From studying Classics at uni to Master martial artist: The Preston PhD behind Kick-Kwondo
Founded in 2019 by a Preston-born Classics student with a master's degree in ancient Greek history, Kick-Kwondo Martial Arts is far from your average martial arts club.
Based predominantly on Taekwondo, Kick-Kwondo is Sam Millne-Ellison's modern take on the martial art, incorporating elements from other martial arts practices, such as kickboxing, as well as general fitness and strength training exercises to create a more well-rounded and physically holistic workout.
"My dad was an instructor so, pretty much as soon as I could walk, I was learning how to kick," says Sam, 25, who has practiced martial arts since the age of three and got his black belt in Taekwondo at 14. "When I went to uni, I fancied something different so started doing kickboxing as well as the skills were quite transferable and I really enjoyed it."
A Master 4th Dan in Taekwondo, a 1st Dan in kickboxing (in which he is also a black belt), and a silver medallist at the 2018 National Student Kickboxing Championships, Sam got a part-time job at a kickboxing gym during his master's and fell in love with teaching.
"I was originally considering doing a PhD after my master's, but I'd surprised myself by how much I really loved teaching," says Sam, who went to the University of Leeds. "Seeing the changes you can make in people's life and the discipline you can bring to a kid who needs that focus is amazing so, after I left uni, I started Kick-Kwondo and haven't looked back since.
"Starting the business was a combo of excitement and nerves: it was great to actually be the owner of my own club but, all of a sudden, I'm the Master and everyone's looking to me," he adds. "But I've absolutely loved the process and there are no regrets. It's been really hard work at times, but it's been great.
"We follow the belt system and I include my own aspects within the syllabus as well so that people get a lot more out of the training and come out as more well-rounded students. Watching kids develop from starting out when they're struggling to absolutely nailing a kick a month down the line is one of the most satisfying things as a teacher because they've kept at it."
In non-Covid times, Sam runs Kick-Kwondo classes at New Longton Village Hall and holds sessions at local primary schools and at Lancaster University. During the pandemic, he has moved his regular classes online and - when restrictions were eased last summer - was even able to hold some in-person classes in schools.
"It's been hard work during Covid, but it's just been about rolling with the punches and adjusting. People have needed it to keep going, so I've been happy to keep it up and I've really enjoyed it," he says. "Giving kids a focal point has been massive; through the belt system, they always have a target and something to work towards, which the kids absolutely love."
Sam has also been moved by the recent Sarah Everard case to do anything in his power to help and so is offering free self-defence classes for women should they wish to take part.
"The 'not all men' reaction to Sarah Everard's story has detracted from the real problem - this is an issue the community as a collective should try to address and men should be showing support to women on this issue," he says. "I'd like to help in any small way I can and, while these classes should not be necessary, knowing how to defend oneself - as a man or woman - is an important skill.
"Hopefully it never has to be used, but it can build self-confidence and self-defence in general is brilliant for everyone," he adds. "I know it's not the best solution to the problem - the problem shouldn't be there in the first place - but if we can do anything to make women feel more confident, we'll do it."