Story by Kerry-Louise
Photography by Janson-Piers Imaging
For the past few years Elite fighter and very successful champion Marco Mastrorocco of Italy and Master Cris Janson-Piers the president of WAKO Pro GB and the National coach and Executive Director to Great Britain for WAKO GB have been communicating by email ever since Marco came to the UK. Marco expressed from an early date that he would like to work alongside Cris and develop a close sporting and working relationship, with the possibility of passing on the wealth of the knowledge they both had to each other and to each others students.Marco has developed his own club here in the UK namely Epic Gym West London and indeed has his own fighters almost ready to go out onto the scene and is just putting the finishing touches to them.A few years on, Saturday 18th September 2010 saw these two greats come together in Sheffield at the WAKO Pro GB training headquarters.
Marco had made the long journey to Sheffield from London with his own student Luca Caputo who was to help Marco with his demonstrations. Present on the day were a small, but very experienced class of Cris’ students, ranging from British to World Champions. Cris had selected these people carefully knowing that their experience would allow the group to work well together and at a good advanced pace. This was a key element in making the seminar flow and maximized the absorption rate of technique for all.
With Marco being a multiple Italian Thai and Full Contact champion and an incredible WAKO Rules K1 exponent (Who was coached by Roberto Fragale), it was natural that Master Cris was going to select the newest format of K1 rules as the base of the seminar. Marco has a great reputation not only as being a top class fighter but an extremely good coach, who demands nothing but the best off all he teaches.
Why have WAKO K1 Rules become so popular over the last few years then? Apart from the obvious that they are very very entertaining and the sport requires and elevated amount of fitness and stamina.
Over the last few years we have seen a massive spectator and participant increase in the ever growing UFC and MMA scene. When it first started it appeared to be mainly a ground game with the influences of such as Brazilian Ju Jitsu etc playing a main part in it. Once the fight went to the floor there could be a long wait as the fighters may be left locked on the floor right up until the end of the round. But over time and as things grew and progressed, fighters were made to stand up if the fight became inactive which then threw a greater emphasis on the requirement of a good stand up game also.
Many top gyms took on “ groundwork ” coaches and “ stand up ” coaches and this is exactly what happened at Cris’ own gym. Although he also fought in Kick Jutsu all his life and fought on the combined services judo squad whilst serving in Her Majesties Forces his real love became Full Contact kickboxing before he moved onto the K1 format. He therefore remained with the stand up and passed the groundwork, MMA onto his Chief Instructor at his gym.
So WAKO K1 rules or K1 Rules became attractive and widely followed for two reasons. One was it being a fantastic combat sport in its own right with so much variation and the other as it was seen as the ultimate in stand up requirements for the MMA scene.
The seminar started as per normal with a thorough warm up and then the students were straight into hands on practical application. No focus mitts or Thai pads etc were used during this seminar, everything was demonstrated and practiced practically to each other which gave every technique a great feeling of realism and a better understanding of not only how to do it but it gave a better perspective of body positioning and defensive or countering lines.
Both Marco and Luca were on hand to advise and correct what seemed sometimes to be minor points but again were all very important. Marco’s English was superb and it made it very interesting to see how another country portrayed K1 rules and their slant on the game. The students were all engrossed in the seminar and were taking on all the information they were being given.
What was noticeable was that Marco had obviously developed his power from his Thai fighting style but then used his Full Contact to allow his movements to become more fluent. I personally have trained and become a champion in Points, Light and Full Contact, moved on to Thai boxing of which I have still yet to compete in and I believe that all these have benefited my K1 rules fighting in one way or another. As I am always told…..K1 is a format not a style so adapt it to suit yourself as long as you fight within the rules set out on the day.
Every technique was constantly grilled but in a practical moving fashion and not a stationary robotic way which some people seem to get drawn into. As with every seminar it is not always about coming out of them and expecting things to be very different but it’s the smallest points which can be invaluable. Many times have I come away from a seminar and taken away maybe 3 or 4 pieces of new information. It maybe that some things are just explained differently, or that it shines a new light on how you perceive or understand a technique?
As with all K1 Rules work, the seminars are never long enough even though Marco gave an intense 3 hour account of the system. As an instructor I break my classes down into many different areas from boxing skills, to footwork, ringcraft, clinch work, knee application, checking skills, blocking and evading skills and obviously application and sparring. What I did think is that Marco had planned the seminar out extremely well and had tried to involve an equal amount of each area into the session. This kept it flowing and very exciting for all.
To finish there was a sparring and assessment session where Marco studied the fighters in the ring and watched them closely passing on comments to fighter and coach alike. Again it was very good to have an outsiders opinion on how we were doing as fighters. Just like learning that small, invaluable point on a seminar, having a weak area highlighted by an independent could lead to further improvement or even serve to keep you away from making a fatal error in combat!
After a great seminar Marco and Luca returned to our home for a meal before the long journey home and where we further discussed some personal things and also a little more on how we could all work at moving the sport on further. A great friendship was forged on that day and it looks as though it will continue to be long and successful.
