The Fox Den is about to kick its way into Yellowknife’s martial arts and combat sports scene.

“It’s a northern animal and foxes are playful and scrappy and fun and we feel that represents who we are,” said Celia Harding-Russell, one of the gym’s directors and an instructor of kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ).

The city’s newest gym, located in the old Second Hand Swap Shop on Franklin Avenue, is making its final preparations before opening the first training sessions for students in early June.

Kim Gibson, left, and Celia Harding-Russell and the Fox Den’s two other directors secured the old Second Hand Swap Shop building as the location for their new martial arts gym. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

It will offer courses in kickboxing, BJJ and cardio kickboxing, a form of group fitness that pairs the motions of kickboxing with a high-intensity cardiovascular workout.

From COVID crisis to opportunity

The four directors of the gym initially met at the former Arctic Combat Fitness and Mixed Martial Arts gym in Kam Lake, which closed in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 lockdown.


“We weren’t the owners of that gym. We really wanted a place to train and we felt we could do a good job of creating a well-organized system of teaching martial arts to students,” said Harding-Russell, who along with Kim Gibson, Derek Falk and Yun Ni began putting together plans to open their own facility.

Last fall they developed curricula for the three disciplines they will teach and then began searching for a space a few months ago.

“It’s been a waiting game finding a location, and we were lucky to find this beautiful spot,” said Gibson, who teaches kickboxing and cardio kickboxing.

Both Gibson and Harding-Russell learned kickboxing – or Muay Thai – in Thailand. When they aren’t blocking blows or kicking, they work full time in Yellowknife schools.

All levels welcome

All disciplines at Fox Den can start at the beginner stage and go up to advanced. Falk, a multi-skilled coach, can train students in BJJ up to the black belt level.

The gym’s two other coaches are Landen Powell (BJJ and kickboxing) and Ryan Miller (kickboxing).

The Den’s mixture of martial arts will make it the only gym in Yellowknife to offer kickboxing and jiu-jitsu in one place, as Alliance Yellowknife only trains in BJJ.

So far 27 students have officially registered for classes in June, with 40 more ready to sign up, Gibson said.

Kickboxing and jiu-jitsu being full contact sports, the directors had to seek approval from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer to offer the training.

“Students will be in bubbles of four for at least six weeks,” said Gibson. “You won’t (spar) with anyone outside your bubble other than the coaches, who must wear masks. Otherwise it will be regular sparring and you have to wear a mouth guard, shin guards, head guard and gloves.”

Community support packs a punch

The directors emphasize that support from old students and coaches and from the community has helped them realize their plans for the Den. Volunteers have contributed many hours of work for the construction of the gym space.

“(Carpenter) Kat McGurk has been a great help with the construction and the flooring,” said Gibson.

Construction inside the soon-to-be martial arts gym was ongoing as of May 23. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Their application to the GNWT’s Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) fund was unsuccessful because they were deemed “market disruptors” as the second jiu-jitsu gym in town.

Gibson and her team are excitedly counting down the days until they can throw on their boxing pads and begin training feisty students.

“It’s going to be great. It’s good to finally do something instead of just taking about it.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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  1. Hi I would like to register my son can you send me an application forms please and thank you.