Kyle TORNEY: “SAMBO is not only a sport, it is a life model”

In an interview with the FIAS website, Australian artist and SAMBO coach, Kyle Torney, spoke about the specifics of developing SAMBO in rural areas, working with children from disadvantaged areas and what would boost the promotion of SAMBO in Australia.

Mr. Torney, you are known to the public not only as an artist, but you also own the martial arts club, Torney’s Fighting Fit, which includes SAMBO among its disciplines. Why did you choose SAMBO?

– The reason I was drawn to SAMBO is its effectiveness. In our club we offer boxing and mixed martial arts and once I got into contact with the President of the Australian SAMBO Federation, Savely Timofeev, we introduced our members to the grappling techniques of SAMBO. We have met a positive response from the people in the community. Our SAMBO classes have only been operating for 6 months and between our talented juniors and adults we are nearing 50 students studying the discipline. Despite the fact, that we are quite new to this sport everyone is developing very well.

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You support your club with a part of the money that you get from your work as an artist. How did the idea for Torney’s Fighting Fit initially appeared?

– In the rural community where I grew up there was never anything like martial arts offered for kids. Quite often children in rural areas find themselves with a lot of free time and not much to do. After finishing school, I moved to Melbourne and competed in boxing for several years and tried myself in multiple martial arts disciplines. When I came back to my hometown, I decided to open a martial arts club to offer kids and adults in the area something meaningful to do in their free time.

Despite your professional career as an artist, you have made it your mission to promote SAMBO in the state of Victoria and Australia in general. What did inspire you to do so?

– In my opinion, SAMBO is a sport that helps to promote a sense of community. In the case of juniors, it develops self-confidence, it builds strength and resilience, develops strength of character and a lot of self-belief in children. SAMBO is the kind of sport where the harder you work the better you get. I want to instill in our junior members a strong work ethic; something which I strive to purvey weekly in our training sessions. My aim is to help them improve not only physically, but also mentally.

As part of your SAMBO activity, you train children, including children from low socioeconomic and disadvantaged areas. What is the main focus of your SAMBO classes in terms of social help?

– We try to help the kids in our community. Everyone that enters our gym is made to feel a part of a team and apart of a strong community we have developed. In situations of financial disadvantages, we subsidise training fees and provide uniforms. It is common rurally for children to have limited access to things that they may otherwise have access to in cities. Today we have quite a strong group consisting of over 30 junior students. Taking into account the fact that our club is ‘young in its development’ and is based in a small country town this is a significant result. Furthermore, some members travel 50km from other communities to attend trainings. SAMBO definitely has a positive dynamic in becoming popular among Australian people.

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What children gain from the SAMBO classes?

– The kids who attend SAMBO classes gain valuable skills for life. They learn how working hard towards a goal allows you to obtain what you strive toward. SAMBO provides people with understanding that the harder you work the more you achieve. Apart from that, with the help of SAMBO children develop friendships and get to feel that they are a part of a supportive community where everyone wants to grow together and help one another. They learn a lot of valuable lessons from SAMBO. It is not just about sport but rather an analogy of life in general.

You mentioned that your SAMBO classes have been running for six months. What results have you achieved in this period?

– Recently we had our very first SAMBO tournament at the club. Everybody was really impressed with the high level of skills that junior students attained for such short period of training. The sportsmanship displayed by the kids, whether in victory or defeat, was outstanding and it demonstrated just how hard the kids were working. They not just represented the club really well but SAMBO as a sport. Also, there were not just parents watching the tournament but people from around the community, including the Principals of the local schools. So, we can see that SAMBO is becoming more familiar in our rural area, subsequently gaining more attraction and popularity.

What challenges do you face in your SAMBO related work? Was/is the greatest challenge in you SAMBO related work?

– The greatest difficulty is that in rural areas a lot of people haven’t been exposed to martial arts before. Despite the fact, that SAMBO is still relatively unknown in Australia, is has been really good to see people’s opinions about martial arts and SAMBO change as they have got to learn what it is all about.

