Maybe if I’d spent like, six months just playing and not working, and just seeing what would have happened, then maybe I could have done it.

“I played at a few high-profile events, one of them being Pro-am, where I played in front of thousands of people. That made me think that maybe I could do it, but at the same I was working so I never really got the opportunity. So I kind of do regret not doing it, but I am happy with the path I chose and I’m happy with where I am in my career right now.’

Joe Kent is currently the Video/Graphics Editor at ESL UK, the local division of ESL. He seems content with his choices, but when faced with a choice like that, we can’t help ourselves but wonder what could have been.