The Samantha Robb Big Interview
Samantha Robb, World champion fighter has spared a few precious minutes to talk about herself and her training. Samantha gives real insight into the importance of trust when training and has a strong but peaceful presence both in the ring and outside of it. As a competitor her fight-record is unblemished as she remains undefeated yet still managing to hold on to her humble beginnings - Robb is the ultimate ambassador for the sport.
Samantha Robb, talks with Julie Pettigrew in-between a training session for the BIG ProKick Interview:
How did you first get started in kickboxing?
I was running marathons and wanted something to keep me fit over winter so I signed up to a beginner’s class and fell in love with kickboxing. I fell in love with ProKick as well, the atmosphere; the character of this place is unreal.
When did you realise that you wanted to fight? Is it a moment you can pinpoint?
I figured out that I wanted to fight when I watched the ProKick 20th Anniversary Show. At the time my family were a bit like hey we`ll see where this goes `cause I`ve always got this grand new scheme that I`m gonna kick off, but I knew I wanted to fight. I`ve always been a MMA fan and grew up watching Jean-Claude Van Damme and stuff like that. I think when you grow up watching martial arts you can have a notion of yourself doing that too.
How does your family feel about it now?
They`re really supportive, they know when I make up my mind to do something I generally do it. At the start they thought maybe I`d get fed up with it, but now they`re so proud of me. It’s changed me in a way. I`ve found such a passion for it, I think it`s something that I`ve been looking for, for a long time. It ticks so many boxes for me and my family see that. They see the dedication, the excitement, the buzz, and then the achievement.
Have you travelled far with Prokick?
I`ve been to Switzerland twice, Malta, London, Galway. Yeah, I`ve been to loads of different spots in Europe with Prokick. I`ve been really fortunate, good opportunities have kept coming up since I started.
How does `away` compare to a match at `home`?
I feel the pressure more at home. At home, it’s lovely to be able to show your family what you do. When you go away they haven`t shared the experience, and can`t see how you`ve progressed. My first fight at home was December last year, my last fight at home was in September, and the improvement in my fights, in my technique, was really clear to them. I feel the pressure more at home, but in a good way.
Do you get much support from the crowd when fighting away from home?
There`s no expectation from the crowd, they don`t care if you win or lose. I`m a lot more relaxed away from home.
Have you been injured in any of your fights?
Big black eyes and bruises, but that`s just hurts. I`ve never been injured and I know a lot of fighters have. Touch wood - for me it hasn`t been an issue.
Do you think women are naturally less aggressive than men?
Not at all. Even in life in general, given the right situation any woman I know would fight tooth and nail for something she believed in, or for someone that she cares for and loves. It’s not true at all. You know the saying the female of the species is more deadly than the male, I believe that. In fighter terms it takes a particular type of guy to step into the ring, and it takes a particular type of woman too. Aggression hasn’t really got anything to do with it. It’s about drive, and hunger, and being able to push yourself to your absolute limits.
Which opponent stands out most to you?
Lucienne Laferla in Malta. That was my second fight and I just remember her walking towards me and thinking what am I doing here! We both weighed in at 70 kilos but she looked more like 80. Then the ref says `GO` and you just do it. I loved that fight, it was brilliant. I enjoyed Malta, the buzz, the adrenaline of the whole experience, and fighting in a circus tent was really cool.
Another that stands out was a fight I had in London, my only draw. When we went over we didn’t know the girl had a British and European title, and the first time I saw her I thought she`s so young, I can`t hit her. I totally underestimated her. She came out like a firecracker…big time! I went back a second time and beat her, and took the title off the champ. It was a close fight. Looking back I`d give her the first and second round, but after that it was my fight. She came out in the first round to knock me out. I knew that. She couldn’t maintain the momentum, I knew that too. I`d love to fight her again, I feel I would beat her more decisively next time.
How hard is it to ignore social conditioning (in regards to being ladylike) when you step into the ring?
I was very fortunate because I was always taught to stand up for myself, that I had an opinion, and that it mattered. I come from a long line of feisty, determined women who flouted social norms in times when it wasn’t cool. My grandmother was a single mother in the 60`s. It was not socially acceptable then, and she dealt with the impact of that in her life. Then, my mum with it in hers, it made them fighters in their own way. So I`m very fortunate to come from a line of women who believe to thine own self be true. My mum always told us to do what we wanted to do. The sky was always the limit for us growing up, we were always encouraged.
What advice would you give to any girls out there who`re interested in training to fight?
