AFTER a relationship break-up four years ago, Becky Ball decided she needed a new challenge, so she took up the practice of Muay Thai — a combat sport hailing from Thailand and dating back to the 18th century.

Now the feisty fighter is keen to encourage other women to take up the sport, which she says helps with health and fitness, and also mental well-being.

“I have anxiety, and it’s a really good way of tackling that,” she said. “It focuses the mind.”

Becky, 42, who works in advertising in Swindon, said: “I’ve always been a runner and I’ve run races and done a marathon, but I wanted to try something new.

“I saw a really famous fighter training her abs by dropping a medicine ball on her belly, and I wondered, what was she doing?

“It turned out she was training to fight. I set myself the challenge to win a fight... I am still working on that one!”

Muay Thai is a combat sport that calls on mental and physical discipline.

It is known as the Art of Eight Limbs because it involves punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes.

Becky has learnt her skills at Gracie Barra in Ashworth Road, where women take part in many of the classes.

“In Thailand, this is the national sport, and they have Saturday night shows, and it is surrounded with ceremony and tradition,” she explained.

Becky is committed to her sport and trains for one and a half hours, three times a week.

She said competitions were based on how strong you looked, and how you affected your opponent.

She admits she has suffered some injuries.

“I did come to work with a black eye once,” she said.

But the challenge makes it worthwhile.

“I feel more confident having these skills. You respect your opponent, and you do get a huge buzz from it,” she said. Now she has planned a trip to Thailand where she can practise her sport in the country of its birth.

Muay Thai coach James Fisher, who has been learning Muay Thai for 10 years, said they had a few women learning the martial art but hoped to encourage more to join.

“We’re looking to start a ladies’ class next year,” he said. “I think women might like to try it, with other women, as it is quite a male environment.”

He said the sport was good for anyone to try.

“It’s an all-body work-out, and a beautiful art, and it can be adapted to use for self defence,” he said. “It helps build confidence in yourself and puts people in a better situation, because it makes them more alert and more aware of other people.”

The centre teaches youngsters from four years of age – though no head contact is allowed while children are young – and adults right through to their seventies.

“It teaches discipline and respect,” James said. “The environment might seem intimidating when you first arrive, but everyone is nice and friendly.”

He said Becky had been named Student of the Year for her dedication and commitment to the sport.

“She has a passion that shines through, and she is very welcoming and supportive to new people,” he said.