A Black Belt Takes a LesMills Body Combat Class


Good lock of the kick, but y’all need to turn your hips and point your toes down…then again, what do I know. I’m just a black belt.

Two years ago I wrote a review of the ballet barre class my gym introduced in early 2016. I’ve since gotten the hang of it, have become pretty proficient in the moves, and have seen some improvement in my core and leg strength. I usually did a little barre and swimming on the side while I took 5-6 taekwondo classes per week.

Now that my taekwondo training has dwindled to next to nothing, I need something else to keep me in fighting shape. About 2-3 months ago I started taking Body Combat at my gym. Body Combat is one of the latest parts of the Les Mills gym class machine, which now includes 16 different branded classes that are taught at gyms across the world. There are certain “versions” that are released every few months, which keeps both the certified instructors and participants on their toes.

Spoiler alert: I LOVE IT. I’ve taken my share of aerobics classes over the last 20 years, but I’ve never found one I wanted to stick with for the long term. Barre is turning out (no pun intended) to be one of those classes, and it looks like Body Combat will be the same. The course purports  to combine techniques from boxing, Muay Thai, taekwondo, capoeira, and karate (sorta). I like to think of it as a technique class as opposed to specific practice on things like self-defense, poomsae, or fighting. It both helps me hone my well-trained skills and let’s me spend time on techniques I rarely or never get to practice.

So what is the experience for a trained martial artist in a Body Combat class? Training pickiness aside, it’s an excellent high-intensity cardio workout, which keeps me in good cardiovascular shape for my sporadic appearances in sparring class. It hits all the major body parts–legs, butt, core, arms, shoulders and back and offers enough variety that it’s very difficult to get bored. Hell, yesterday my Tuesday instructor threw in a flying side kick! Most of all, it is pure FUN! Having absolute fun is something I’ve missed over the past six months in my taekwondo classes.

I recommend that any martial artist go into this class with an open mind and a goal of refining the basics and building speed and strength. They simplify some techniques (for example, roundhouse kicks and side kicks are only done on the front foot, there’s no turn to the back kick, and their “front stance” is most decidedly NOT a front stance)…and that’s okay. This is not meant to be for only those who have advanced fighting training.

The simplicity of the techniques gives you the opportunity to tweak and refine the foundational skills that you still rely on as a black belt. I’m short and have a hard time hearing the instructor with her muffled mic, so I intentionally plant myself in the front in every class so I can see her. The added benefit is that I can watch myself in the mirror as I punch, kick, lunge, and throw knees and elbows. I have a visual target when I punch to the side of the head or snap kick to the torso. There’s lots of repetition, so I can make tiny changes every time I strike, and I definitely take this technique training with me back to my traditional taekwondo classes.

Another benefit is this class breaks me out of my taekwondo rut. We will sometimes go through an entire tkd class without doing one hand strike, and those who know me well know I loooooove hitting shit with my hands, even if it’s just the air. My favorite breaking techniques are hand strikes, and I try to punch as often as I can in a sparring match. From a practical point of view, I’m most likely going to be using my hands in a real self-defense situation, so even though my Friday instructor is just dazzled by my head-high roundhouse kicks and the occasional spin kick I throw in (meh), I’m paying more attention to the technique of my punches and elbow strikes. And in Body Combat there are so many punches…oh the punches…so many punches…

Finally, theres’s a sense of both anonymity and camaraderie I get in Body Combat that I don’t get in taekwondo. In taekwondo I’m either an instructor or a student, and I’m constantly communicating with students or other instructors. I can’t go to class and just be. As much as I love the closeness I have with my other black belt instructors and students I also want to be left completely alone once in a while when I’m working out. There’s certainly no pressure for me to teach at the gym, nor is their pressure to perform (although most of that pressure comes from me). Sometimes I get funny looks at the gym when I’m warming up before class with a form or two, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m enjoying silently critiquing myself in the side and front mirrors. Extra practice!

