CLARKSVILLE — Black-belt martial arts instructor Christy Stewart is used to donning a gi before teaching classes at Brad Haynes Martial Arts in Clarksville. The classes she normally teaches are full of taekwondo enthusiasts eager to earn their next belt. But since early January, Stewart’s taken on some new classes that don’t require her to wear a traditional martial arts outfit, and the only belt her students are pursuing is perhaps a smaller one.
The Clarksville dojo began offering aerobic kickboxing classes at the beginning of January, and enrollment has already taken off. Dojo owner Haynes has seen an explosion of growth at his business in the last few years, and he feels that the popularity of martial arts is a contributor to the early success of the kickboxing offering.
“There’s interest in martial arts now, but not necessarily in the traditional martial arts,” Haynes says. “[Students] see the kicking and punching on [mixed-martial arts], things of that nature. They want to be a part of it without having that level of intensity.”
The class isn’t about self-defense so much as general fitness. Gyms are a turnoff for some, and the aerobic kickboxing classes offer an alternative, Stewart said.
“We’re not a gym. We’re a martial arts academy, and a lot of people are just wanting just plain, straight exercise,” says Stewart. “They’re not wanting to learn necessarily self-defense. They’re just wanting to burn the calories, to get in shape, to tone their bodies. That’s what this class is for.”
Having an instructor is helpful for many of the students, some of whom are martial arts novices. Stewart keeps an eye out for students throwing punches and kicks with poor technique, as a badly landed shot to the heavy bag could take its toll.
“You’ve got to keep an eye on the brand new people of course, so they don’t hurt themselves,” Stewart says.
The 45-minute classes require students to wear boxing gloves and no footwear. Students work with a Wave Runner heavy bag, which has a weighted base that keeps it upright and in place. The classes begin with light stretching and a warm-up, and typical routines include repetitive punches, kicks and combinations.
Stewart wears a headset that broadcasts her instructions to the students over a stereo system that blares upbeat music during class. The music is important for keeping the intensity level of the class high, says Stewart.
“It motivates people,” she says. “We go all the way back to the 80s, and most of the students have been through the 80s era. They appreciate that music because it brings them back to when they were younger and they were more fit. It is motivational for me, even, to see smiles on people’s faces when they see certain songs come on. They get pumped and motivated.”
Of course, martial arts are about self-defense, and even the non-contact kickboxing classes will occasionally introduce self-defense concepts, says Haynes. But at its heart, the kickboxing classes are about burning calories.
That’s exactly what Kristi Reisenbichler, 32, Memphis, was looking for in a fitness class. Reisenbichler’s young son is a student at Brad Haynes Martial Arts Academy, and the kickboxing class is offered for free to parents of students at the school. Reisenbichler’s not a martial artist, but she didn’t have any trouble getting into it.
“It isn’t just going to the gym and trying to figure out my own workout,” Reisenbichler said. “It’s enjoying it with other people. In 45 minutes you have an awesome workout. I mean, I’m drenched by the end of it.”
Though the classes are accessible to all, it’s an opportunity to practice and hone technique for the school’s taekwondo students. Jennifer Pfeifer, 42, Sellersburg, attends taekwondo and kickboxing three times a week. Pfeifer throws strikes at the air in her taekwondo classes, and the heavy bag in the kickboxing classes gives her a chance to put what she has learned to use.
“You can get a little more strength going and a little more focus on your target,” she says.
In addition to learning some basic self-defense, Haynes says the class is great for stress relief, as there’s a release that comes with kicking and punching a heavy bag. But at the end of the day, it’s all about burning calories and getting a better body.
“The technique will be inherently taught as you go, but most of it is, just get out here and move,” Haynes says. “We always tell everybody, ‘This is your class. ‘You’re going to be able to work as hard as you want to work in class. If you don’t feel like you didn’t get enough of a workout, then the next time you come, make sure you work harder.’”
// MATT KOESTERS
// photos: Tyler Stewart
Published from the Feb. 2015 Southern Indiana Fitness Source.