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Things aren’t always what they seem

At first glace, Aaron Wilson looks like the kind of guy that you would not want to meet in a dark alley. Judging by the many tattoos and the menacing muscular physique, most people would want to give him a wide berth.  But the Elmira fitness instructor brings life to the age-old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Aaron Wilson, whose own Muay Thai training led to a change in his life's direction, will be teaching the martial art in Elmira this fall.

Wilson is a gentle giant who keeps his energy strictly for fights that happen within the ring at Pinacle Health and Fitness in Elmira, where he is the instructor for a new self-defense class called Muay Thai.

Like most competitive full-contact fighting sports, Muay Thai has a heavy focus on body conditioning. Muay Thai is specifically designed to promote the level of fitness and toughness required for ring competition and training regimens include any number of activities such as running, shadowboxing, rope jumping, body weight resistance exercises, medicine ball exercises, abdominal exercises, and in some cases weight training.

Almost all techniques in Muay Thai use the entire body movement, rotating the hip with each kick, punch, elbow and block, making it a high-intensity cardio exercise.

“It’s a great workout,” explained Wilson. “It’s great for physical fitness, self defense, to build self-confidence or at the higher levels, to compete in something like UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).”

Although it disappoints him to say it, Wilson, at 31, is perhaps too old to get into fighting at the championship level now. In his teenage years, he had been heavily involved in exercise and body building when a car accident left his arm shattered and he was forced to refrain from exercising at the age of 17. To fill his newly-acquired free time, Wilson turned to drugs and alcohol.

“I got in with the wrong crowd of people and made one bad decision after another. There were some very low points for me, but I didn’t know how to get out of it.”

The destructive lifestyle stayed with him for nine years before he was able to break free of the cycle and achieve sobriety.  He was working out at his local gym and taking swings at the punching bag one afternoon when a friend took note of his good form and suggested trying out the martial art. He began training at Mas Muay Thai in Cambridge and got hooked.

“Muay Thai gave me something else to live for at that time,” he explained. “I couldn’t be a good fighter in the condition I was in, so I needed to quit.”

And it wasn’t an easy path for the now-competitively trained athlete.

“When I first started in the ring I got beaten up for the way I looked,” he explained. “People would hit extra hard because they thought since I was big and I had tattoos that I was going to be a good fighter, but I wasn’t.”

Now he has been sober for four years and has spent much of that time focusing his energy on training and honing his technique. The class he instructs has caught the interest of about a dozen people who come to the gym each week to practice their fighting.

“People think you have to be hard as nails to do something like this, but you don’t.  It’s a fun workout. I can’t stress enough that this is not about going out and beating people up,” he said. “You should never use this outside the ring unless you have to. But it’s a great outlet for people who like the feeling of fighting. It’s much better to get that energy out here rather than on the streets or at home.”

In addition to teaching at Pinacle, Wilson works part-time as a line cook at an Elmira restaurant and part-time as a dietary aid at Leisureworld in Elmira, serving meals to the elderly.

“People are often hesitant when they see me walking around the halls at Leisureworld. I know I look a bit unapproachable, but once they get to know me, we become friends. I think my experiences have allowed me to be more appreciative of what life has to offer. Getting to work with different types of people at the gym and at Leisureworld makes me feel really fortunate. ”

The self-defense classes are open to people of all fitness levels and the level of intensity is a choice made by the participant. Classes are being offered at Pinacle free of charge on Monday and Friday evenings until October, when a registration-based class will begin. If interested in joining the class, simply stop by the front desk and ask for further details or call 519-669-9122.

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