Stuart Grant: From Zen Do Kai to the muay Thai ring

Written by Boon Mark Souphanh

Juggling his commitments as an instructor, muay Thai fighter and owner of Westside Martial Arts, Stuart Grant lives his life as a full-time martial artist. Striving for the best in himself and his legion of loyal students, he now has his sights set on making a splash in the ever-growing and talent-rich professional Australian muay Thai circuit. Blitz recently caught up with the Australian Muay Thai Awards nominee to chat about training, his traditional martial art beginnings, and the importance of teaching the art’s next generation.

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Stuart Grant fires a leg kick 

Stuart, how did you get your start in martial arts?

Being from a small country town, I was looking for something new to do other than the usual football. Back then it was pretty much Chuck Norris-mania, he was all over the TV. So I decided to join Crescendo Walsh Dojo when I was seven years old — there was only one martial arts school where I lived in Stawell.

What martial arts have you trained in over the years?

I’ve trained in eskrima, Zen Do Kai [freestyle karate], Brazilian jiu-jitsu and, of course, muay Thai, which I’d call my main passion nowadays.

Would you say Zen Do Kai is your ‘foundation’? What attracted you to the art?

Zen Do Kai definitely gave me the platform to branch out into the other arts. I guess I was attracted to the art initially because it was my only option in Stawell — there were no other martial arts around. I’m thankful that was the case because I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if I didn’t start at that school.

I think the ‘freestyle’ approach sets it apart from a lot of other martial arts. That’s what I liked most about it. Being a martial art, the term ‘art’ is interpretive, and Zen Do Kai allowed me to interpret things in my own way. Percy Walsh was my instructor back then and we still keep in contact. He actually visits my school whenever he comes down to Melbourne.

I understand you spent some time in the military. Did your martial arts skills help you in any way during your time there?

The martial arts didn’t help me that much on the physical side of things, but it definitely helped a lot mentally. My role was very taxing in that we had to be up early with very little rest. Martial arts really gave me the mental discipline to front up and repeat this day in, day out.

What gave you the impetus to start your own school, Westside Martial Arts?

It’s always been a dream of mine to teach martial arts on my own and give back what was given to me coming up the ranks. After my time in the military, I set my mind on teaching and starting my own school. This all began four years ago, when I started teaching out of a small scout hall in Deer Park (in Western Melbourne). This grew quickly over six months and we then moved into a factory building where we decked out the place with mats and bags — we were there for about three years. The culture of our school was developed at that factory. We have a real family environment, and that grew so rapidly we had to move into what is our current 1500-square-metre facility with five designated training areas.

You’ve been nominated in the ‘Kids/Youth Trainer of the Year’ category at the Australian Muay Thai Awards — how important are the kids’ classes at Westside?

The kids are extremely important to Westside Martial Arts. Coming through a good kids’ program myself, I want to give kids the opportunity to do something that will help them a lot in the long run. It is so beneficial for their development and is really not so much about the physical skills they learn but the life skills and values. We have muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes, where the kids learn different skills. However, when parents ask which art is the better, I always tell them that the kids will get the same values from both despite them learning very different skill sets.

What are your thoughts on kids competing in fights? What age do you think is suitable for kids to start fighting?

As long as the rules are adhered to and the kids are provided with adequate protective equipment, there shouldn’t be a problem. Speaking from a muay Thai point of view, the kids can wear a range of protective equipment to help minimise injuries such as the taekwondo-style body protectors, knee-pads, elbow-pads and shin-guards. With all that padding, there won’t be a great deal of damage done at all. I think this also helps kids improve their skills, as they have to rely on technique rather than strength and power while wearing all that gear. I think kids probably should be about 12 years of age before they start fighting competitively because before then, they have a lot of other things they should be working on. However, sparring without a winner or loser is fine before that age — that’s what we do at my gym.

How much of a focus is there on self-defence in what you teach?

I will always explain to my students the various situations where they do use certain techniques as well as how they can adapt techniques from a competition setting into self-defence. I give them options and stress which ones work better in a self-defence situation. An example I teach to the kids would be using clinch takedowns for defending themselves when a bully tries to grab them. Most of our self-defence techniques focus on takedowns because I feel they’re better deterrents than kneeing or punching someone in the face — especially if they’re a youngster.

You’ve recently begun fighting professionally in muay Thai. How much of your traditional martial arts training do to incorporate into your muay Thai game?

Very little, I would say. There may be little things here and there, but I very much employ techniques I’ve learnt exclusively from muay Thai training in my fights. There might be a few things I’ve developed from my Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling that I incorporate into my clinch game, but it’s very much muay Thai.

Can you break down what you do in the weeks leading up to a fight?

I don’t really have any downtime during the week because I’m either instructing or training. I pretty much live at the gym so I keep fit. I’ll do three strength and conditioning sessions a week, five muay Thai training sessions plus one extra-hard sparring session. The strength and conditioning exercises will involve compound movements with heavy weights, conditioning circuits with kettlebells and ropes, the sledgehammer and tyre, as well as one full session dedicated to leg strength. The muay Thai sessions consist of a lot of bag work, pads and clinching. I tend to do more pad work closer to the fight.

What are the goals for the rest of your career in martial arts?

I guess with my school, there’s no real end goal. It’s about continuous evolution. We’re growing rapidly, so I just want to adapt and cater to all these new people wanting to learn martial arts. We’re continuously upgrading, adding to the timetable, and providing for what the members are after. From the fighting side of things, I had three fights in as many months at the end of 2013 and I want to have as many fights as possible in 2014. I’ll be heading to Thailand to get in some good training as well as fight there. When I get back to Australia, hopefully I can fight once every six weeks or so. I just had a shot at the Victorian WBC title, which was unsuccessful, but I’d really like to get another shot at that again. That being said, I’ll fight anyone. If the promoter asks me to fight on a show, I always think, why not?  

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