The peaceful warrior

If you happen to have a mild car accident with Trevor Howard and a dispute develops over who was in the wrong, what ever you do don’t pick a fight with him.

He’s a martial arts instructor. If riled this is one dangerous dude.

Having said that, Howard is the person least likely on Grand Cayman to get into a street fight because violence would only be for self defense or as a last resort. Anyway, he also speaks five languages so verbal communication will never be a problem.

The 6ft 2in American has practiced martial arts since discovering Tae Kwon Do as a 12-year-old in Seattle, where, he proudly declares, Bruce Lee was buried.

A natural talent from the off, he quickly became a black belt and then tried wrestling at school, excelling at that too, ranked No.2 nationally in junior colleges. ‘I was undefeated in high school and was Washington State champion,’ he says. ‘Then I took up judo because I wanted to learn submissions and chokes (as you do!).’

A spell of mastering Muay Thai followed but then his love of the sport was sidestepped to finish his education in Paris. There Howard met his future wife, Mariane, who is French-Egyptian, hence his flair for the spoken word.

The couple went to live in Seattle where Howard worked in the fitness industry before changing direction and using a degree in International Relations and Communications to work at a law firm. By now he could speak several languages and a stint in Egypt working as a translator was squeezed into an already hectic schedule.

He was very happy working in Seattle until a job offer as an administrator in Cayman came out of the blue from celebrated law firm Maples and Calders.

That was two years ago and when the happy couple arrived in West Bay, Howard noticed there was little martial arts activity on the island even though Mixed Martial Arts is huge in the US and widely enjoyed on TV here.

Protagonists like Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Tito Ortiz are household names through the Ultimate Fighting Championships series that Howard has been devouring since it started in 1993.

UFC stars are so high profile now but relatively poorly paid that they are challenging millionaire boxers like ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather to mix it. Needless to say, he’s not interested.

The popularity of UFC and MMA inspires Howard. It’s proved infectious on Cayman.

‘I started training on my own at home and others interested in martial arts came along for tuition. I was careful not to violate the terms of my work permit and take money but after a while it got so popular that my landlord told me I had to stop even though I was doing it for free The neighbours were complaining that it was disturbing them. So I decided to find premises.’

Howard founded Palaestra Strategies gym in Dorcy Drive, George Town and immediately attracted a dedicated band of martial arts enthusiasts from across the socio-economic strata. ‘We’ve got lawyers, teachers, bankers, service workers and even a police officer. I’m really grateful that many sponsors have come forward to make it work. They include DMS
Broadcasting, CayRock96.5, Center Lane Motors and Palaestra Gems.’

The gym is fully equipped and even boasts a figting ‘cage’. Classes have gruesome names like Introduction to Submission Fighting, but Howard insists that MMA is safer than many other mainstream sports because it is so well regulated.

He says: ‘A lot of people have a misconception that when they come down they will get beaten up. That’s not true. There are a lot of elements to learn and you need only take it to the level you’re comfortable with. Even in self-defense classes they learn what to do if you’re attacked and on the ground.

‘I can’t emphasise enough our safety record. We go to extensive lengths to ensure anyone’s wellbeing. Anyway, nobody needs to compete; some come just to lose weight, others for fitness or self-defense and some just want to have fun in a different sport.’

His enthusiasm is not misplaced. Over 1,500 turned up for the island’s first MMA event two months ago, a remarkable figure for such a small population. To put that in context, a show was run simultaneously in Houston that day, a city of five million and they could only muster 600 more than Cayman.

‘I had nothing but positive comments afterwards. We put on six fights and the only negatives were there should have been more fights and more alcohol!’

He hopes to build on that encouraging start and hopes by January to stage a huge event in George Town with the backing of a giant American TV station that regularly pulls 15 million viewers for MMA shows.

Howard hasn’t stopped competing either. ‘I may go to the World Judo Championships in Rio De Janeiro in September for the Cayman Islands.’

Should he do well, it certainly won’t harm the island’s MMA profile. ‘MMA is the pinnacle,’ Howard adds. ‘But when you separate them all they are all Olympic sports and there is a lot of interest to develop amateur sports in Cayman. I want to build amateur sports here in karate, judo, wrestling and Tae Kwon Do and we can use the strength of those styles to become better martial artists.’ And more tolerant drivers too!

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