Kash “The Flash” Gill, four time World Kickboxing Champion, distinguished himself as one of the most dedicated and driven athletes in the field fighting for three decades through the eighties and nineties. Highly respected by his peers and recently inducted into the BBC Hall of Fame, Kash is the first British Asian ever to have achieved World Championship status in a full contact sport.
His speed, accuracy and showmanship-confidence naturally came to endow him with the name “Flash”, and he has fought some unbelievable matches. Resilience and comeback power have always been among Kash’s secret weapons as he’s been able to bounce back from the seeming pit of adversity and change the course of a bout often within seconds!
He tirelessly devotes himself to training and passing on the benefit of his life experience, talent and passion for kickboxing to others and is a true, active ambassador of health and fitness to the youth of today. He possessed a compelling focus when in the ring but outside the squared circle there was and is always a friendly, heart warming, matter-of-fact and down-to-earth persona.
Raj: So Kash, when were you born and from where do you originate?
Kash: Hi Raj. Well, I was born on the 2nd of July 1966 in Birmingham, UK
What is your height and weight?
I am 6’ 3” (1.90m) tall and weigh 11st 5lb (72kg).
How did you first get into the martial arts? How old were you?
I started kickboxing back in 1980 as a fourteen year old kid. I always wanted to do a contact sport. I was a die hard Muhammad Ali fan and used to watch his fights with my dad as a youngster. I’d think “Wow! I want to be a boxer!” As it happens I saw a demonstration of kickboxing near where I was living in Handsworth. There was a carnival at our local park with a ring set up in it and there were Howard Brown and Godfrey Butler doing a kickboxing demo, later I started practicing it at my local leisure centre and from there I was hooked!
What were the main styles you trained in?
While doing my chosen martial art of kickboxing, I had a couple of training sessions in traditional karate classes but never got my kicks from that really –I much preferred the style of thai/kick boxing, they’re all good in their own way of course! I did a lot of intensive research back then, buying the combat magazines and gathering whatever video footage I could find on the subject of kickboxing. Around then it was starting to become more popular what with satellite TV coverage and Jean Claude Van Damme’s movies like “Bloodsport” and “Kickboxer”, it really started to come on a lot! I did various courses and I have achieved the rank of 6th dan in freefighting awarded by my Thai teacher.
Who would you credit as having most influenced you in your kickboxing career?
I’d say Howard Brown who was my coach and Master A. Toddy my Thai coach, I got my Thai boxing style from him. He was based in Manchester when I trained with him, then he went over to Las Vegas, now he’s back in Thailand. Him and his brother are great coaches. I fought for titles against top Thai fighters back in the nineties, only having lost on points twice, a lot of people don’t know that. Thai boxing features more low kicks to the knees, I quite enjoyed it. If I had taken it more seriously, I probably would have been World Champion, but I didn’t train as hard for the Thai fights, I wish I had now, looking back at it! My coaches still refer to me as a ‘do or die warrior’, they like warriors.
How did things go for you in the early days?
I had my first full contact fight at 17, and by 20 (in 1986) I had earned the British Professional title as well as the European and world amateur titles. That’s the same year Mike Tyson won the world title against Trevor Berbick. Tyson and I are just two days apart so we’re the same age too. I used to watch all Mike Tyson’s fights as well as Tommy “The Hitman” Hearne’s fights. (I picked up using the right hand from him!) and Sugar Ray Leonard’s fights too.
What would you say was the toughest challenger you faced in kickboxing, who proved your most formidable opponent?
That’s a difficult question Raj! Well, I’ve had a lot of tough fights, I think the toughest one that comes to mind is the World title fight against Alex Tui from Australia who I fought at home in Birmingham. He was a former professional boxer so, very tough. There was a Thai fight where I got knocked down in the first couple of rounds, I felt like giving in, but hearing my fans kept me going! Another bout was against Superman Osodsapa also from Thailand: I got dropped in the first two rounds, there were a lot of knees and elbows. I came back in the last three rounds. It was very close, if I hadn’t been knocked down, I probably would have won that fight.
Another one that really stands out in my mind was with Thomas Rasmussen while I was defending my European title in Milan in 1990. He hit me with such a heavy low kick to my knee that I had to switch to southpaw -luckily I could switch stances! I managed to win that one unanimously on points. Another was in Sicily; I was dropped in the first round, that would often happen as I was usually a slow starter. Then you think, “Okay, this is a wake-up call! What are you doing? Keep your hands-up and chin down!” Out of the hundred fights I’ve had, that probably happened in six of them.
What were some of the injuries you endured being a kickboxer, how did you work around it?
When I was seventeen just before I turned eighteen, I entered the European Championships in Austria going abroad for the first time in my life. I was eleven stone and one of the lads was overweight and they put me in the twelve stone category. I won my first fight, in the second though, I was knocked-out and carried out on a stretcher. I woke up in a hospital and had to spend a week there and travelled back alone without the team. (Both the highs and lows should be documented, people have to know!) So I spent a week there in hospital and had lots of brain scans which showed everything was fine.
