For Sensei Manuel Juárez kickboxing is a lifetime investment.
Originally from Cádiz, Spain, Juárez now trains and instructs in Lacombe. He said he has stayed involved with kickboxing for two decades because the sport offered him health, both physical and mental, through fun, fitness and stress relief.
“Kickboxing was the sport that had everything for me,” said Juárez. He added that kickboxing has given him a way to connect with people and make friends wherever he has lived. Juárez even met his wife in kickboxing class.
Cádiz is built on a peninsula and is almost entirely surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
As such, Juárez spent a lot of time at the beach growing up and in his teens, looking good at the beach was very important.
As a way to stay fit and look good on the beach, Juárez decided to give kickboxing a try after meeting some high school friends who were involved in the sport. Juárez added that he already had an interest in martial arts but never had the opportunity to try any.
He said he had previous experience playing team sports like handball and soccer, but was never very athletic as a child.
“All my friends were much better than me at sports.”
However, that changed with kickboxing.
Juárez said it took him awhile to improve, but improve he did.
“Kickboxing took a lot of effort,” he said. “We had class two times a week and I would go three times a week to work out by myself. I didn’t have flexibility, I didn’t have coordination, it took me a while to get better.”
Juárez went on to say that by the time he had earned his black belt and was skilled enough to be competitive at tournaments, kickboxing had become a part of his life.
He added that he continued training because he had invested so much time developing his rank and skill that he did not want to lose them.
“At the same time, I realized that it was a sport I could do pretty much for the rest of my life,” said Juárez. “Because you can adapt it. When you get older, maybe you have some injuries in your knees, you can box more. If I have an injury to my elbow, I can kick more. I have met people that were 60, 65 and were doing kickboxing. It’s a very flexible sport.
“It’s also very complete because you use everything. You have to have cardio, you have to have strength, coordination, flexibility and you have to use your brain. It’s not just about the strongest or the fittest.”
A third-degree black belt in kickboxing, Juárez has coached kick boxers at the national level. He said that his desire to coach at higher levels is actually what inspired him to earn his belts.
As a first-degree black belt, Juarez was able to coach at a regional level, as a second-degree he was able to coach at what would equate to a provincial level.
He added that he was not able to take the courses necessary for coaching at higher levels until he had the prerequisite belt.
Lately, he has slowed his advancement through the ranks. He said his last belt test was in 2003 and had he continued testing he would likely be ranked higher by now.
While his martial arts background is mostly in kickboxing, Juárez has dabbled in other martial arts as well.
He has studied Taekwondo, karate, Muay Thai, English boxing and kung fu in several different locales to supplement his kickboxing.
Juárez added that he has been involved in martial arts consistently since first getting involved with them 20 years ago. When he has not been able to train in kickboxing in the area he is living, he has gotten involved with other martial arts that are available.