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The Big Interview with Andy Wilby
AFTER 40 years of combat, York martial arts ace Andy Wilby is to keep on fighting as he tells The Press deputy sports editor TONY KELLY.
ADVERSITY – Andy Wilby has encountered it all, and never shied from it.
He has conquered one of childhood’s greatest fears.
He has further transformed his life to evade taking the wrong path, which, he claims, would have led to imprisonment.
He has fought – still is fighting – a debilitating medical condition.
He has consistently entered into combat against some of the hardest warriors on the planet.
Yet as he heads towards his 50th year, he has just marked almost four decades of competing in the martial arts arena with a world championship conquest.
And as his 50th birthday looms, his energy and enthusiasm for his sporting passion remains undimmed.
Representing Great Britain – one of his most treasured and proudest achievements – Wilby travelled with several other of York’s leading mixed martial arts lights and captured the gold medal at the World Kick-Boxing Council championships in the ancient Spanish city of Cadiz.
“It was like the cherry on top of the cake,” said Wilby, who has earned the title of York’s Mr Martial Arts by a country mile.
Since first taking up karate back in his native Pontefract, Wilby has hurled himself – often quite literally – into the gamut of self-defence.
His competitiveness is legendary, but so is his ability to translate the skills he has learned from almost 40 years.
A new breed of York youngsters, who have come under the guidance of Wilby have in the past two years amassed world, European and British titles.
And these are the second generation of Wilby-taught exponents of anything from karate to Thai-boxing and all points in between.
A previous graduation of athletes honed and toned for one-on-one rivalry have since gone on to shine on the world and domestic circuit and have also even opened their own martial arts clubs in Wilby’s adopted home of York.
It has been a quite remarkable life, one that will always remain skin-close to the founder of York Way of Life Muay Thai-boxing Club.
For the kaleidoscope of tattoos adorning Wilby’s fighting-fit frame, body art which makes him instantly recognisable not just to the city’s thriving martial arts fraternity in York, depict his story.
Explained Wilby: “I had my first tattoo done when I was aged just 17, like teenagers do.
“But I did not get my next tattoo done until I was about 30 and since then they have told the story of my life. Anything good, bad, horrendous or fantastic which has gone on in my life has been reproduced in these tattoos.”
It was infiction of another pain which steered Wilby on to the route that has brought him sporting triumph and respect.
He recalled how, as a nine-year-old, back in his hometown of Pontefract he was the subject of bullying from other kids.
“I’m not sure why I was picked on. Maybe because at that young age I was a bit shy. I don’t really know,” he said.
“There was a club near where I lived. It was a karate club, but back in those days there was an age limit. You had to be ten before you could join,” he said.
So for a while the bullying continued, though not for much longer once the youngster turned ten. Quickly picking up his new skills he was able to turn the tables on his tormentors.
“The training just gave me a new belief in myself. It gave me confidence and self-esteem. I began to realise that I was not a pushover. I could handle myself…but for the right reasons.
“When I was able to, I dealt with the bullies…as you do,” he said quite matter-of-factly.
From then on Wilby progressed. He joined a Shotokan club and was soon representing England and crowned a national champion at the age of 18 and 19.
Among some of his more stunning achievements on the mat was a full-contact 30-man kumite in which he took on 30 opponents, one after the other, in bouts lasting one and a half minutes with only a minute’s rest allowed between each contest.
“If you were knocked down for more than five seconds in any one fight, you failed. I passed,” recalled Wilby with that trademark modesty of someone who knows he is good at what he does.
Rather than stay with full-contact karate Wilby turned to kick-boxing. Soon he was celebrating two years of British title success.
He was now in York, working in farming at Sutton-on-Forest and also in Pocklington, while his spare time was spent travelling the length and breadth of the country with like-minded karate and kick-boxing devotees.
There then arrived another turning-point in Wilby’s life. He took up Thai-boxing and he confesses it probably spared him a chastening fate.
Said Wilby: “To be fair, without the Thai-boxing I was headed on the wrong track. I was on a bad road but it kept me out of jail, I am sure of that.
“I am a much better person for getting involved with Thai-boxing and the whole respect and ethos of the sport.”
Almost 20 years ago now, Wilby graduated from teaching Thai-boxing in a few classes to opening his own Way of Life club, combining that with regular pilgrimages to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand and devout haven of the sport.
He studied and fought regularly in two of the most feted training camps in the Thai capital earning respect for his courage and willingness to learn.
And he believes he has brought that back to York, passed such knowledge on to his pupils over the past two decades. Among his first batch of students was none other than Rich Cadden, who was to lift two Thai-boxing world championship belts, and who now runs his own expanding Chok Dee academy.
“It is all about respect and discipline – it has to be about that,” insisted Wilby.
“Whether you are five years old or 55 years old, everybody has got to have that respect for their team-mates, their club, their instructors and their opponents.
“You could not run a club without – it would be chaos.
“Over these years I have built up a good reputation and it’s humbling when you see lads like Gaz Watkinson, who has his own gym, and also Richard Cadden, who I trained, going on to do what they do.
“Now there’s a new generation of youngsters in York wanting to learn and that keeps me going.”
That could well be Wilby’s motto, because he has kept going despite also being diagnosed with full-blown diabetes.
But like the obstacles that have dogged him before, the condition is just another barrier to straddle.
He signalled his intention that next year, even though he will have reached his half-century, he is determined to defend his world title.
“If I am still feeling fit and strong and can put in the training required, then why not?” Why not indeed.