Melbourne fighter Luke Croxford returned to NAS in 2009, after winning the Champion of Champions belt in 2006, to prove to himself he truly was champion-worthy. Here, the 31-year-old tells us what it took to climb back to the top.
When, why and how did you start your training in martial arts?
I was seven years old when my parents took me to my first aikido class; it was in Thornbury and I trained under Sensei Joe Thambu. My sister's best friend, Alia Nichols (Sensei Joe's niece), was training there and invited us to train with her. Since then I have loved everything about martial arts and what it has to offer — especially karate.
You've practised several different styles. Could you tell us more about that?
That's correct; over the past 24 years I have trained in aikido, karate, hapkido and taekwondo. In this time I have had the honour of training with some of the best instructors in the industry, such as Sensei Joe Thambu, Sensei Jason Knight, Sifu Dana Wong, Sensei Nick Spanu, Saster Joon-No and Sensei Bruce Hyland. I feel every martial art style has something great to offer and training in different styles has moulded me into the martial artist I am today.
Where are you training now?
I am training Ishinryu karate in Seaford with a reputable karate instructor, Sensei Bruce Hyland. Sensei Bruce is a great instructor, he loves karate and teaching, and he unquestionably knows tournament fighting. Since training with Sensei Bruce, he has inspired, motivated and taught me things I wish I had learnt years ago. I feel training with Bruce and his students has really made a difference this year to my performance in competition, especially the NAS Nationals. My other training consists of gym work and training with my old Black-belt student and good friend, Kurt Lazarrotti, whom I feel is showing great signs of being a threat for the NAS Champion of Champions title in 2010.
How does it feel to win the Champion of Champions title for 2009?
It feels great — extremely satisfying and very rewarding. When I think about the amount of hours I have spent training, winning certainly makes it all worth the while. I was told after winning NAS in 2006 that to win once means you're a winner; to win twice truly proves you're a champion, so I guess it feels like I have now earned the title, Champion of Champions.
As you mentioned, you won in 2006 — where were you the past two years?
After winning the 2006 NAS Nationals I took a break from competition to focus my attention on teaching, training and travelling. I competed on the odd occasion; however, I could not commit to the training regime required for regular, high level competition. I have always been strict about not competing if I felt under-prepared mentally or physically, so I did not enter the last two Nationals. I always knew I would compete on a regular basis again and enter the NAS Nationals. However, there was no plan for a 'comeback win' – then again, I never compete to lose.
Lachlan Carr must be pretty disappointed as he was going for three straight belts...
I met Lachlan Carr for the first time this year at the Nationals and congratulated him on his two straight belts, which is a great achievement. I was surprised to hear he wasn't competing and a little disappointed myself, as I would have liked to have seen him in action, even competed against him.
What kind of pressure did you have going in?
I have always felt pressure, maybe not from my coaches directly, but pressure I put on myself to do well for them and for me. I may have added more pressure on myself heading into the Nationals this year as winning again would definitely prove to me that 2006 wasn't a lucky win. Having my fiancé, family and friends in the crowd also added pressure, as I really wanted to do well for them. My sponsors, Villa & Hut, who have supported and assisted me with my training and competitions this year, were also hoping for a win too. I feel I perform better with pressure, it adds to my motivation.
Did you train any differently this time?
I wouldn't say that I trained any differently than previous years; however, I did train extremely hard and pushed myself to the limits. I added slightly different training methods into my gym regime with lots of different aerobic and anaerobic exercises. I really wanted to increase my fitness, stamina, speed and explosive movement, as I knew this year's Nationals were going to be tougher than ever and there would be many extremely talented fighters there. In regards to my karate training, I solely worked sparring drills and tournament fighting. I also added some boxing and kickboxing to increase my fitness and stamina.
How did you feel going into it? Were you confident?
I felt great. I felt relatively confident within myself, as I was prepared mentally and physically due to my preparation leading up to the Nationals. Placing first at the NAS States also added a sense of confidence in my abilities. Unfortunately, I was nursing a torn oblique and an injured right knee, which slightly affected my core strength and my kicks, which I heavily rely on.
What did you think of the day and the NAS competition in general?
I think the whole weekend of competition was well organised, well run and the refereeing was very fair and unbiased. To be honest, throughout the year, Victoria NAS has been run extremely well. David Auty and his team of judges and referees have done a great job. Victoria winning the State-versus-State on Saturday on home soil was a great way to start off the weekend of competition from my perspective. I think the competition in general over the entire weekend provided us with great entertainment, strong fighters and a very high level of skill, especially from some of the younger martial artists coming up the ranks. Each year the level of skill gets better, faster, stronger and more exciting, and this year was no exception.
Will you return to defend your title this year?
Well, if my sponsors Villa & Hut pay for my travel expenses next year to defend my title then, yes, I will for sure [laughs]. To be honest, I would like to, as long as I keep training hard and stay fit, then there is no reason why I won't. There is no denying it, to attempt a third championship belt would be great, so maybe that's all the motivation I need.
My plans for 2010 are to compete regularly in the AKF and NAS tournaments and if I am lucky enough, defend my title. I will continue to train personally with my good friend Kurt Lazarrotti and with Sensei Bruce Hyland as I feel I have improved a lot since training with him and his students. I will keep up the gym, boxing and kickboxing, as this has been great cross-training for me. It should be an exciting year and hopefully a successful one.