A COUPLE of things changed Sandy Holt’s life dramatically when he was a teenager.

One of them was being bullied by a gang of youths at school and the other was seeing Bruce Lee films.

Today, Sandy is not only a world-famous Muay Thai martial arts expert and former international champion but a skilled teacher helping youngsters to tackle bullying, among other things, and to turn their lives around.

Sandy was one of four children and grew up in the Smithills/Halliwell area; his dad had a small greengrocer’s shop in Dunscar.

Young Sandy, small and red-haired, excelled at sports at Hayward School but became a target for a six-strong gang of bigger lads called The Boys.

He never missed a day at school, until the final day of term when he discovered The Boys planned to tie him in a chair and throw him in the swimming pool, so he didn’t go in.

The bullying made him leave school a year early, at 15, and he immediately got a job with Warburtons.

He wanted to overcome the bullies but found an unexpected icon in Bruce Lee – “just a short guy like me who could tackle the big guys,” recalled Sandy.

He started attending karate and jujitsu sessions in Little Lever, loving the physical and mental discipline of martial arts.

Fate, though, threw someone else into his path: Master Sken, a Muay Thai martial arts’ expert who had come to Manchester to study English.

“I once saw him leaping about seven feet in the air to kick a bag and that was it for me,” added Sandy.

He started training regularly with Master Sken before starting his own Muay Thai class at the old Silverwell Street sports centre. Alongside this, Sandy, always agile and athletic, had become a champion Northern Soul dancer.

He was national champion in 1974 and 1976 but, eventually, decided to give it up to concentrate on his martial arts.

In 1983, he transferred his class to Mossfield Mill in Vernon Street and the club he started there eventually moved to his current premises in Brown Street in Bolton town centre.

Here, up three flights of anonymous stairs, the boxing ring he had originally is the centrepiece for the gym where every week scores of men and women, and plenty of children, come to train and learn the martial arts discipline that originated in Thailand.

Sandy himself also competed in bouts, very successfully.

The way he became European featherweight champion sounds like a martial arts film.

He was fighting the reigning European and Dutch champion in the final when he blocked a blow to the head with his forearm.

This broke his arm but, because it went numb and Sandy’s adrenaline was still flowing, he carried on.

When he performed a similar move the second time, Sandy suffered a second break to the arm – but he fought on, and won the bout and the title.

After a successful career in which he also became national champion three times, he gave it up to teach others.

“I love teaching people, of all standards, including beginners,” he explained.

He likes the way that teaching Muay Thai boxing builds up confidence, self-esteem, self-control and discipline.

He always encourages everyone who comes to the gym not to drink or smoke and does neither himself.

Sandy is in his late 50s now but as fit as someone decades younger. He trains most days and also goes into schools to give motivational talks.

“I’d like to do more of that, really,”, he states.

About 10 years ago, he was first asked to commentate at Thai boxing events and since then, especially in the last five years, has travelled around the world doing just that.

“I tend to have to modify my Bolton accent a bit,” he laughed, “but I’m always proud of where I’m from.”

Sandy is immediately recognisable, thanks largely to his blonde spiky Mohican hair (the day we chatted it boasted fluourescent green and pink tips), which he says he has “because I like it.”

He teaches non-aggression outside his gym, and practises the same. “I always try to dilute a situation,” he insisted, even though he can doubtless handle himself well.

Sandy is strong on respect, for yourself and particularly for others, and says he is always “shocked and delighted” when former pupils give him the formal Thai bow in the street.

“I was brought up on respect,” he stated, “and it’s important.”