Amid the mythical landscapes and thrilling martial-arts battles in the film Mortal Kombat, you might see Richard Branden performing swift punches and mighty kicks as an outland warrior. Richard’s role in Mortal Kombat is just one of his many motion-picture credits, which include a stunt-double role in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the Yin-Yang Man in WMAC Masters. The internationally renowned warrior has been practicing in martial arts since 1976, earning more than 35 international titles and six gold medals in chinese kung fu. A firm believer in the practice’s ability to enhance discipline and focus, as well as strength and agility, Branden opened Studio Kicks Palo Alto to help students of all ages reap martial arts’ many benefits.
Bright red and blue mats sweep across the floor of the expansive studio, where Branden's staff conduct a variety of combat-centric classes. The trainers lead energetic circuit-training routines and kickboxing combinations in adult fitness classes, helping students improve form and technique as they work toward sliming their physiques and toning their muscles. Youngsters and adults alike can enroll in the martial-arts program, where instructors guide students through movements, techniques, and training exercises that aim to boost power, flexibility, and strength. In addition to improving physical fitness, the program’s curriculum seeks to bolster self-confidence, much like an Armani blazer with the padded shoulders and biceps already sown in.
Weak bodies are whittled into lean, muscular fighting machines as instructors at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) teach the martial arts styles used for UFC competition, self-defense, and overall conditioning. Men, women, and kids train in the company of students such as professional fighter Cain Velasquez and instructor Daniel Cormier, a former Olympian. AKA splits its MMA, jujitsu, and muay thai kickboxing classes among four facilities, with group-training sessions and private professional sessions taking place in modern training studios with heavy bags, speed bags, and Olympic-grade mats. The Hillside location also features a professional-size ring for sparring or marriage-proposal practice, and the two-story AKA headquarters on Realm Avenue highlights an MMA cage, TRX suspension room, and cardio theater stocked with StairMasters and Jacobs Ladder machines.
The self-defense system of krav maga is most closely associated with the Israeli Defense Forces, which has taught the efficient and easy-to-learn combat technique to its members since the 1940s. The system is also popular among civilians, who in the Bay Area can learn beginner through professional level defensive moves from instructors led by veteran Master Shlomi Katz, who was head of krav maga training for the counter terror school of the IDF. In addition to learning krav maga, students can opt for training in other martial arts—MMA for adults and karate for kids—as well as intense fitness classes that combine cross-training, MMA conditioning, weight training, TRX resistance, and more.
Smash Gyms' list of instructors reads like a classified roster for some kind of elite instructor squad. The kickboxing instructor, Sam "The Ram" Spengler beats people insensate as a professional MMA fighter when he's not teaching junior-high students. Michael Jen, a third-degree black belt, engineered his own method of teaching Brazilian jujitsu after practicing the graceful art for 20 years.
What they share is a love of teaching. Jen draws on his wealth of experience studying under renowned teachers such as Roy Harris and Joe Moreira to impart his wisdom and high kicks to students. "The Ram" leads upbeat, fun kickboxing classes to help pupils reach their fitness goals, such as losing weight or being able to roundhouse kick the tempting ice cream offered to them.
After 17 years as a professional fighter and nine titles, kickboxing and karate champion Brian Schwartz stepped out of retirement to try his fists at MMA. A broken hand and, subsequently, the first professional loss of his career slowed him down, but not for long—the next year, he returned to face and beat that opponent. Naturally enough for a man who can’t let a new challenge go untested, Schwartz then turned his focus to a new endeavor: the creation of Undisputed Boxing Gym, where he would share the secrets of the fight with a new generation.
Schwartz has assembled a dynamic staff of fighters with backgrounds in jujitsu, boxing, tae kwon do, and kickboxing to train both aspiring fighters and average fitness enthusiasts. Students can tone up and learn self-defense techniques or even chase a spot in the gym's amateur competitive program. The sweat flows in expansive training facilities that include a tae kwon do dojo, a cycling studio, a set of 40 Everlast heavy bags, and displays that track class progress as well as show the music videos for the songs being played. An in-house chiropractor helps align muscles and massages away any knots from learning an especially brutal tickle submission.
FTX Martial Arts & Fitness, formerly known as Muaythai Fitness, promotes cultural and knowledge sharing and learning. The trainers offer coed adult classes and kid-focused programs, which help develop self-discipline, scholastic achievement, and self-confidence. The space is dotted with 7-foot heavy bags, which are designed to weather the repeated impacts of sharp knees, elbows, and tongue-lashings from the coaches for always losing fights. Varied mat spaces are designed to host specific benefits to both striking and grappling arts, empowering students to stitch together a complete MMA education as they train in muay thai, Brazilian jujitsu, boxing, TRX, and strength and conditioning.