COMBAT SPORTS: Andy Suitela mixes it up with martial arts

NEWTON — The heyday of boxing might have been the late ’80s and early ’90s, but as a form of fitness, its popularity is holding strong.

“You would be surprised how many phone calls I still get for boxing,” said Andy Suitela, owner of Suitela Fight Club. “Even though it’s maybe not as popular to watch anymore… people still want to learn it.”

Mixed martial arts has seemingly taken the spotlight as the leading fight sport, but boxing is still among the most popular forms of combat taught at Suitela’s gym. It’s an excellent workout that strengthens muscles and sharpens minds, testing one’s reflexes, stability and stamina.

“Boxing is like the meat and potatoes,” he said. “You learn how to block, you learn how to evade, you learn how to punch in straight lines, fast, with accuracy, with a great deal of power.”

Suitela, 50, has run his club out of Newton for 20 years, offering courses in boxing, kickboxing, MMA, karate and jiu jitsu. He started in martial arts at age five, training and his dad’s karate school at George Vanier Elementary.

“I remember I wanted to quit when I was 11. He said, ‘That’s fine, but you’re grounded until you’re 18,’” Suitela recalled with a laugh. “That was motivation to continue training.”

Suitela trained under his dad’s watch for 22 years, entering his first tournament at five and retiring from in-ring competition at 27 – arguably before his prime, but as he put it, “Sometimes the preparation for the fight can be more brutal than the fight itself.”

Around that time, Surrey had seen an influx of “McDojos,” martial arts schools that overcharge without properly teaching forms of combat. Wanting to create a legitimate club to share his knowledge, Suitela opened his own fight club in 1995.

“My goal was to create a club that I didn’t train at,” he said. “I wanted to have a ring, the proper equipment, the right coaching, and I wanted to give the instruction that I didn’t receive myself. I received good instruction from my dad and other instructors, but it came sporadically.”

Suitela has seen interest in different martial arts fluctuate over the years. The rise of UFC has led to an increased interest in muay thai and jiu jitsu, but he admits it’s not for everyone.

“People are jumping on the MMA bandwagon, but they don’t know sometimes who they are themselves,” he said. “Sometimes, a person comes in for jiu jitsu, and then they see what the boxers do and think, I might want to do that too.

“There’s a martial art for everybody. Anybody can do it regardless of gender, age, physical fitness.”

Suitela’s classes are filled with the usual 18-to-36 male MMA fans, but also single moms, doctors and corrections officers looking for recreation or to learn self-defence.

“If you’re going to be in law enforcement, at some point, you’re going to be training hand-to-hand combat,” said Suitela. “Many police officers go an entire career without pulling their weapon, but they do get into altercations and they do have to get people down.”

Likewise, Suitela offers courses for kids to learn martial arts – and he assures parents their children won’t become more violent as a result, noting he teaches respect, discipline and conflict resolution.

“Diplomacy first until someone lays hands on you. You can talk your way out of just about any situation without throwing a kick or a punch.”

And don’t think combat sports are only for fighting or self-defence. Suitela said athletes from a wide range of sports – hockey, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, rugby and ringette, to name a few – use fighting as exercise to build core strength, agility and endurance in their respective fields.

“In an hour, if you give 100 per cent, you’re going to burn about 600 to 900 calories,” he said. “We define and tone muscles – we make you faster and stronger.”

Suitela has trained many fighters over the years, but he recognizes that, to most of the people who walk through the front door, his club isn’t just a place to learn how to throw hands. Whether training for bouts or for exercise, it’s an exciting alternative to the weightlifting and cardio routines of other gyms.

“Most people come here for recreational reasons only,” he said. “They’re looking for something that is unique and different.”

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