Muay Thai coach helps Otho boy find focus
Like many 10-year-olds, Andy Douglass-Newburn has an abundance of energy.
But Douglass-Newburn, who lives with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, has struggled at times to focus and find a target for that energy.
His mother, Crystal Newburn, of Otho, wanted to find one for him.
While browsing on social media one night, Newburn found a post from Savage Muay Thai Club, a martial arts gym owned by Jesse Dencklau. Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is a form of martial arts focused on standing striking techniques. It’s also known as the art of eight limbs.
“I thought I wonder if Andy would be into that,” she said. “It could help with self-esteem and focus.”
So she sent Dencklau a message at 11:30 p.m. about a month ago.
“I did not expect a response and then 10 minutes later, I got a ping,” Newburn said.
In the days that followed, Dencklau started working with Douglass-Newburn at the gym, 103 S. 21st St.
Dencklau, a Fort Dodge native, teaches him a variety of striking techniques. He holds the pads and guides Douglass-Newburn through the exercises.
The two talk and Dencklau holds the boy’s attention.
The results of their work together have been phenomenal, even in a relatively short amount of time, according to his mother.
“He has been more respectful, more attentive, better able to concentrate,” Newburn said. “This is affecting several areas of his little life that I don’t even know he’s aware of. But as his mom, I see it.”
What does Douglass-Newburn like about Muay Thai?
“Everything,” he said.
“Andy’s a great kid,” Dencklau said.
Dencklau appears to thrive in his work with children, regardless of the challenges they may face.
He worked at Rabiner Treatment Center for about four years, starting in 2009. Rabiner was a nonprofit organization that served troubled boys. It closed in 2018.
“I was a shift leader in the cottage,” Dencklau said. “I worked 40 to 60 hours a week and I loved it. One of my favorite things I’ve ever done is working with the kids there.
“To me it was like being at home with my 18 troubled children. It was just being there when they got back to the cottage from school, making sure they did homework. They had chores to do.”
Dencklau counseled them through any problems they had.
But he was most pleased when he could reward the boys for good behavior.
“My favorite thing was being able to drive the bus and take them to the park when they were good,” he said.
Newburn said she’s impressed with Dencklau’s attitude toward her son.
“Andy has some ADD issues and Jesse was not put off at all by that,” she said. “By the way he works with him you can tell he cares. I love how he treats Andy. He treats Andy like he’s special. And then I see him with other kids and he treats them like they are special also.”
Dencklau has an extensive background as a boxer and martial artist.
He started boxing as a junior in high school while he lived in Portland, Oregon. When he moved to Fort Dodge the following year, he continued at the Fort Dodge Boxing Club.
“Portland could be a rough town and Fort Dodge could be a rough town,” Dencklau said. “So I wanted to be able to defend myself. And I liked boxing. I grew up watching boxing. I remember watching Mike Tyson fights when I was 10 years old with my grandpa.”
Dencklau’s boxing resume includes winning the Golden Gloves in Iowa twice — once in 1996 and again in 1998. He was runner-up in 2000 in the novice division.
In the early 2000s, Dencklau moved to Colorado. While there, he taught boxing and conditioning classes to 9 to 14-year-olds.
Around the same time he taught boxing to a class of 30 students at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Dencklau’s girlfriend at the time, Amber Peterson, also of Fort Dodge, brought him a lot of inspiration.
“She and I both had a passion for helping kids,” Dencklau said.
In 2004, Peterson died unexpectedly from a stroke. She was 25.
Following her death, Dencklau didn’t want to return to the same jobs or places he had frequented before.
“I never stepped foot back in those places I was working at,” he said.
While still in Colorado, Dencklau had taken a Muay Thai class with a personal training client.
“We took that class together and I knew I was into Muay Thai,” Dencklau said.
Next, with the help of that client, Dencklau took an opportunity to train in Thailand at the biggest Muay Thai camp there.
The language barrier was an interesting challenge, he said.
“I trained their personal trainers to be personal trainers,” Dencklau said. “Nobody speaks English over there, so I was teaching them without words.”
Meanwhile, Dencklau trained under the late Apidej Sit-Hirun, a legend in Muay Thai who won 350 fights and lost 10.
“For some reason he really liked me and trained me for two months,” Dencklau said.
Walking out to the ring for his one and only fight in Bangkok, Dencklau recalls seeing a lot of former fighters in the crowd.
“It seemed like everyone had a scars all over their face,” he said.
Dencklau went on to win the fight in the fourth round. He won by knockout after landing a series of punches.
“When I was done with that fight, the whole right side of my body was black and blue,” Dencklau recalled. “The most common way people die in this sport is blood clots, so I was definitely worried.”
At the same time, Dencklau found the fighters and the people of the country to be very kind.
“The Muay Thai fighters are happy, easy going,” Dencklau said. “They were all gentle and soft spoken. They can break your bones with their kicks but after that they are very sweet, walking around singing love songs.”
Upon returning to the U.S., Dencklau once again moved to Oregon. There he continued his training for two years under Master Thongsai Sanhtytham.
Dencklau moved back to Fort Dodge in about 2009.
“After I lost my girlfriend I was still weak and wanted to forward with my plans,” Dencklau said. “I came back here to be closer to family and friends. I planned on staying for a short period of time — just wanted to restrengthen myself again.”
After working at Rabiner, Dencklau worked at Cargill for six years. In 2019, he accepted a position at CJ Bio America. He’s also a realtor at Guthrie and Associates Real Estate.
In recent years, Dencklau began training out of his garage by the Webster County Fairgrounds in the Savage addition. That’s where Savage Muay Thai gets its name.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Dencklau began teaching classes at one of the buildings on the former Rabiner Treatment Center campus. But after a certain amount of time, he realized the location wasn’t convenient for students.
About two months ago, Dencklau opened his gym at its current location.
He teaches primarily out of two rooms with padded floors. Aside from kick pads, there isn’t a whole lot of other equipment yet.
“I don’t have all the heavy bags and all that stuff yet,” Dencklau said. “I’m gonna see if people see the value in the Muay Thai and my teaching skills to be able to teach it. In Thailand they do this out in the dirt. I could do this out in the dirt with nothing.”
He’s teaching about 10 children and multiple adults.
Douglass-Newburn was the first student in the new location. Since that time, Andy’s older brother, Alex Douglass, has joined the class.
One of Dencklau’s adult students is Dalton Brandel. Brandel holds the 170 pound Brutaal Genesis title. Brutaal Genesis is a mixed martial arts promotion in Fort Dodge and Boone.
“He’s the one who started out with me,” Dencklau said. “He’s the one who’s kept it going this whole time as he has been my main fighter bringing attention to us.”
Brandel fights tonight at Fort Frenzy. Fights begin at 7 p.m.
Whether it’s a younger student or an adult student, Dencklau said he likes to meet people where they are and help them move forward.
“I have a passion for Muay Thai,” he said. “I love it and helping people. I love working with kids. It’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. I fell into it being a personal trainer. I am good with working with kids, but I also love working with adults, too.
“Some of my fighters are in recovery from drugs and alcohol. This is an outlet for them. Keeps them from going back to drugs or alcohol. They get addicted to the Muay Thai instead.”