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Boxing and combat sports have long connected Fridley father and son James and Josh Clark. With Josh’s recent purchase of Strike Fitness in Rogers, three generations have now owned gyms of their own, with Josh also continuing his MMA career.

It’s one of the most grueling sports imaginable.

But with boxing, the physical is only hitting the surface. It’s a strategic chess match, a battle of wills. And for the Clarks of Fridley, it’s so much more.

It’s a family thing.

Boxing, wrestling and martial arts as a whole have connected three generations of Fridley residents to the community and to one another. And now, it has led 21-year-old Josh Clark to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps as a gym owner, recently purchasing Strike Fitness in Rogers.

“I’ve been around fighting and combat sports pretty much my whole life,” Josh Clark said. “As a little kid, my dad would show me wrestling moves or how to throw punches just in case I needed to defend myself. When I was 8 years old — so back in 2008 — my dad opened up his own MMA gym (Valhalla Combat Sports in Fridley) so he can train and work out. After several months of being open, I went with my dad to the gym and saw people sparring and wrestling and thought it was the coolest thing ever. After the practice was done, we went home and I told my dad I wanted to train and learn how to fight. My goal was to fight MMA one day. I wanted to see if I could do it and if I had it in me.”

“There is nothing like fighting,” James Clark said. “It takes courage to step up into the ring or cage and throw punches at someone, and have someone across from you trying to hurt you. It takes self-control, courage and discipline.”

After some basic beginning workouts with his dad, Josh began competing in jiu-jitsu at 10 years old. He started wrestling at 11 for his middle school team. His first boxing match followed shortly after at 12.

“I won by decision and was hooked,” Josh said. “I liked the feeling of preparing for a match and it’s just you and the other guy and the work leading up to it. The thrill of combat sports competition just fuels me different. I’ve also competed in judo, kickboxing and trained in other various martial arts, trying to be as well rounded as I could be. Since my very first fight at 12, I started taking it serious, especially in high school. I transferred schools and wrestled for Totino-Grace.”

The Clark family has a strong and deep-rooted connection to Totino-Grace High School and the wrestling program in particular. As a wrestler, Josh was a captain and member of three state teams.

“What made Totino-Grace so special, apart from being a private school, was the community of people, the high level of wrestling with longtime and current coaches Doug Svihel and Dan Vandermyde,” Josh said. “I’m also proud of my own family history. My grandpa was D-1 wrestler, a professional boxer and trained in different styles of fighting. He’s the one who introduced Jim and Rose Totino to the school to help fundraise the school and their programs back in 1966 when they first opened up. My grandpa John started the wrestling and football program at Totino, which are arguably the most decorated sports at that school today.”

Josh’s first MMA cage fight came while he was 18 and still in high school, winning by unanimous decision. After high school, Josh’s wrestling career continued at St. John’s, where he made the varsity team.

“It was a dream come true with years of training and preparation,” Josh said.

Josh is currently 4-0 as an amateur in MMA and 5-0 in kickboxing, ranked No. 1 in the state in his weight class. After college, he returned to help coach at Totino-Grace and wrestle with former teammates. He got a job at Title Boxing Club, developing a love not only for the sport, but for helping teach and train others as well.

“I started to grow a passion for coaching and teaching with some of my newly gained experience,” Josh said. “I feel like coaching has made me a better fighter and person, learning how to break things down and communicate with members and clients.

“I was hired as a trainer at Title by the previous owners, Mark and Lana Royce. I started to work at their Rogers location, which they turned into their own gym called Strike Fitness last year during COVID.”

Soon after, an offer came up. An offer too good to turn down.

“I became one of their lead trainers and back in April, after winning my professional boxing debut in Philadelphia, Mark asked me if I would be interested in buying/owning their gym,” Josh said. “After some time to think it over, I jumped on the opportunity and bought the gym. I thought it would be a great accomplishment and I want to give people a bang for their buck.”

The prospect of owning a gym was a win-win situation for Josh: offering others a place to learn and train with experienced instructors, while continuing to develop himself. All with the idea of growing and expanding in the future.

“What sets Strike apart from other fitness or boxing fitness gyms is that we give you a fun but challenging workout while learning from instructors that have actually competed in the sport and have years of experience and training,” Josh said. “We offer early morning, noon, evening, night and weekend classes. As of right now, we’re heavy in the boxing but do have weightlifting and conditioning workouts, and will be adding a nutrition program, self-defense classes, sparring and some grappling for the members who want to take it beyond the group classes. Already a month into owning the business, it’s making a profit and gaining new members.

“The most challenging part at first was figuring out the new role, but I do have experience helping my dad at his gym in Fridley where my family and I live. What excited me the most about owning my own gym is helping others accomplish their goals, whatever that may be. I’m very proud of my family heritage and lineage. It’s funny how history seems to repeat itself. My grandpa after coaching at Totino moved to Rogers, buying a hobby farm where my dad grew up. My grandpa turned his barn into a boxing/wrestling gym and that’s where my dad started training. Now my dad owns his own gym.”

Boxing is something deep inside a person, resting at their roots. It’s a family thing.

“People come to the gym for different reasons,” James Clark said. “Most people come to just get in shape. The people who come to fight are a rare breed. There is no current quote that breaks down how rare it is better than what Heraclitus wrote in 500 B.C.: ‘Out of every 100 men, 10 shouldn’t even be there, 80 are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.’ I am very proud of (Josh), of course, but our children don’t come from us, but through us. I can teach him how to fight, but the will to fight is a quality of soul that can’t be taught. You can’t put in what God left out. That is something that he has, that he was blessed with.”

“I didn’t have such a personal connection with Grandpa physically, since he passed away when I was 7 years old,” Josh said. “But every time I hear stories about him from my dad or the people he used to box/train with, coach or anyone that knew him, it makes me feel proud. I feel he is with me when I compete and he lives on through me and my dad. I know he’d be proud of me and everything I’ve done so far.”

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