Indigenous athlete combats mental illness by teaching Thai kickboxing

Siksika Nation members partner up to spar during their noon hour Muay Thai kickboxing workout at the Siksika Sportsplex. Kendrick Three Suns instructs the class, one of five he teaches each week.

Sport offers 'emotional direction' for teacher, who passes on passion to students

Kendrick Three Suns attends the University of Calgary for his master's in social work. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Siksika Nation members partner up to spar during their noon hour Muay Thai kickboxing workout at the Siksika Sportsplex.

At the front of the room is Kendrick Three Suns, who instructs the first-of-its-kind class on the Siksika Nation, five days a week.

Three Suns teaches the class for free as a way to give back to his community and help others who deal with mental illness.

Muay Thai, also known as "the art of eight limbs," is a martial art kickboxing combat sport that originated in Thailand.

Three Suns teaches his students about mind, body and soul through the martial art that helps manage mental health.

"It gives a sense of [...] emotional direction," he said.

Kendrick Three Suns teaches students kicking and punching techniques. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Aside from working towards his master's of social work, the Siksika Nation member has been training and learning to become a Muay Thai instructor.

Three Suns trains at the Mike Mile Muay Thai gym in Calgary and recently earned a black arm band that signifies apprentice instructor.

The apprentice instructor was introduced to the sport through a friend nine years ago and fell in love with it.

"Going into Muay Thai has taught me how to deal with my anger, deal with a lot of my past traumas," he said. "I guess as First Nation people, we tend to deal with a lot of our traumas in other ways aside from going into a healthy retrospect of dealing with it.

"But some people may turn to drugs or alcohol. I mainly turned to Muay Thai," he said.

Kendrick Three Suns receives his black khan level 1 certificate, which means he is a Muay Thai assistant instructor. (Kru Eric Hussey)

The sport helps people build up their self-esteem to make them feel better about themselves and that's what it has done for Three Suns.

"I began to really look at the art, Muay Thai, in the sense to where it is not, only the ability to put yourself in the ring, but it is to go out and show people the art, teach people and bring a sense of vitality in people's lives," he said.

Three Suns hopes to open a Muay Thai kickboxing school within the Siksika community.

Lifestyle, culture, positivity

Mike Miles, a master or ajarn in the martial art, taught Three Suns and agrees the sport has benefits.

"It's not just a sport, it becomes a lifestyle, it becomes a culture in your life, and working towards the positive, not just to get out and how to fight somebody," he said."

Muay Thai has no ranks or level system in fighting competition but teaching is a different aspect, Miles said.

"It's not much as a sporty thing but it is more of a self-defense thing," he said. "And that's an excellent way to learn discipline, all kinds of mental attributes as well as physical attributes."

Along with the free classes Three Suns teaches, he plans to mentor kids. He is also still training in hopes of one day competing in an amateur fight.

About the Author

Livia Manywounds is a reporter with the CBC in Calgary, a rodeo competitor and a proud member of the Tsuut’ina First Nation.