Kicking Down Boundaries: The Kickboxing Career of Gail King

  • August 09, 2023

CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – August 2023

“I had learned a great deal and wanted to coach. There was so much to share, and I figured it was the right thing to do.”

By David Grossman

One life to live and she is making the best of it.

As a youngster, Gail Simmons grew up in Cramlington, a small town known for its architecture and landscape in northeast England near the border of Scotland. With a storied past of history and heritage, that same area would one day also be known as home to a pair of movies chronicling the life of that young wizard, Harry Potter.

Yet, fascinated with the world of graphic design, with a relative having already chosen that career, she would go on to maximize her interests by earning a diploma from a prestigious British school known as York College. The ambiance of a building would eventually get shelved as she would go on to explore something vastly different.

Big on imagination, creativity, and having an astute passion for learning, little did she know back then, that one day she would also be a strong candidate as one of those notable figures born in that English community of Northumberland.

In her case, the winds of change would lead to her becoming a World champion. But, at what?

At the age of 21, while examining leisure opportunities in fitness and self defence programs, she took an interest in the sport of taekwondo – one of the oldest forms of martial arts. It was something that would involve a variety of hand and kick techniques. Hold on, there would also be cardio conditioning that became an effective way to burn things like belly fat.

Society had, and still has, its share of people who view kickboxing as something not appealing – especially to the female crowd. Times have certainly changed as women continue to get engaged in a variety of sports and recreational programs that, at one time, would never even have considered.

Having earned a third-degree black belt eight years later in taekwondo (her initiation to martial arts), and then getting married to Gary King, the two had taken a trip to Canada. Not sure if it was for business, family visits, or vacation. One thing was for certain: it would also lead to immigration in 2008. For King, the ingenuity and inspiration was continuing to grow in martial arts.

Curiosity pursued along with the eagerness to get involved in strength and conditioning programs. That would initially come at a small gym in Guelph. King would get her first Canadian glimpse of Muay Thai – a combat sport that uses a variety of clinching moves and stand-up striking.

It wasn’t long before she would pivot to kickboxing – the full contact combat activity that involves kicking, punching, and clinching. She also saw it as an opportunity to expand on various aspects of fitness training. Others just described kickboxing as a glorified form of boxing.

“For me, it all started with fitness and then, after my first fight, I knew it was an activity that I wanted to grow in and learn,” said King, who is fond of some great memories in an athletic career that has included numerous awards at the Ontario, Canadian, and international levels.

A glimpse of what was up and coming may well have occurred in 2015 at the World Kickboxing Federation (WKF) Provincials in Ajax, a community located just east of Toronto. That’s where King had won her first award – and it came in the form of a championship.

“It was the first fight that I had ever won,” recalled King. “I can remember it was something that I had lots of fun.”

Jubilation would grow for King as one heralded event would stand out above all others and it came a year later in the Adriatic port city of Bari, Italy.  

With the stakes much higher and the competition tougher, King would find her way to the winner’s podium and leave with a gold medal, along with a pair of silvers, at the 2016 WKF Championship. Happiness isn’t a strong enough word to explain her feelings. Also rewarding would be the role model she had become for younger girls and women across the country.

Things happened quickly for King, and after winning a silver medal at a World Martial Arts Games event in Arbon, Switzerland, she chose to retire from competition at the age of 39. Always a difficult decision for any athlete, King had devoted countless hours and a commitment to excel. But she was not done with the sport.

Excellence continued for her in one of the most popular combat sports around the world. With the International Olympic Committee recognizing kickboxing as an Olympic sport on July 20, 2021, King made another judicious move.

This time, it would be as a mentor.

“I had learned a great deal and wanted to coach,” she said. “There was so much to share, and I figured it was the right thing to do.”

Educating and mentoring others. That was her next move. So, she formed Valhalla Mixed Martial Arts in Cambridge, located about a 45-minute drive from her home in Rockwood. It’s a facility that offers classes for every age group and level. She is the Head Coach and owner.

Worth noting, King is also a WKF Referee and Judge.

“Kickboxing builds confidence, discipline and helps with mental health,” said King, who has Level 2 certification by the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) and Boxing Canada.

“I love the sport and want to do whatever I can to grow it, push for more females to get involved. My dream is to be associated with someone, who will represent Canada at a future Olympics.”

King knows that many people can get the wrong impression of kickboxing and view it as a violent activity that conjures up images of people knocking each other out. Some also see it to be no more violent than sports like basketball, football, and hockey, that statistically have large numbers of injuries, while wearing protective equipment

In fact, the National Safety Council, located in Itasca, Ill., reported that more than three million people in the United States were treated for sports injuries in hospital emergency rooms in 2021.

“(Kickboxing) is not brutal”, said King, who has coached individuals between the ages of six and 50. “Yes, it hurts to get kicked and punched – but it’s a sport where you’re also building up endurance and power training. Competing in kickboxing, is not just something people do for major competitions. It’s an activity that involves enjoyment, recreation, and physical fitness.

“My goals as a coach are to continue to grow the sport that I love and encourage more females into the sport whether that be as recreational or a competitive athlete and hopefully that leads to more female coaches and leaders in the sport.”

While there are all sorts of qualities and characteristics that make up a good coach, King draws from her knowledge and experience to endorse enthusiasm, development of goals and a great deal of patience. Her gym is one for all abilities and fitness levels.

“My expectations for my students, that depends on the student and age.,” she said. “For the juniors, (it’s to) learn kickboxing but have fun doing it. If they are learning kickboxing recreationally, then I want them to enjoy it, push themselves and smash whatever goals they have set. If they want to be competitive, it’s all of the above.”

Mariam Lami knows what it’s like to work hard and enjoy success.

She started kickboxing in her teens, took a break, and then returned to the gym at age 25 after complaining how much she missed the sport. Benefitting from great coaching from King, Lami went on to win the 2022 National kickboxing championship in the women under 60 kilos category held in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I would compete again, but knew there was always room for improvement,” said Lami, who works in the medical device industry for FluidAI Medical in Kitchener.

“My club had closed, but I knew about (King), shad seen her fight and I may have even sparred with her once. Then, found out she had opened a gym. She is a fantastic coach, made me a better fighter and I wouldn’t have been able to win a title without her.”

Through the Coaches Association of Ontario series “Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench”, features like the one on King focus on individuals who find opportunities to enhance the use of strong coaching fundamentals for training, guidance, and improvement.


David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.

Kickboxing builds confidence, discipline and helps with mental health.”