Just go for it. Do it. The important thing is to find the right place, I`ve been very fortunate in finding ProKick and would suggest to any young woman wanting to fight, to go and find the feel of the place. Make sure it’s all legit and that they`re looking after you. If I couldn’t trust the man standing in the corner I couldn’t even get in the ring. You`d be on your own. When I get in the ring I don`t feel that I`m on my own. I have Mr Murray in the corner, and the ref in the ring. Make sure you go to a gym where you`re treated with respect. Make sure you`re training with the right people…just come down to ProKick.
Do guys outside the club humour you until they actually see you in action?
Yeah I think some might. Any guys that know me don`t, they know what I`m capable of as a person. Maybe people who don`t really know me do, but that`s fair enough. I think that’s just down to the sport for women in this country, whether it`s kickboxing, or boxing. It’s just not as big as it is over the rest of the world, and some of our attitudes are still lagging behind in a lot of ways. But that’s changing.
Do you prefer to spar with guys in the club, or is it more realistic/ useful to stick with the girls?
I definitely like to mix it up. In the fighters class we have different fighters for different reasons. Look at Ursula, she`s a world champion and she`s not a world champion by accident. She`s really fast, has fantastic combinations and can really put me under pressure. And Cathy, she`s so explosive, like lightening and really strong. I love sparring with the guys too, technically they`re more experienced, they`re bigger and stronger. For me it’s just about being put under pressure by people who are better than you. We`re really fortunate in Prokick, having a great variety of fighters here.
Describe your favourite aspect of training for a fight?
I love it all; I love everything that we do. I love Boot camp and miss it when it’s not on. I love the discipline that’s required to keep coming back, to push yourself, train night after night; get up every morning to do your run, eating right, watching your weight coming down, and fighting against your lazy bones. When you work with all those components and they come together you feel fight-ready, it’s unbelievable. I love the whole process though it’s an emotional battle. The biggest battle takes place long before you step in the ring. You could have the best training weeks before a fight but if you don`t believe in yourself that affects your state of mind. You have to trust your coach, and I do. 100% Billy Murray trains champions and I feel incredible at the end of my training with him.
What character trait of yours is most useful to you during a fight/ training?
I think being so determined and having a lot of drive to push myself, and never give an inch. As well as loving what I do.
How do you feel leading up to "the next event"?
As you go along your next fight is always your toughest fight, because you`re always moving up a level.
As far as my preparation is concerned I want know is her name, her fight record, and her stance. And that`s all I want to know. What works really well for me is not worrying about who my opponent is, and just concentrating on how hard I want it, how hard I work for it, and how hard I`m gonna fight for it. I`m excited about the challenge that my opponents set and I`m always ready for the next level. I`ve found something that works for me, I`ve got one shot at this and I want to see how far I can go.
Does fighting in the Ulster Hall have extra significance for you because of Mr Murray’s victory there?
I didn`t really know anything about Mr Murray, or kickboxing in Northern Ireland before I came to ProKick. The sad thing is the sport doesn’t get the representation that it deserves. What he was able to achieve, without much support over here is incredible. He travelled all over the world and basically did it himself, that’s an inspiration. He gives us so much time, boot camp then training every night. His passion for the sport is contagious; you just get caught up in it. He loves what he does and that emanates throughout ProKick, you can feel that passion coming from him.
I don`t know if it has extra significance but it`s a fantastic opportunity to bring kickboxing into the light in this day and age. Maybe NI is ready for it now in a way that it wasn`t before. If you look at the fighters in this gym, they`ve fought all over the world. World title holders. There isn’t another gym, or another sport, in this country that can say that. Prokick is a tin hut and doesn`t have high- end equipment. But it has champions. Because it has passion.
How hard does a punch from Mr Murray hurt?
I`ll tell you this, one time we were training for my British title. Now, he didn`t hit me hard but he got me the cleanest money shot on the ribs and I`d never been hit like that before. That was the one punch that taught me the importance of the body shot.
What is the atmosphere in the gym like in the run-up to an event?
It`s great, everyone`s excited for one another. The last one was a big event, the Ulster Hall is historic. If you`d told me on the 30th September 2012 after my first fight, if I`d be fighting in the Ulster Hall for a World title I wouldn`t have believed it, and thought it only in my wildest dreams.
How much of your life is spent focusing on Prokick/ kickboxing?
So much of it (laughs). Since I started my friends joke that I`m never about. Everything else revolves round it. I did a lot of partying in the past, socially this is the right time for me, I don`t feel like I`m sacrificing anything. My friends and family understand why I do it, and they love it too. They love how I’ve changed and get much more excited about things now. My achievements as well, the British title, the European title, and then the World title . You do sacrifice a lot, but when you love what you do it’s not really a sacrifice.
