Getting a kick out of becoming a fitter fighter Workout: Cardio- kickboxing classes tone students' bodies and give them a sense of power.

October 08, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

You can be a lady and still kick butt -- just ask Jessicah Hackney.

She's not a woman to confront in a dark alley. After just six weeks in a Pasadena cardio-kickboxing class, she's learned to punch and kick with enough enthusiasm and strength to push a bag across the room.

"When you get done, you feel like you can kill somebody," she said panting during a break in class. "I love it."

In Maryland and across the United States, cardio-kickboxing has brought high-energy, sweat-dripping aerobics to the ancient arena of martial arts systems of self-defense. Those who love to work out have moved from the gym to the dojo. Even county

recreation departments are offering cardio-kickboxing programs.

Hourlong classes offer an 800-calorie burn, according to health magazines, with punching and kicking that can injure an attacker and muscle toning without using weights. Even a few minutes practicing repeated kicks while balancing against a wall is enough to tone a few muscles.

"I thought, 'Hey, I'm not out of shape,' but I come in here, and in 15 minutes, he's got me huffing and puffing," said Kathy Woffinden a student at Apolo's East Coast Tae Kwon Do. "I'm sore in places I never knew existed."

Three-year boom

Since the National Association of Professional Martial Artists trade group began promoting the idea of combining martial arts with a cardiovascular workout three years ago, there has been a run on martial arts schools. Exercisers bored with Stairmasters and step aerobics joined the ranks of young, energetic women, flabby men, housewives and the just-a-- few-pounds to-lose crowd for lessons in coordination and self-defense.

Removing the fear

In three years, the 1,650-member NAPMA has certified more than 3,000 instructors nationwide. About 25,000 schools are teaching cardio-karate or cardio-kickboxing in the United States, said John King of St. Petersburg, Fla., who organizes schools for NAPMA cardio instruction. The lessons have been so popular that a handful of schools have abandoned traditional martial arts instruction altogether, King said.

"Everyone wants to learn self-defense, but not everyone wants to get smacked in the head doing it," he said.

Cardio-kickboxing classes are taught in a relaxed environment without uniforms or sparring.

"We were able to create a program that took the fear out of martial arts. We've removed the hoops people have to jump through to get into the martial arts," King said.

At area schools, the overwhelming majority of participants are women. Most come with moves they've learned in aerobics, and no boxing skills. But in a short time, they learn that a dip in the hip gives an uppercut more sting and a quick foot can cripple an attacker.

Work to the music

At Kick Connection, the pulsating, bass-heavy beat of house music blares from the corner of a musky room where women bounce on their toes like prize boxers, their fists wrapped in boxing gloves and raised to guard their faces. They snap their punches in the air.

"Breathe out when you punch," Benjamin Brown calls out to the (( class. He explains that breathing out contracts the abdomen and protects the innards, should an opponent sneak in a punch.

"Plus it sounds good," he said, "you know, like your hands are flying through the air."

"Shh! shh!" The students spit out air as they punch. A typical workout begins with a stretch and warm-up -- anything from combining shuffling, punching and kicking, to jumping jacks. Then the class moves to more intensive punching and kicking. At Apolo's East Coast Tae Kwon Do, classmates grab partners, size each other up and take turns punching and kicking the air in front of each other. The exercise helps students visualize defending themselves.

Next the class rolls out the adjustable punching bags -- a sort of bag on a stick. They go through a routine of punches and kicks on the bag, circling it while maintaining the boxer's bounce. Later the class is allowed a few minutes of freestyle aggression -- all the punch and kick combinations they can think of.

Learning aggression

"There is no better stress relief than beating on that bag," said Kathy Woffinden. "It's a good thing. Women have never been taught to be aggressive -- ever. If you can pack powerful punches and kicks, you feel more comfortable that you can handle yourself in dangerous situations."

Class ends with practice kicks leaning against a wall, assaulting leg lifts or sit-ups.

"I find it easier now to do regular physical activity," said Russ Miante, the only man in a recent class at Kick Connection. "It's a good whole-body workout."

Especially for a woman. After chasing the bag across the room, Hackney said one advantage of the class was learning how to put together punch combinations.

"Because I'm not really a fighter."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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