He came into the gym for the first time as a 15-year-old, a young kid who had done some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and was looking for a hobby.
Now he’s the middleweight Canadian Sport Muay Thai champion and the 75-kilogram Canadian Sanda champion.
Not bad for someone who never intended on competing.
Jason (The Jackal) Szakal trains at LaRoche World Gung-Fu and Kickboxing with owner Tom LaRoche. Ever since he walked through the gym doors six years ago, Szakal has been a star pupil for LaRoche, himself a four-time World Kickboxing champion and master in Chinese Gung-Fu.
“(Jason) came in as a young man, wanting to train,” LaRoche said. “He got a taste of sparring and wanted to do more and usually that’s how I find out if someone’s got the goods or not . . . he has always come back.”
Szakal will be heading to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Oct. 26 to compete in the World Wushu Championship, in the 75-kilogram weight class. In July, he went to Calgary, where he won the Sanda national championship, qualifying for the world championships in Malaysia (Sanda is a sport influenced by Chinese boxing and wrestling and appears much like kickboxing or muay thai, but with more use of grappling techniques).
He’ll weigh in on Oct. 29 and fights are scheduled to begin on Nov. 2. LaRoche said there will be about 100 countries participating, with each country being able to register no more than five fighters in their choice of weight class. Szakal could have as many as four fights, depending on his results.
“I’m trying not to get too excited, just stay calm,” Szakal said. “I feel like at this point I’m rolling the dice because some of the people there are professional fighters and I’m not, so I’ll just see how it goes.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Over the last six years, LaRoche’s gym has become a second home for Szakal. There were times when Szakal spent so much time there that LaRoche had to kick him out in order to close. Szakal was just 15 when he visited for the first time and he says that as a young kid who was living in an apartment on his own, it gave him the structure he needed.
“He’s like another father to me, pretty well,” Szakal said of LaRoche. “Just pointed me in the right direction.”
“I’ve talked to Jason about this and he said the training was kind of a lifesaver for him because it gave him a focus to do something with his time, something positive,” LaRoche said. “There’s a lot of draws, a lot of negative things out there, and he had plenty of opportunity to go those routes but he chose to be in here all the time.”
LaRoche and Szakal are hoping the Jackal can become just the second Canadian to win gold at the World Wushu Championships, upsetting fighters from favorites like China, Russia and the Middle East. Szakal’s not nervous yet, but figures he will be once he’s on the plane to Malaysia.
But even if he doesn’t win, fighting has given him plenty to be thankful for.