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So, SAMBO is a relatively new sport in Australia. What would draw kids to SAMBO and not to other martial arts?

– From my experience kids enjoy the hands-on nature of SAMBO. Unlike other martial arts kids can get practical training with no experience. The effectiveness definitely would draw people to SAMBO. The children can learn hand-to-hand combat or self-defense as well as the sport application in real time. In martial arts it is all about practical skills. People are putting technics in the practice, so they can see firsthand whether it works or it doesn’t. At the same time, thanks to SAMBO kids develop physical strength very quickly through our routine warmups and conditioning drills.

What is SAMBO for you?

– To me SAMBO is an effective, character-building sport, the kind of the martial art that is perfect for the working-class people.

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Today, interest in SAMBO is growing worldwide; and it is no coincidence that last year International Sambo Federation received permanent recognition from the International Olympic Committee. How noticeable is this in Australia and has this recent development affected your club in particular?

– It definitely affected us. In regard to our club, we have more inquiries from surrounding towns about the SAMBO classes we offer since IOC announcement. And moving forward it is only going to positively affect the development of SAMBO in Australia. The IOC decision may also serve as an additional motivation for parents putting their kids into SAMBO now that it is an Olympic sport. It adds a particular level of legitimacy to the sport. As far as Australia goes, in my opinion, it is going to help mainly as a promotional tool since SAMBO is relatively unknown in Australia. It is definitely going to bring more eyes to the sport, if it hasn’t already.

Nevertheless, the number of SAMBO clubs in Australia is lower than the number of other martial arts clubs. Do you think SAMBO will be able to fully compete with them in Australia in the future?

– It absolutely will one day. However, increasing the number of competitions would take time. We just need to take small steps at a time and one day SAMBO will be held in the same regard as the other Olympic sports. SAMBO has already established itself in Australia. I believe it has a very strong future in Australia, especially once people get to know what it is all about.

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In your opinion, what aspects need to be addressed in order for SAMBO to continue to develop in Australia successfully and progress to the next level?

– SAMBO would need more recognition from the state and national sport governing bodies. This would also include financial support and awareness. At this stage, SAMBO is already relatively known within the martial arts community in Australia. However, the advertising needs to extend outside of that community to the general sporting platforms.

You are one of the leaders of the SAMBO representative in the state of Victoria and are actively helping to bring Australia into the Olympic national system. How will becoming an official National Olympic Sport representative affect the development of SAMBO in Victoria and Australia?

– It can only have a positive effect on bringing SAMBO to the public eye. Now that SAMBO is a part of an Olympic curriculum the number of coverages will increase particularly the closer it gets to the Olympics. I believe, it would also attract more attention from martial artist of other disciplines.

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At the moment, most of the people contributing to SAMBO do not profit commercially from their activities and help. From your perspective, what is the main motivation for people who selflessly promote SAMBO internationally?

– In my opinion, the love for the sport is the main motivation in given case. At this point in time in Australia, SAMBO is not a sport that someone promoting or teaching people would largely personally benefit from, particularly in a financial manner. It’s a pure enjoyment of the sport and spreading awareness of it among the people. My personal motivation, and I assume the motivation of other coaches around Australia is the essence of any martial artist which is the enjoyment of continually learning and technically as a martial artist. Additionally, the desire to pass on skills and prepare athletes for the future. SAMBO helps to cultivates and develop the character and to build the strong community moving forward.

So, SAMBO is not just meant to build a character of one individual but also to develop a community spirit?

– Definitely, yes. We already have a strong community spirit at our club. I think that it is relevant for all SAMBO clubs. One could go from one club to another and everyone would welcome them with open arms.

What are your plans for the nearest future for SAMBO development in the state of Victoria?

– The main focus today is preparing our junior athletes for the selection this year’s Nationals in October. At this stage, my goal is to continue to develop SAMBO in my hometown and provide our juniors opportunities to compete and represent their town and State. Hopefully, one day some of them would become champions and maybe some will one day represent our country. Regardless, they will be leaders in their own community who could inspire local kids to join SAMBO classes.

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