Some days in taekwondo I look into the (sometimes) listless eyes of my students and realize none of us want to be there. We’re all tired of the routine. I have to repeatedly remind my black belts to do simple things like keep their hands up and bend their knees with a snap kick, which is frustrating and tiresome. None of that in Body Combat. Sure, the technique is kinda terrible, but people work their butts off. Hands are up all the time (and I think it’s cute how some of the women will wear MMA gloves). Feet are moving all the time. People are eager to keep up and try their best. I’m punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing my ass off like a good second degree black belt. Everyone wants to be there because they know it’s their workout and no one else is going to do the work for them. We all have off days, days when we’re tired and bored, but I wish I could see more of that self-motivation in taekwondo.

If you’re a martial artist needing a supplement to your training, give your local gym’s kickboxing class a try. You may be surprised at how much you like it.


A Black Belt Goes to Barre Class

Martial Arts Ballet Dance Kids Teens Adults Southlake TX 76092

I usually avoid the latest fitness crazes because I’ve found what works for me, but I’ve been intrigued by a trend that started catching on last year: barre class, as in, a body sculpting workout using a ballet barre.  Ballet, like Pilates and yoga, is well-known for its ability to build long, lean muscles and improve flexibility and balance. I actually like the fact that I’ve bulked up from taekwondo, which probably makes me the odd woman out, but having studied dance as an undergrad, I have an appreciation for the lean muscle tone ballet training can provide.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to scrounge Groupon for a discounted pass to the PureBarre studio in my neighborhood. My gym, where I mostly swim and take yoga classes, recently added a barre class to the roster. Tonight I donned my favorite tank and stretch pants and went to check it out.

The only hesitation I had about the class was the name:

….um, okay, whatever.

First of all, I don’t need any help in that department. Nineteen years of yoga practice plus intense taekwondo classes and all the squats and box jumps I do in physical therapy have served me very well. Second of all, what a childish, pandering name for a class! It feels too ridiculous to even say out loud. I’m not trying to be a humorless prude, but…Bootybarre? Really??

I didn’t go into the workout expecting an easy, soft stretch class. Let’s level set here: Ballet is HARD. It’s strenuous, deeply technical, and demands full engagement of the body from head to pointed toe. The physical training and mind-body awareness I developed in college dance classes has helped me quite a bit with the equally highly technical demands of taekwondo, although kicking the crap out of someone has a certain…hmm…je ne se quoi that can’t be replicated in a dance class. I didn’t expect it to be too hard, though. “Bootybarre” is held at my gym, not a professional dance studio, so how hard could it be?

The short version: This class kicked my ass. Walking down my stairs tomorrow is going to be painful.

The class began with some simple plies. Okay, this was familiar, I could do this. When my quads started burning less than ten minutes in I knew I was in trouble. After the warm up we switched to dumbbell lifts. 2.5 pound weights? Pssh! No problem…until we started doing all the dumbbell lifts while standing tall on the balls of our feet. Ugh. Hopefully in taekwondo class my Koryo ready stance that I do on tippy toes (yes, that is the technical term) will be solid as a rock after this.

The rest of the class was a blur of leg lifts that left my legs feeling like jelly. After squeezing a ball between my burning thighs for what felt like an hour (okay, more like five minutes) it was a relief to drop to the floor and do some ab work. After being reminded to “zip up my core” for the last forty-five minutes I was pleased that my abs held up better than my legs did. Plus, the final song that was playing was a dance club mix of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” so I had extra motivation to keep moving. “Gon’ make you sweat, make you sweat, make you sweat!”

“Do you do ballet?” a woman asked me after the class.
“Oh, I did a little in college, but now I’m into martial arts,” I said as I put the aforementioned evil ball back in its designated box.
“Well you look like you do it. You move very gracefully.”
“Thanks…except these aren’t from ballet!” I cackled, flashing my bruised forearms at her.

I went home exhausted and sore and consoled myself with a leftover empanada and Cuban rice.

The verdict: worth a try. It was fun, and it can complement the cross training I do to be an agile (and aging) athlete. Like Pilates, yoga, and taekwondo, it taps into the mind-body connection and keeps my muscles lengthened and joints supple. And most importantly, bathing suit season will be here before I know it. I’m already looking forward to next week’s class, ridiculous name and all.