Marco asked for the opportunity to comment, I have left this statement as written in his own words for maximum effect:
On a sunny Saturday morning I embark myself and my new student Luca Caputo (raised by the famous Master Franza, Torino &rdash; Italy), in a trip to North England to teach a seminar on K1 rules and meet one of the most charismatic member of the WAKO family ever met: Mr Cris Janson Piers.
Not only Mr Piers is one of the most renown people in the English Kickboxing environment, he is also (and not for a lucky chance) the President of WAKO PRO GB, Coach and coordinator of all the national combat squads for ring sports.
After he picks us up at the local train station in Retford (Nottinghamshire), we head to his HQ, stopping by his house to collect an apparently harmless couple of guys (Whata surprise when I saw them in the ring…) : Kerry and Leif.
Luca and I enjoy the view as we chat with Mr Piers along the way, in the middle of the country side (very relaxing).
The more I get to know this man, the more I like him: He jokes relaxed and makes us feel comfortable, with an impressive inner positive energy, which is all displayed describing with passion his results as Coach, his guys’ battles in the ring and all the achievements they reached!
And he also gets very serious when we discuss about the International Championships, where &rdash; for reasons we will discuss later &rdash; sometimes it is impossible to gather a full team of English fighters.
We get to the gym, not a big one, but you can “ smell ” the warrior spirit in it, the dedication of this guys who travel miles everyday to come and take advantage of upper class tuitions!
I was expecting few more students for the seminar, but hey… I am not Andy Sower… (A car from London &rdash; Essex &rdash; was halted in the highway for an accident and had to go back) So out of the 12 students who had been carefully selected I am happy to see 8 willing people in front of me.
Mr Piers leaves me control of the room, where I start my warm up… we are ready to go.
I have to say that these guys were very respectful and all ears and eyes: Not a single word during the seminar… just the work!
Again: I can see Mr Cris’ touch of discipline here! Such is the silence that I almost feel embarrassed!
The room is a bit chilly at the beginning… but after a warm up we are all ready to start!
We go through the basics and start to put them in practice in a dynamic environment, focusing a lot on going “ in and out ” the striking distance.
I try to work things in order to give them my vision of the game, taking the opportunity to explain how, in international competitions (we will touch other issues on this point later) we must work in a certain way to avoid being “ over paced ” by East European fighters, who work like machines with short combos at an incredible rate and frequency!
We look at evasion techniques on low kicks, boxing, pure defence and counter attacks, highlighting the importance of keeping control of body balance and how to shift it one way to another thanks to the appropriate footwork.
I am so pleased by the way all these guys follow my instructions and advice that I feel seriously rewarded…
Everyone was displaying a very good level of kickboxing, and although 3 of them - Kerry, Leif and Jordan (I do not remember surnames) &rdash; are mature fighters just back from a training trip abroad (Mr Piers keeps his methodology up to date travelling all over the world with his best students to the best training places). Last time it was at a very select secret venue, but believe me a very impressive one!!!!
They tried and practiced without even showing a blink of “ I already know this… ”
They were instead ready to listen and accept my corrections whenever something was not good enough! I feel even more responsible to deliver a good lesson now.
All these guys apply things in the ring for real, so if by the end of the seminar I can give them even one single new idea/technique to work with and put in practice in a match, my mission is accomplished!
Almost 3 hours go very quickly!
At the end of the seminar Mr Piers asks me to evaluate his fighters during a quick sparring session with my student Luca.
Everyone does his bit of sparring with him…
It is an impressive display of techniques and moves: these guys are seriously prepared… but hey, no surprise given their Master and all the titles they won!
They are all great, but a special mention goes to Jordan! This kid is not even 18 and has got motor skills, accuracy and reactions of a veteran! I wonder where this kid will be when he is 25!!!
Also two beginner students of Mr Piers (Artur and Robert, just 8 months into training) make their good display, showing more than the skills you would expect to be acquired in such a short time!!... Even Mr Piers seems to be pleased by their excellent performance!
To be honest, after all I read about Mr Piers, I didn’t expect any less!
I can only congratulate him for the great job done so far!
After the seminar we go to his home, where Kerry shows us her skills in the kitchen too… a very resourceful woman!
As the lunch gets on its way, we sit relaxed in the living room, where Mr Piers illustrates the kickboxing situation in the country.
WAKO is probably the most important Federation when it comes to ring sports and amateur tournaments!
But also its Pro Titles are very sought after!
I have been part of it for years!
… I can see Mr Piers as a very proud member of the WAKO family!
Although a veil of sadness comes down when we speak about the GB Squad!
He would like to have the tools to create a team of fighters for the International Competitions in WAKO, but the way it is now, his hands are tied!
It is renown how high the level of skills and fighters is in these WAKO games!
I have tried myself in first place! You face the most brilliant fighters around… people they have nothing to envy to pro title holders… and many of them are that too! I remember my Master &rdash; Mr Fragale- telling me that a winner of any WAKO International Tournament is seriously the best… more than many Belt holders!