The worst injury I had was probably a broken jaw sustained while fighting super middleweight, Winston Walker in 1989. I went on to win that fight and he went on to become a world champion. My jaw was actually broken in two places and I was wired-up for six weeks. Six months later we were scheduled for a re-match but he never showed-up for it. There was heavyweight guy there however by the name of Antonio Zeboroni (RIP), who was seventeen and a half stone and I was eleven stone. I went in the ring with him because I wanted to fight. He threw me over the top rope and I did a backward somersault, I went back in and I knocked him out. Do a search for “backward somersault Kash The Flash” and you’ll find that fight online!
Recently, you received an award and were inducted into the BBC Hall of Fame, how did that feel, what did it mean to you?
That was a great thing! These awards have been running for the last twelve to thirteen years and feature big, high profile sports people, like Sir Stanley Matthews, Gordon Banks, Denis Amiss, Tommy Godwin and Anne Jones, I’m only a minority sportsman compared to them. I’m happy though because I’ve helped put kickboxing on the map. It was an emotional moment (there were four hundred people there) so, yes it was really a great honour to be amongst these legendary people. It’s been a fight getting to this stage, but I’ve done it, so I’m really grateful.
Since retiring from kickboxing, you opened the “Kash The Flash Gym” in Birmingham in 2008, can you describe what you offer there, what is the martial arts and fitness curriculum of the gym?
I’d always had a dream, the first to be world champion, and second to have my own gym. Then have a biography, and next, I would like to do a movie, a film on my life. Well, we offer pretty much everything at the gym from young kids’, freestyle karate classes, self defence and kickboxing moves, we have people who want to actually compete and fight, so we take them around the circuit. Then we have non-contact classes like Thai Kickfit to music, just come and hit the bags and do sparring, it’s a great workout for losing weight. A lot of people train because they want to lose weight and feel good. We don’t emphasise weight training because muscles can slow you down.
Have any of your students at the Kash The Flash Gym gone onto to pursue amateur or professional careers in competitive fighting?
Well, my gym has produced six world champions. They got the recognition they deserved, some have gone on to other things and some of them have retired by now. I did what I wanted to do though, which was to produce world champions!
Who are some of the best current or up-and-coming professional fighters today, in your opinion?
I’d say Floyd Mayweather, he’s very calm, Amir Khan, he’s got the moves and the speed, Melvin Manhoef, former Thai boxer from Holland now in MMA, what a fighter he is!
What kind of sports do you enjoy watching these days?
I’m into football and a fan of Aston Villa and Chelsea, I love all sports actually as there is always a skill involved. I still especially enjoy watching boxing, kickboxing, Thai boxing, they’re all good sports to watch!
Do you ever sometimes watch footage of yourself from your prime fighting days: what do you say to yourself, what comes to mind?
Actually, yes I still watch them all the time. My kids say: “Oh dad are you watching yourself…again!” Some of my fights are up online and people watch them and go “wow!”. Even twenty years later they still having an impact when you watch them in relation to fights seen today, so I’m glad that legacy is there. I might sometimes criticize myself and say, “You should have moved your head more!” Sometimes I could tell I shouldn’t have fought because of injuries, but that’s hindsight for you. There are things mentioned in my book about how dieting was hard, getting down to such a low weight. All in all though, ring-wise, I don’t think there was anything much I’d change now if I had a chance to do it over again! I’ll tell you though; I really wished MMA was around when I was fighting!
A couple years back in 2011, you fought against Don “The Dragon” Wilson in an exhibition match in Kazakhstan, your comments?
Yes, I got a message from Cynthia Rothrock telling me Don’s original opponent pulled out. They had seen my fights and knew I stayed in good shape as I was often going the full twelve rounds. So she asked if I could help out and I was happy to do so. Don was just representing an exhibition so, nothing serious we were just playing really! The fight consisted of three, three-minute rounds in the cage and the win was given him by decision. It was a really good experience! Don is a great friend, he’s done so much for the sport and with all the movies and always stays in shape despite being sixty now!
In your view, what makes up the ideal fighter?
You’ve got to know the tools of your trade really well! I think you’ve got to be a complete athlete these days, and definitely as far as your own particular discipline is concerned. You’ve got to spend a lot of time working on individual training methods and techniques and really work them hard, it takes time. Fight training and fitness is very necessary. I for example, was able to take fights at very late notice because I was always in shape.
Choose the right school, one that knows what they’re doing. You need to be strong minded, dedicated, disciplined, and focussed. Even during the day when eating for example, I would constantly think about fighting, but you also need to be able to switch off too! For me I’d get my relaxation by teaching others and then my mind would be on that. Some people work a nine to five job and then train in the evening, but for me, I think I benefitted from living and breathing it all day. Each person has to find their own way that works best for them.
