WHEN Murray McKechnie opened a kickboxing gym in Kalamunda in 1998, he never thought it would have such a positive impact for the community.
But 20 years later, Kalamunda Kick Boxing and Martial Arts (KKB) has helped thousands of people not just become better fighters, but better people too.
The man at the top told Community News his gym is about teaching self confidence and discipline and offering a support network to anyone willing to walk through the doors – no matter their situation.
The centre runs leadership programs for 13-14 year olds. One of McKechnie’s primary aims is to turn these young teenagers into leaders themselves, who can then go on and teach younger children while becoming confident, decisive and mature adults themselves.
Parents of students tell him how well the younger instructors are doing.
“I regularly get parents surprised at how confident, caring and enthusiastic they are,” he said.
He cited the time a school teacher brought her child to a class, and while watching, she picked up some teaching methods from the teenager instructor running the session that she could implement at school.
KKB also supports adults struggling with the burdens of life.
“We have a lot of adults going through separation, alcohol abuse, unemployment,” McKechnie said.
“Surrounding them with positive people is so important.
“Not long ago, one bloke who trains here needed a job, we asked around and got him some work. That’s the type of environment we have here.”
The modest McKechnie was proud that his business had become “bigger than him”.
There are about 500 children and adults training at the centre, supported by a large team of teachers “who all do amazing things.”
One such instructor is multiple world kickboxing champion Bruce ‘Preacher’ Macfie, who joined KKB a couple of years ago.
Macfie coaches the more advanced group at the dojo, the students who have been elevated to ‘fighter’ status – including current Muay Thai champion Kaelee Mallard.
Mallard (19) experienced difficulties at school and personal hardship at a young age, but her development as firstly a person and secondly as a world class fighter has given Macfie great pride.
After claiming a state title in 2017, Mallard fought for – and won – a national title in June this year. She credits KKB with bringing her out of her shell and focusing her obvious athletic abilities.
“When kids don’t have something to do, they will usually end up doing something bad. Our gym gives them something good to do,” Macfie said.
But as both McKechnie and Macfie strongly believe, a person’s past does not have to dictate their future.
“Just because someone has had a tough upbringing, doesn’t mean they have to go bad,” Macfie said. “At the same time, sometimes it’s easier when you’ve gone through tough times to appreciate the good and want more of it.”
‘Preacher’ has been a fighter across Australia since 1995, and he counts the home gym in Kalamunda as something special.
“I love it. It’s family. It’s a family based gym. I’ve never been a part of that in my 23 years of fighting,” he said.
Macfie said he had mentors when he was growing up who saw in him things he couldn’t see in himself and gave him confidence to pursue martial arts at an elite level.
But it takes a village.
“It’s never been one person. For me it’s been fight trainers who’ve taken me under their wing, but kids need someone looking out for them,” he said.
While his own career is “winding down”, he said his life now is more rewarding than ever before.
“The titles, they’re just belts,” he said.
“The fact is I am able to now be someone that kids can respect and look up to. That’s awesome.
“Most people are out for themselves, (but) not here and to tell you the truth, it starts at the top with Murray.
“He prides himself on this being a family gym.
“There are lots of teachers here who the kids can aspire to be.”
Former KKB student turned teacher Aidan Reed exemplifies that opportunity.
Reed began at the gym 15 years ago. He was studying commerce, but enjoyed teaching at the gym so much that he switched his career dream and started a Bachelor of Secondary Education.
“Training has been huge in building confidence and setting me on the path I’m on today,” he said.
“I have developed skills not only in martial arts but also in public speaking. It’s really helped me develop and grow.”