THERE’S an old saying, it’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up – Frank Cirillo is the embodiment of that ethos.
Cirillo went to the brink of physical and mental endurance on Saturday, and then kept going.
And in doing so he broke new ground when he became the oldest person in Australia to complete the 50-man kumite.
For an hour-and-a-half straight, Cirillo sustained a barrage of punches, kicks and knees from 50 black belt fighters, in many cases some of the highest ranking officials and best exponents of Kyokushin Karate, to claim the rare honour.
Cirillo, who trained for a year to prepare for the event, yelled in jubilation after surviving the ordeal in front of a packed house at the Yoogali Club.
“The first thing I thought was relief, I couldn’t believe I’d done it and that it was all over,” Cirillo said.
“Peter Moraschi pushed me in drills that really tested my endurance to continue in sufferance, that training got me to the end.
“Without a doubt it was harder than I thought it was going to be, it was the lack of breaks that shocked me, it was just one after another and I thought there might have been 10 to 15 seconds between each fighter.
“But instead as one was walking off the other was there waiting, it was relentless.”
The bouts started at a cracking pace, with words of encouragement pushing their friend, father and husband forward, always moving.
As the number of bouts began to climb, the physical strain began to take its toll on Cirillo’s body, as leg kicks in particular landed with a crisp thud that echoed around the room.
“I knew my chest and stomach could take a bit, I was relying on that, but it was my legs that I was most worried about,” Cirillo said.
As he closed in on the half-way mark, the Griffith fighter struck an elbow with his right fist, causing it to swell almost immediately, taking away one of his best weapons.
Despite his opponents pouring on the pressure, they congratulated him at the completion of every passing bout and then screamed their lungs out in support as they waited to have another crack at Cirillo.
As he entered his 30th fight, an inside leg kick and a knee to his ribs had Cirillo in trouble.
But even as he sank down to a knee, the roar of support saw him dig deep once more.
“There were two or three times where I was honestly questioning if was going to do this,” Cirillo admitted.
“And it’s cliche, but everyone in the room sensed it and their yelling raised something in me and overrode that feeling that I was going to quit, I got up again.”
Round 38 was a special one in the Cirillo family for more than one reason, with Frank’s son Michael stepping on to the mat to face his father and Sensei.
“He hurt, he went to town on me,” Frank said.
“But he was told, son or not, he had to go hard and he did that, but it was very special for me.
“Being the oldest person to do it, I don’t think there’s been a father and son fight in the 50-man, and I knew he was in the rotation but not sure when he would come on to the mat.”
As the 3rd Dan black belt entered the home straight, the action spilled into the front-row of spectators, and Cirillo went down, with the crowd and other fighters fearing the worst.
“The cramp in my leg finally gave way, and I was scared when Hanshi (John Taylor) came over to stretch me out, I told him ‘I’m not giving up’,” he said.
With the final five fights in front of him, Cirillo had to face the other fighters who had completed the 50-man kumite, and he again had to find the will to finish what he had started.
But the biggest honour was saved until last with the head of Australian Kyokushin Karate Association Hanshi John Taylor stepping on to the mat.
Despite being 71, Taylor threw everything in his arsenal at his student including two wheel kicks, that caught everybody by surprise.
When the final bell went, and Cirillo was presented to the crowd as the latest member of the exclusive 50-man club, he became a modern day warrior.