What are your top martial arts movies?
I would say “Kickboxer”, I could watch that every day, I like Jean Claude Van-Damme for his martial arts movies! I had met JCVD and Dennis Alexio who plays his brother in the film; one of my students actually fought him. Other titles would include “Enter The Dragon”, “Fist of Fury”, “Ong Bak”, (I like the stunts!) and the “Bloodfist” series with Don Wilson, my friend, Maurice Smith featured in a few of those movies with Don too!
You recently released your biography, can you tell us a little about it?
Yes, it’s called “My Life in a Flash” and it’s written in “rounds” instead of chapters. I always wanted to write a book, and did about three years’ research for it. In my book I talk openly about coping without a mother, my four brothers and sister, my father that went to prison, -it’s really packed with details; from the support I got from the pop group UB40, to footballers coming to watch me fight!
Alternatively you can buy a personally signed copy directly from Kash at: www.kashtheflash.co.uk.
In the height of your career, what kind of workout would you have? Was it mainly kicking, flexibility and cardiovascular training?
I used to train three or four times a day. I was very lucky because I used to teach to support myself – I would teach others for a couple of hours in the evenings and train all day. I was pretty much professional from the age of sixteen to seventeen. I lived in the gym and used to train, train, train! I used to do an hour and a half of quality sessions rather than quantity -I’d finish up at the end of the day with a six to ten mile run in the evening. Being a tall guy, I had to get down to ten stone twelve pounds which was not easy, I’d often come in at eleven stone six pounds. Nowadays, we’ve got internet and sports science, so the fighters of today are going to be a lot fitter and healthier as well. We used to dehydrate and starve ourselves; we just didn’t know back then what we know today!
What types of food kept you at your energetic best, what kind of nutrition would you say is conducive to victory?
I was always hungry and eating! I would usually eat chicken and salads. I had a few cheat things here and there, biscuits like Jammy Dodgers and peanuts as snacks, as for drinks it would be mostly water and Lucozade! (Editor’s note: Jammy Dodgers are British-made biscuits of shortbread with a chewy, jam-filled centre.)
What kind of training program do you recommend for a professional kickboxer?
First of all I would say seventy percent is about fitness, you really need a lot of endurance to last twelve rounds -so running, (seventy five to ninety minutes a couple of times a week is necessary, in addition, running really helps you lose weight) including varying the speed, jogging and sprinting to get the heart accustomed to changes of pace is very important . I suggest pad and bag work, (punching and kicking) sparring and circuit training.
What’s a training tip could you give us?
Keep up good fitness and work hard!
What single piece of advice would you give to any martial artists interested in pursuing a career in professional fighting?
Prepare! You’ve also got to think about how you’re going to make a living from it.
What are some things about you that not many people know?
I’m scared of confined spaces, I’m superstitious, I never walk under ladders and I hate number thirteen!
Do you have any favourite books or magazines?
I read Martial Arts Illustrated, and anything sporty. I actually had two fights with Bob Sykes (editor of Martial Arts Illustrated) and defeated him on both occasions early on in those matches.
You’re quite the local hero in your home city of Birmingham and well known in your town of Handsworth: what’s the message you’re keen to promote to the youth of today?
My message to everyone is to keep healthy and fit, keep off the junk; I like to promote health and fitness. I’m addicted to training, bet you didn’t know that? I need to get my fix every day. I still run 5 miles a day.
You’ve got three kids, are they into any of the martial arts?
They’ve done a bit, not so much. They prefer football. As long as they can look after themselves, I’m happy with that. My daughter studies law and my son wants a football scholarship, my little son is really athletic and competitive and soaks it all up and he’s just twelve years old. I’ll support them in whatever they want to do.
What is your favourite piece of warrior wisdom or quote? What would you say has moulded you into who you are today?
He who dares wins! Do or die! Just get it on! Always be confident and always give your training 110%. In training I never feared anyone. There were training struggles for me and not a lot of money for trainers back then, and I didn’t really have any sparring partners. Whatever you do, do it because you love it, not for the money. Love training, love fighting. Be there for those in your camp and corner.
What message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now?
Enjoy life because it’s too short and it’s all over in a flash! My career went so fast, sports careers are over before you know it. I’m keen to share what I know, so do read my book (link here) and maybe watch some of my fights if you can.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I’d like to do a movie, maybe start with a mini documentary and show it at the Cannes Film Festival. I’ll always be involved in coaching and I’d like to make my gym more successful and also to do motivational talks; I’ve got a lot of experience to share!
Where can readers learn more, get in touch with you and your gym?
Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end!! How was your interview with KFK?
Thanks Raj, this has been a wicked interview, I’ve had a great time discussing this with you!
Thanks Kash, we wish you all the best with your training of champions and look forward to hear more about your upcoming work, keep us in the loop!