Seemingly on cue with my second heaping plate at the holiday party, and with the soft layer of flesh enveloping my hips and escaping my waistband, SFR got me a one-month kickboxing membership for Christmas.
Which was unnecessary, of course, because I’m a runner—an infrequent, disingenuous and unqualified runner. I am part of that stoic elite who brave all elements in search of that unparalleled burn. But I went anyway.
Like all runners, I am a loner. I eschew team sports and group activities and, until last month, didn’t even have a Facebook page. So, naturally, I begged my friend Amanda to accompany me.
Our first trip to ANK Marshall Arts found us navigating an industrial park off of Richards Avenue, only to find the gym housed in the quintessential industrial warehouse. The cave was populated with accustomed bodies that exhaled a comical “neesh, neesh” as they landed their kicks and punches. Huge punching bags stood at attention in ordered relief to sundry workout equipment and countless placards.
We were out of our element and we’d been spotted.
The cardio class to which we sentenced ourselves can be glibly described as karate-aerobics. Surrounded by a one-to-one ratio of men and women of varying body types, ages and abilities, we were subjected to a slew of demonically creative tortures—I never knew that squats happened in sets greater than 10 nor that one was meant to suspend her body on merely her toes and elbows. These little agonies are conducted in intervals of varying length and intensity, punctuated by a series of bells—anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes with respective breaks in between.
The sorcerer behind these myriad malignancies is the gym’s owner and one of its eight instructors, Natalie Roy, a woman with the frame of a little girl—a little girl made of steel. Roy began studying martial arts at age 8 and received a black belt at 14. When she isn’t at the gym or working part-time as a veterinary technician, she runs marathons for fun.
For Roy, kickboxing has helped her through tough times in her life. For Amanda and me, it seemed a good alternative to doing nothing at all.
After the first class (which, along with the second, is free), Amanda picked up a one-month membership ($80, $45 with a 6-month contract) and we decided we’d try to go a few times a week. We went the next day and, inexplicably, every day thereafter.
Despite my runner’s physique, the first week was exhausting. My legs were peppered (think all varieties of pepper) with bruises. Movement, even at my desk, was labored. I slept with reckless abandon and my appetite was ravenous, but my glut didn’t leave me thinking I was making bad life choices.
A month later, to my dismay, strict attendance had not chiseled my frame to that of an Olympian. Did I mention that, in addition to being a runner and a loner, I am very vain? It did leave a line of lean muscle visible on my outer thigh and a strange oblong knot on my upper arm. Amanda lost 5 pounds. More importantly, kickboxing left Amanda and me with an incredible sense of our own physical capability. Most importantly, we kept going.
The variation in exercise type and execution, I believe, is what contributes to kickboxing’s (and our) staying power.
“People get addicted to the workout and the natural high,” Roy says. She adds, “You can’t learn to protect yourself in aerobics.”
You can’t look cool as hell either (Kumite! Kumite!, anyone?).
The gym has other offerings besides my cardio mainstay, ones too socially demanding and combative for the likes of a runner (read: for someone with poor hand-eye coordination). Judo, Western boxing and Muay Thai classes—imagine the punching bag were another person—are, however, unabashedly (bashedly!) badass. There are kids’ classes too.
We have now been going to kickboxing for eight months, at times more dutifully than others. The incessant bells are now familiar, the exercise is still exhausting and eating crappy food still makes us feel crappy. There are no miracles. Kickboxing, like running, is hard, sometimes tedious but—sometimes in more tangible ways than others—definitely worth it.
Unlike running, there is variation and, if that isn’t enough, there is the shame of watching older and less obviously fit classmates keep up, while I, pathetic, retch on the floor.
Kickboxing has allowed me to explore the abilities of my body and, by extension, the limits. That said, I know now there are many things I’m not, but I’m definitely a kickboxer.
ANK Marshall Arts
3208 Richards Lane