Written by Mike Hammersmith
What does karate have to do with combat sports? If you’ve been a fan of MMA since the dark ages or watched kickboxing on late night ESPN, you might realize the answer is “surprisingly little”. In karate, one learns to use short, violent bursts of counter offense against a variety of real world situations. Yet a combat sport is hardly the real world, and the pieces missing in transition are truly an art in themselves. For American Kempo instructor Thomas Evans, he found himself moving from the dojo into more and more foreign worlds in a journey that would shape his life.
The youngest legitimate American Kempo black belt in the country, Evans has dedicated his life to the martial craft, but found his options becoming more and more limited as time went on.
“I did some point-fighting and kickboxing, but the fights just weren’t there after awhile, as the sport died out in the area. I went from fighting for an audience for money to doing smokers and thought to myself “Why am I even doing this?”
Even the step from being a “karate guy” to the kickboxing world was a significant one; learning to fight with the power hand back, developing footwork, learning weapons like jabs and gloved combinations. When Evan’s final kickboxing match was cancelled due the commission deciding not to approve it, he was left with a choice: Retire from active competition or decide to try MMA.
Too young and dedicated to the craft to be deterred by a new combat environment, Evans put the time into learning the ground game and bringing his heavy weapons to bear in the cage, facing some of the best in the region, but losing on the score cards more often than not.
“I was too defensive in MMA. A lot of times I was protecting myself, but the judge isn’t going to see someone backing up as winning the fight.”
With his MMA career going in a direction he wasn’t happy with, an offer came in from the premier muay thai organization in the country, Lion Fight, and the offer was too tantalizing to simply ignore.
“After my last MMA fight, I was pretty much done with fighting myself, but then this opportunity for a three fight contract with Lion Fight came along. My girlfriend and I talked about it, knowing we had a child on the way at the time, and we decided to go for it and see what happened. I never had a goal in fighting to get to the UFC or win championships, but just to be a better martial artist. I’ve been fighting since 2008, and have achieved that goal in my mind, so all that’s left is to see how I do in Lion Fight and go from there.”
The transformation from karate to kickboxing to MMA to full-rules muay thai leaves more development to be done by Evans, who brought in a superstar team of local trainers for the task: Kru William Soukhamthath for his muay lao instruction, Mike “Loco Lobo” Gresh as a traditional muay thai strategist, and “Diamond” Dave as a boxing coach. The rule set is one of the most brutal and has left Evans and team patching the holes in his game as they appear. What is the most difficult transitions from karate to muay thai though?
“Definitely checking leg kicks. In karate, it’s just not something we ever deal with, and we tend to have a lot of weight on our front foot, which makes checking a kick impossible. I had to learn to put more on the back leg and adapt in that way, and it was the most challenging aspect of switching from karate to muay thai and kickboxing.”
Despite the results of his foray into the sport, Evans will remain busy with his own karate school, USA Karate, as well as officiating MMA and working on Region Fight Sports.
“I started RFS to give back to the martial arts community. I train all over the place, and one of the things I always hear is “I want to go back to school, but I just don’t have the money.”
Now with RFS given a platform on the world stage at Lion Fight, Thomas Evans hopes the personal growth he’s made as a martial artist, can aid in the financial growth for RFS and those who they seek to help in their careers and education.
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Watch Thomas Evans in action at Lion Fight 20, Friday, February 20th at Foxwoods, or catch the live broadcast on AXS tv starting at 10pm EST. Visit www.lionfight.com for additional event information, or book tickets at www.foxwoods.com.