East Europeans, for instance, are all very experienced fighters, with huge number of matches from Boxing and Kickboxing… they are professionals, even when they are not formally called so! Not a case they rule most of the tournaments!
I remember people of the level of Shakuta or Magomedov, taking part at WAKO European or World Championships!
So to have a chance with such competitors you must gather the best of the best in the country!
This means to call up the best Class A, Now, in country like UK (but Italy too) that means that majority, if not all, of them are already Pro.
They fight for good money and it is unluckily to see them wearing the helmets and shin guards again… for free!
This is the first problem to face!
Second issue is that WAKO doesn’t help economically the National Teams during these games.
In UK, as opposed to Italy, the National Amateur Federation doesn’t rely on big fees to be paid by the clubs to raise the money for international meetings;
To be WAKO member in UK or a coach it is not an expensive fee.
Bottom line is that each member of the national squad must provide for himself tickets and expenses during the stay abroad!
It is normal that pro fighters, used to get paid for stepping in the ring, do not have interest in such mission, where not only you go toe to toe with dangerous opponents, you must also to pay for that!
Although representing your own country should be motivational enough, yet… having to face such big expenses would put off almost everyone!
Many good fighters can’t afford that!
Hence the reason for which GB National Team is lacking of consistency in WAKO international events, but not when it comes all expense pro title event!
I would like to ask him what his solution to the problem would be: if increasing and how the Amateur Federation revenues, or what other plan he would put in place to sort things out… but lunch is ready and we are starving…
I promise myself to ask him this question on our way back to the Station…
As I eat with Luca I reflect on why I often see WAKO events held here (amateurs and pro), but rarely I hear of achievements in WAKO International Championships… what a shame for such a strong Country, with big talents like the ones I saw today!
As we head back to the station, Mr Piers and I talk about private issues such as family, life in the country side and the great day spent together… unfortunately I forget to ask him the question regarding the WAKO issue!
It has been a very positive experience for me and hopefully only the beginning for a fruitful cooperation!
In answer to Marcos question: “ I believe first a foremost that it is essential that the fighters receive at least some funding to aid their travel, time off work and away from family. My own personal fighters have used the WAKO sponsorship letter I personally produce to raise enough money to pay for the whole trip and this has worked every time. However it is hard when we, as a squad find out some countries are not only paid to go to International competition but all their training up to the championships is paid for also.
Countries such as Norway have a very strict trailing process and also a strict way that kickboxers progress within the country with a bronze , silver and gold glove system before they can compete at a higher level and all gradings and progress is governed by one body so standards cannot be lowered or watered down.
Next year and towards the end of this year, I intend to put a whole new system into place, maybe also set on a team manager to work alongside myself and have a fresh look at how to introduce new blood to the squad. I know that if, like the other countries we could convince our best pro fighters to attend the WAKO championships, just like some of the Pro Thai fighters of Thailand and kickboxers from all over the World who have hundreds of fights and who still entered the World Games in Beijing this year and then reaping the benefits by winning the very first Olympic type Martial Arts Games, we could do the same!
The WAKO International competition is not an Amateur competition , it is an open format where the best of the World are invited, it is the rules that state what protection should be worn and unfortunately seasoned pros sometimes also do not like the wearing of headguards, maybe feeling they will then be represented as a pro fighting amateur then returning to Pro kickboxing on their return home, or the fact that they have to fight in a tournament situation, another reason some see as a barrier when considering competing.
Trials are starting very soon for the 2011 games and I personally welcome any top level fighters from the age of 15 years upwards to come and trial for both the cadet and adult teams in Full Contact, Low Kick and WAKO K1 Rules. Just call me on 07973 748907 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
On stating the above it should also be said that the British fighters who have competed within WAKO Pro at European, Intercontinental and World level have done us proud and some have beaten some very good champions to put us in the number one spot in the World rankings and become the proud owners of the coveted and much sort after WAKO Pro title belt. With one more International Pro challenge left this year and some already arranged for next year hopefully GB can prove its worth yet again.
On a last and personal note I also have offered in the past to become part of the World Ringsports committee as I can offer a whole wealth of experience in this area and help towards the fair treatment of all athletes. I have also submitted work and studies on the newly introduced WAKO K1 rules and a fully documented and illustrated work on the rights and wrongs of the judging/refereeing system in the K1 format. ”
Back to the day in hand……….A great partnership has been formed! Marco will also provide Cris and WAKO GB with the added benefit that he is a WAKO International Judge and referee which means whilst living in the UK he can provide an independent International service for Cris when required as Cris regularly promotes WAKO European, Intercontinental or World title fights himself. It will also not be too long before Marco’s own fighters are seen in competition within the UK so watch this space and beware!!
Cris has been invited down to London now as a return visit where he will deliver a seminar to Marco’s students at his top inner city gymnasium facility.
All in all a great day and a great move forward for WAKO and WAKO K1 Rules!
Kerry Louise, Leif Taggart