Few aspiring kung fu masters from the Interior will achieve the lightning-fast moves of movie stars like Bruce Lee and Jet Li, but with the right mentor, they may come close.
Former world kickboxing champion Tom LaRoche, who was born and raised in Princeton, knows this from experience and wants to bring the thrill of martial arts to a new generation in the Nicola Valley.
“If people have achieved something, then they also have an obligation to share that.”
LaRoche, head of Kamloops-based LaRoche Gung-Fu & Kickboxing, has revived his weekly martial arts class in Merritt. He also teaches classes in other small communities around Kamloops, such as Clearwater, Chase, Logan Lake, and Barriere.
LaRoche first won the welterweight world kickboxing championship in 1984. He defended his title through 1987.
In February, LaRoche gave a preview of his instruction, spending a week at Coquihalla Middle School and working with every class.
There, he taught students not only how to defend themselves, but also how to stay out of trouble in the first place.
“We talk about what’s acceptable to defend yourself in the schoolyard,” he says.
LaRoche stresses the importance of listening skills and peaceful conflict resolution as well.
During the self-defence and confidence workshops at the school, LaRoche put the students through a regimen of stretching, pushups, and sit-ups in between practising their kicks and punches.
“It’s very fitness-oriented,” he says.
LaRoche adds that learning self-defence skills and improving one’s self-esteem creates a healthier attitude in general.
“If you respect yourself, you won’t put any junk in your body.”
LaRoche came of age when martial arts movies were just starting to make an impact in North America.
“Bruce Lee was in,” he recalls. “Kung Fu, the show, it was the No. 1 show then.”
After he saw a kung fu master training in Princeton en route to Vancouver as a teenager in 1973, LaRoche decided to learn martial arts himself.
“We kind of got the bug.”
LaRoche recalls that he and his brother drove to Vancouver each weekend and trained, sleeping inside the kung fu school.
However, he says that he began to train seriously beginning in 1976 in Kamloops. LaRoche continued to advance, competing in Hong Kong and China in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He later competed in western Canada, Washington state, and Australia. LaRoche took the world title soon afterwards.
He eventually retired from kickboxing and taught gym at the correctional facility in Logan Lake.
His experiences there and as a missionary prompted him to start his own school in 1997 in hopes of providing youths with a constructive pastime and a good role model.
“There’s a natural tendency for teens to withdraw from their parents,” LaRoche notes.
LaRoche’s Merritt classes will take place at Central Elementary School on Fridays from 4-5 p.m., where he also taught last year.
While the class targets children and teens, adults are welcome to join.