Grandmaster Byung Yul Lee founded World TaeKwonDo Academy in 1969 after emigrating to the U.S. from South Korea. Today, his legacy continues to shine at the academy, now run by his son. At their 12 locations, instructors teach traditional and sport taekwondo, unlocking the secrets of the discipline’s signature kicks and strikes. Teen and adult classes incorporate self-defense, tension exercises, and cardiovascular workouts, and little dragons lessons teach focus and coordination to students aged three to five. After-school taekwondo combines daycare with martial arts; after grabbing a ride to the academy, students pair homework sessions with confidence-building taekwondo lessons. In addition to the academy’s namesake martial art, students of all ages can also expand their combat knowledge with jiujitsu, cardio kickboxing, mixed martial arts, or kumdo sword training, or enroll in a yoga class to balance body and mind.
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Jeff and Mary Nelson, the head instructors at Focus Kids Karate Academy, hold classes for students of all ages, but their specialty is kids. They design specialized programs for kids aged 3–4 and 5–17, in which students learn karate and important life lessons such as discipline, manners, and self-control. Kids can also learn Brazilian jujitsu. For adults, the academy offers Brazilian jujitsu, fitness kickboxing, and full-contact MMA classes that blend styles such as Brazilian jujitsu, Western boxing, muay thai kickboxing, and wrestling.
At Gorilla Combat, students draw inspiration from the primate world, in which bands of gorillas bond by playing, wrestling, and protecting one another with weapon-free defense maneuvers. Certified trainers and pro fighters lead classes for all levels of skill and fitness, teaching kids how to punch during youth boxing lessons and showing grown-ups how to grapple during judo, jujitsu, and MMA sessions. In addition to cultivating strength and confidence, classes equip students with enough stamina, coordination, and discipline to perform an accordion while running a marathon. Full-size boxing rings welcome practice jabs and full-blown muay thai matches, and a collection of barbells and rowing machines helps athletes condition their muscles between classes or bouts. The instructors also offer personal training for those wishing to toughen up for a fight or an onslaught of sour-faced emoticons.
Helmed by founder Lawrence Yatch—a retired Navy SEAL who once led his platoon in securing one of the world's largest oil platforms—the instructors of Sealed Mindset Firearms Studio oversee a facility where every room upholds a training philosophy emphasizing knowledge, practice, and experience. The shooting range, for example, trains marksmen by simulating the conditions in which a defensive encounter is most likely to occur. Depending on shooters' ability levels, the range offers scenarios from simulated night to defending against multiple targets in up to a 270-degree shooting view. Other training rooms include a live-simulation room that re-creates encounters such as carjackings, a self-defense and fitness room, and a laser and dry-fire room.
Instructors use these training rooms to lead classes that range from firearms and fitness training for everyday citizens to specialized training for law enforcement and the military. Additionally, they also organize recreational immersion experiences such as Operation Geronimo, a simulated Navy SEAL mission complete with real combat gear, simulated fire, live role players, and a celebratory steak dinner with the president. Sealed Mindset also houses a children's playroom and a members' lounge.
The instructors at Gracie Barra Twin Cities aren't content to watch while students practice chokes and take-downs on each other; they regularly step on the mat with them. At Gracie Barra they believe that hands-on instruction, which many martial-arts schools lack, is a crucial step in developing a student's confidence and skill level. During these teacher-student spar sessions, the instructors compete at each student's ability, applying just enough resistance to challenge them without overdoing it or using cheat codes.
Though Allan Charney had been a consummate athlete all his life, he never found a sport that could match the workout intensity and adrenaline rush of boxing. "It has always been a dream to blend boxing and kickboxing with fitness," Allan explained to reporters from Sun Sailor. Allan realized his longtime dream when he founded GYMJAB, a private fitness studio where instructors lead high-intensity cross-training workouts designed to help burn high caloric amounts and build muscle strength. These workouts are infused with rounds of boxing and muay thai kickboxing. His diverse staff of trainers includes former professional boxers, tae kwon do black belts, amateur MMA fighters, and certified fitness instructors.
The 6,500-square-foot studio abounds with cardio machines, functional conditioning equipment, heavy punching bags and several large-screen televisions. These televisions can broadcast each guest's heart rate, calories, effort percentage, and total number of 13-point Scrabble words spoken aloud during workouts. These figures are tracked through the gym's innovative heart-rate system, which records activity using specialized heart-rate monitors worn by participants. After workouts, students can view their workout summaries and track progress online and receive performance summaries by email, enabling them to adjust workout strategies and fitness goals accordingly.