As The Cellar Gym’s general manager and a youth Muay Thai coach, Katie Locken’s everyday life is immersed in martial arts. She’s had two feet firmly planted in the world of martial arts since she was young, and that passion has defined the course of her personal and professional life. Although she started in karate as a child, her later forays into Muay Thai and MMA led her to high-level competition, as well as her future career.
Katie’s first introduction to martial arts came when she was 10 years old. Following the 9/11 terror attacks, her parents enrolled her brother in karate classes for self-defense. When Katie came and watched him in class, she immediately knew she wanted to learn karate too. She spent every possible spare moment in class, her parents making the 30-minute drive to the karate school every single day.
When Katie was 12, she suffered a head injury after a softball struck her during practice. She was left with a skull fracture and a subdural hematoma, unable to read or walk. As she worked tirelessly to regain control of her body, her parents decided that she could take private lessons at her gym in order to stay active. With fascination, Katie observed how her instructor interacted with her versus the other students. “I realized that teachers have such a talent and a gift for the way they talk to people and the benefit it can have in their lives,” she says.
Although the trajectory of Katie’s recovery was unclear, she considers her lessons the reason for her speedy rehabilitation as well as the defining moment for her desire to teach martial arts. “Doing martial arts right away really impacted me beneficially, and I never had any issues once I was all healed,” she recalls. “It’s not just punching and kicking and learning self defense, but it can help with memory and confidence and coordination and focus and all these different things that are so important.”
Katie made a full recovery and began teaching martial arts by age 15. Out of necessity, she took a break from teaching while in college, but she always missed being around her students. She started her own karate school when she was 21, and although she loved being back in karate, she began to explore other martial arts, particularly MMA. When she took an MMA fight and started developing new skills in Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, she realized that her future lay elsewhere. During her first fight camp, Katie was encouraged by her then-trainer and future husband, Ben Locken, Katie came to The Cellar Gym to hone her striking and grappling repertoire.
Katie attended a kickboxing event in Wyoming, MN where a few members of the Cellar were fighting that night. “The Cellar fighters just blew everybody out of the water. They had such good striking. I was really, really impressed, and it was a big community too,” Katie recalls. “They had a ton of people watching and they were all cheering each other on.”Katie knew she needed to be part of an outstanding team, and she reached out to the Cellar’s head coach, Chris Cichon. Soon, she was attending training at the Cellar every single day. “I wanted to take it seriously,” she says. “I was impressed by the Cellar’s fighters and I knew that if I wanted to do well in the sport, I had to come here. The biggest difference that I saw was that it was so authentic. It was so real. Everything that I was learning, everything that I was throwing had a real damaging impact. For the first time I felt like everything worked for me, no matter what my size was or what my age was or what my strength was. Everything worked. It was real.”
Katie says that training at the Cellar helped her overcome internal obstacles and self-doubt. Katie gained more than just an impressive fight camp at the Cellar — she also joined a supportive community and found her calling as a coach for the youth Muay Thai program. As a martial artist, Katie is a purple rank in Muay Thai, a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, she won “fight of the night” during her MMA debut in May 2016, and won the North American TBA Women’s Novice Bantamweight championship in 2017! As a coach, Katie says that she wants to develop Muay Thai in the Midwest, especially youth development tournaments for kids to learn how to compete in a safe environment.
“The number one thing that I want out of my students is to try to help them become the best people that they can be,” Katie says. “Someone once said to me, ‘We’re not just making martial artists, we are making better people’ — and I think that is 110% true. I keep that in mind every time I teach a class that we’re shaping the next generation of humans, and that’s super powerful.”