Kiev?s Palace of Sports is a stark monument to Soviet-era Constructivist architecture, a place that challenges the senses in a geometrically bland way. It is not the sort of place you would expect to find a gamekeeper from Bedfordshire. Last May, however, the venue was groaning with martial arts combatants assembled for the World Pan Amateur Kickboxing Association (WPKA) World Championship. As four-times world title winner of the World United Martial Arts Federation (WUMA), champion, trainer and keeper Paul Childerley accepted a chance invitation to participate and braced himself for the five-day event. Much like boxing, kickboxing has no international governing body, so Paul was thirsty for another attempt at a world title. ?It was good timing,? he explained. ?The WUMA championships are normally held in November, a busy time for a keeper, but with the WPKA taking place in May, when things on the estate are quieter, it was ideal. I?ve got supportive bosses, which is handy.?

As headkeeper of Beckerings Park in Bedfordshire, a 1,500-acre mainly partridge shoot, and having 22 years? experience of kickboxing, Paul was clearly in good physical shape to take up the challenge. What was interesting was the calibre of his opponents. As Paul says, ?The championships I?ve fought in before are mostly western European. You know where you stand with a Belgian, for example. However, when I arrived in Kiev, the WPKA teams were from pretty tough countries. As well as Russia and Ukraine, there were teams from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Lebanon and Mongolia. It was a wilder affair because in those countries it?s all about pure power and aggression. There were only two of us from England facing what felt like the Mongolian horde. When we took out our Union flags there was a definite hostility in the room.? Ironically, then, his first fight in the men?s continuous fi ghting 85kg category was against a Frenchman; he describes it as ?an easy win, the perfect warm-up fight?. With two, two-minute early rounds, the fighters use well-controlled techniques with equal emphasis on punching and kicking, though Paul says, ?In this competition, spinning back fists, head butts, punches with the inner part of the glove, strikes to the throat, groin and backside are all prohibited.? This unfortunately meant that Paul?s signature move ? ?an axe-kick which starts with a front somersault and finishes with a downwards axe-kick? ? was illegal, so he had to rely on good old-fashioned skill and stamina to win.

Having defeated the Frenchman, Paul moved on to ?a very strong, very skilled? Russian, but succeeded in beating him. Half an hour later he fought another strong man from Ukraine, with each contender winning a round. ?By round three he was a spent force; he had no stamina so I beat him easily.? Paul then faced the final three two-minute rounds, against a Czech Republic professional martial artist teacher and fighter sponsored by his government to represent his country. Paul modestly explained that, ?I beat him quite nicely. Most of these fighters are in their early 20s and, at 37, I?m a bit long in the tooth but I have more stamina and experience.?

Is it any wonder then that with another World Championship title under Paul?s belt, Beckerings Park isn?t unduly bothered by poachers? ?As a martial artist my main concern is defence and, when training and competing, enjoyment. But it does help to have a local reputation as a kickboxer,? Paul explains. As Beckerings Park is situated in Bedfordshire, the heart of Chinese water deer territory, it used to be plagued by poachers. ?It was awful,? Paul said. ?The travelling community would course them day or night if they thought they could get away with it.?

But Paul was able to use his broader martial arts experience in confronting the gang. ?In kickboxing, as in other martial arts, we?re taught how to defend ourselves, to talk and to stand our ground.? Paul learned the value of this from bitter experience having been attacked by nine youths as a 16-year-old. He didn?t want to repeat the battering, so signed up for self-defence classes and since then has neither looked back, nor over his shoulder. Until Paul fights again next year to defend his title, his immediate focus is on his day job. ?Each season we host about 23 days of 250 to 500 birds and we were lucky to have sold out by February.

Bedfordshire is good partridge country ? thanks to sandy fields and rolling countryside, the birds have got clean feet and fly well. Following the dry weather, the crops should be off soon and we?ll release the birds early, so I?ve got high hopes for the season.?

Will Paul be hoping to teach his 19-month-old son the arts of keepering and kickboxing? ?I learned to be a keeper from my father, but my son?s career is up to him. I will teach him to kickbox, but if he was going to get to the top of any sport, I?d prefer it to be something more lucrative, like golf or tennis!?

In spite of being ?a bit long in the tooth?, Paul says he will keep fighting until he knows he can?t win anymore, because ?winning is just a brilliant feeling?.

If you?d like more information on kickboxing, partridge shooting, or Chinese water deer stalking, contact Paul Childerley, tel 07932 103193.