The excitement is palpable. Late Sunday morning, two little firecrackers, Nihal, seven, and Aki, four, are getting ready.
They pack their kit bags. They check their gear, remember water bottles, choose their favourite snacks and talk about what will happen this afternoon.
Nihal leads the conversation, after all he’s been through everything that Aki is now preparing for, he guides him about what to expect. “I’ll go first,” he says to his younger brother, who listens attentively. “Then I’ll watch you. Let’s try one of the moves you’re going to be doing later.” Jinda hears the hubbub along with husband Gurminder at home in Barnet. She senses the anticipation as the visit to Meiji Kickboxing approaches. Busy being a mum, inwardly beaming along with her children.
“Our weekly trip to the dojo is really special,” she says. “We never could have expected to get so much out of it. The boys feed off the environment, not just the physical side, but the confidence-building, the trust in their instructors and the sheer fun they get out of learning wonderful new skills.”
She explains how she took her first steps into the world of kickboxing. “In 2017 we were new to north London, we’d moved because of work, and wanted activities outside of school, which is in Hampstead. We felt it would be good to mix with new kids and meeting a local crowd made a lot of sense.”
Jinda had tried the usual; gym, spin, running, Pilates, yoga, you name it, but felt something was missing. She works in Gurminder’s dental practice, so time is limited, and post-pregnancy after Aki’s arrival, she was on the lookout for the right kind of activity.
“I’d never been a gym person, it often felt like the ego was more important than anything else and I couldn’t relax. Gurminder and I started to look at kickboxing. As soon as I tried it, I was hooked. It is an amazing workout, giving discipline and focus as a new mum. You have to think about the movement, really concentrate, but it constantly makes you learn a whole new skill, with fitness.”
Jinda fell in love with kickboxing, as did Nihal who joined the junior section. Just four years old, he was a little unsure at the first lesson, but he fitted seamlessly into the Little Champs class. “He is a bubbly character, very enthusiastic and quick on his feet. He revels in the environment and loves to try out new things. His movements are becoming more precise, the classes are a little more intense, and he can’t climb the ladder quickly enough.”
Nihal has thrived, helped by the underlying structure of kickboxing. He takes great pride in his belts. He tucks them away safely at home and never tires of talking to family and friends about them.
Jinda points to a clear path of progression for everyone at Meiji; acquire skills, work hard, enjoy your learning and the rewards come with each new belt in a precise, joined-up curriculum. “At other clubs and sports, and of course we have tried a number, it feels a little haphazard. Everything at Meiji is so well prepared and planned, which is a testament to Sensei Denise and her instructors.”
Younger brother Aki went to watch his brother at just a few months of age. He’s naturally a little quieter, slower to trust perhaps, but was instantly fascinated by what he saw from the side-lines. Jinda says the instructors seem to intuitively know how to bring the best out of their charges. “They’re excellent at making the young kids speak up, using a strong, confident voice, which is invaluable for building social skills. If your child, or indeed an adult, can’t punch or kick, there’s no pressure, instead there’s a supportive way of working through things.”
A constant joy to Jinda is the unassuming way that the instructors go about their business. “They’re incredibly strong and fit, but so down-to-earth. There is a lovely, intimate, relaxed atmosphere, a real human side, which my boys feed off and trust. I can’t heap enough praise on them. And something that has been an added benefit is the respect they have in a female role model, Sensei Denise. They honestly think she is superwoman. She is always at the sessions, and along with Sensei Josh, Sensei James and the other instructors she appreciates the nuances of each child, their body language, how they’re feeling, how to bring the best out of that person.”
Jinda remembers a time when a young, quiet girl needed lots of extra help and coaxing. Denise and her team never gave up, and that girl flourished. “Meiji is a place where the kids are comfortable, safe, finding independence, as well as those physical skills,” says Jinda. “I hope my boys will go all the way, working through their belts. Gurminder and I wanted a sport for them that they would stick with, that would ground them through their teens, and in kickboxing at Meiji we have found a good space, and something that will cross over to other parts of their lives. I have this secret hope that one day the boys will have a part-time job at the dojo as instructors.”
On the way home, talk is of moves tried, the fun, the camaraderie, the feeling of tired but happy bodies. How long is it till next week?