Is there a side to you that Prokickers don`t get to see?
Yes, writing, short stories, poetry. I`ve finished my first play and have sent if off to a theatre company. I had my first attempt at making a short film last year (laughs, and mutters disastrous). I`ve done a bit of acting as well, I’m` pretty creative and I love a bit of drama. Outside of the gym I really want to write. After leaving university as an idealist I wanted to work for charities and the work that I`ve done with people has brought me back to my writing. Other than that I love being outdoors, at the beach, up a mountain, under a tree, especially the water, I love the ocean.
What do you do when you`re not in Prokick training?
I`ve just started back at college doing a HND in Broadcast Journalism. I studied Politics and English Lit at uni but left as I really wanted to do charity work, Simon Community, Women’s Aid, different charities. I`ve worked in Mental Health for a few years but have handed in my notice because trying to study, to run, and to train for upcoming fights is becoming a little bit tight for me. I do a bit of writing as well and hearing different people`s stories has really inspired me.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to see how far I can go. Until Mr Murray tells me I`m done I`ll keep pushing myself.
A few personal questions
Does being a kickboxer give any skills you can use elsewhere?
For me it’s just brilliant to get all that energy out and feel lighter within myself, it`s the best kind of therapy I could ask for. It gives you a sense of confidence that you can handle yourself, I think that’s very important. It also lets you flex some of those other muscles…determination, drive, hunger, focus, control, and respect as well. Training keeps you `in the moment` and, as a sometimes scatty person, it allows me to recreate focus in my own life.
What part of your everyday life is the opposite of fighting in the ring?
I meditate. I go to see a Buddhist in Saintfield, but I wouldn’t see them as opposites, I see them as complimentary. They both allow you to take control of your mind. If you think of a tornado, your thoughts are like the wind racing round; when you meditate you can slip into the centre of your mind, where the stillness lies. Fighting’s like that, for me anyway. When we`re in here it’s all go, go, go, physically, but mentally you`re so still because you`re so focused, particularly when you get in the ring. When you`re coming though all that noise, music, and shouting, your head`s racing, your heart`s pumping, and then you get into that ring. Your opponents there and you start to relax. You`re never more perfectly in the moment than when you`re fighting. Those are the two times when I feel totally grounded, and centred, at peace…even though it sounds crazy. You just have to breathe, and let it happen, it`s poetry in motion.
What’s in your DVD collection/currently in your iPod?
I love old school horror, old Hammer horror, real cheesy stuff. Thrillers. Crime. I love Tarantino, I love Scorsese. Django Unchanied was brilliant. And Korean and Japanese films, the Tartan Asian films.
My IPod is totally mixed. I have Classical, Hip Hop, and Heavy Metal. A bit of everything
What TV shows do you watch on catch-up?
Law & Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Sons of Anarchy…hairy men on motorbikes, it’s good afternoon watching.
Are you reading any books at the moment?
I have started Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan but I’m also reading The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho. I’m terrible, sometimes I can focus and get through one book, other times I have three going.
What could keep you awake at night?
I tend to sleep well these days. In the past I tried to figure everything out and that keeps you awake, it`s exhausting. I think now with kickboxing, meditation, and writing, there aren`t many nights I`m kept awake with my `racing brain syndrome` anymore. Thank goodness I` ve grown up and have coping mechanisms. I need the discipline and the structure. I need to be involved in something that is pretty much all-consuming.
Describe your ultimate achievement in life?
It`s really just to stick to the path that I`ve put myself on. I think if I can continue to do the things I love, and do them every day, that’s pretty much a recipe for happiness. It`s something that kinda dawned on me in the last few years. I think, growing-up you have so many expectations of how you have to behave and what you have to achieve. I`m ambitious, I like to push myself, I like belts, I like recognition, but ultimately it`s just to do what I want cause there`s such a reward from that. Whatever achievements I can rack up from doing the things I love, well, they`re a bonus.
Will you share any great advice you`ve been given?
When I was younger I just did what I wanted and it took me to some very dark places. ProKick has helped me establish and re-establish boundaries, and develop a very grounded assertiveness. This is who I am. This is what I love. I think we`re all built for a purpose and when you find it stick with it - but with discipline, and boundaries.
What message would you like to give to kids today?
Find out what you love doing and just do it…all the time. It can be tough, it can be a challenge, but if you love it keep on doing it.
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