Writers note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am a part-time trainer at this gym and have been training these two athletes for the past year.
When you walk into Dragon's Eye Muay Thai, you enter a cluttered office that typically has a few young ones playing with the toys as the smell of sweat and sound of hard work are just past the next door.
When you walk into the "gym," (a better term may be office space) it is cramped. Sitting at about 12 feet by 12 feet, there are three punching bags, two punching dummies, a treadmill and gear scattered throughout. Despite the small space 13-year-old Manuel Robinson and 9-year-old Jase Briseno have been working towards one goal, gold at the international level.
"The work they do is tough," said head trainer and gym owner Guillermo Briseno. "Not many 9-and-13-year-olds can push themselves like these two boys."
From July 11-13, 2014, the two scrappers will be taking the cross-country trek to Orlando for the 2014 IKF (International Kickboxing Federation) Amateur Muay Thai-Kickboxing Championships. The tournament brings together fighters of all ages and weight classes to make their way through a three-day field in hopes of bringing gold home. Not only are there athletes from all over the U.S., but also the world. Some countries that will be represented are Saudi Arabia, Canada and Mexico.
Because the competition will be stout, Robinson and Briseno have been putting in 2-hour days four days a week (year-round), plus morning runs since summer began. The afternoon workouts begin with 30 minutes of conditioning, followed by instruction and ending with sparring.
To an outsider, their regimen may seem cruel. The yelling and no crying rule in the gym might seem like the trainers are asking too much from the young fighters, but like the saying goes, there is a method to the madness.
Robinson (1-1) has gone from a novice in the art of the eight limbs to an assassin. It may take him a few hits to get going, but he has developed blinding hand speed with knockdown power to boot. In his freshman fight, Robinson put on a clinic against an overmatched opponent from Flagstaff. In his sophomore outing he was a bit more tentative and paid the price with his first loss, a decision.
Despite his age, Briseno has been entrenched as one of the better under-10 fighters in the U.S. The pint-sized tactician has been involved in combat sports for nearly four years and his technique and ring IQ show. He has accumulated a record of 4-0-1 (IKF) and won his division in 2013. The power puncher will hope to uses his size advantage to stay undefeated and bring back another belt.
Muay Thai is a calculated sport. It takes patience and an astute mind to navigate a fight. It is called the art of eight limbs because it involves punches, kicks, knees and elbows. Like boxing, fighters must anticipate their opponent's moves to set up combinations and knockout/down blows.
Briseno and Robinson have grown into big fishes in a small pond and now have the opportunity to show their talents on a larger stage. As of right now Robinson is scheduled to fight athletes from Canada and Georgia. Briseno is still waiting for his match ups.
Both athletes have had to work outside of the gym for this experience as well. They have been helping out wherever they can to earn money to pay for the trip. From the plane ticket to the hotel and a little extra cash, they are doing what they can to pay for the trip.
Dragon's Eye Muay Thai has set up a Go Fund Me page at for anyone interested in donating and helping these two make their way to Florida to win a belt: http://www.gofundme.com/ak0l90
"The work they do makes them a better person outside the ring as well in the ring," Briseno said. "The work outs they do help them build self esteem and confidence."
Jase and Manuel are not the only athletes from the Verde Valley searching for gold in Orlando:
Avery Hines - Champs Kickboxing and Boxing, Camp Verde
Ethan Zepeda - Champs Kickboxing and Boxing, Camp Verde
Adam Hines - Champs Kickboxing and Boxing, Camp Verde
Joseph Zepeda - Champs Kickboxing and Boxing, Camp Verde
Sammy Williams - Camp Verde