Marauding monsters and startling special effects thrill visitors wandering through the winding limestone caverns beneath Lemp Mansion in what HauntWorld.com called “one of the most unique and realistic haunts we've ever reviewed.” Speed passes whisk visitors past tedious lines through the gothic 1860s mansion’s ornate gates and eerie archways to a century-old freight elevator. The historic conduit drops visitors 50 feet below street level into the damp St. Louis underground, the former site of Lemp’s brewery that was abandoned more than 100 years ago due to workers’ constant bickering over the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Rusty pipes and ancient relics of machinery decorate the musty caverns as visitors wind through 20,000 square feet of intense audio, strobe lights, fog, and moving floors. High-tech animatronics, including a massive mechanical alligator, bide their time along with hideous beasts, corpses, brawling zombie gangsters, rats, bats, and lost members of the Milwaukee Brewers. To escape, visitors must eventually scale a towering staircase to the safety of the surface while quelling urges to check whether Eurydice is behind them.
Bryan Guidry and Dave Burke lead students of all levels and ages through a variety of martial-arts classes. They teach students the grappling maneuvers of Brazilian jujitsu, the throwing moves of judo, and the kneeing and elbowing of kickboxing.
When Aikido instructor Elliot Freeman discovered martial arts as a teenager, his interest knew no bounds. He searched for and attempted to master as many forms as he could find, including Kendo, Moo Duk Kwon, and Laido. When he heard rumors that the mysterious style known as aikido could grant practitioners the ability to throw people across the room without touching them or secretly attaching their pant legs to a trebuchet, he knew he found what would be the bedrock to his entire career. He eventually studied under acclaimed Aikido masters, earned top ratings in the National Karate Assocation and American Karate Association, and formed various programs and dojos. In 1993 Freeman journeyed to St. Louis to study with action-film star Sensei Steven Seagal at his Aikido summer camp. Seagal became so impressed with Freeman that he asked him to open a new school in St. Louis. Freeman readily agreed, founding Three Rivers Aikido where he still acts as chief instructor alongside master Ken O'Neill, who has been practicing martial arts since 1969, and has experience with Aikido, Mauy Thai, Filipino Kali-Escrima, jujustu, Russian Systema, and more.
Freeman, along with 12 other Aikido instructors, welcomes students of all ages to come and train within the 3,500-square-foot dojo. In addition to the martial-arts training offered at the dojo, yoga instructor Alyona Komolova, a former Russian ballerina, offers classes to help students increase flexibility. Instructor Justin Meehan, a martial-arts veteran of 38 years, instructs attendees in tai chi, a relaxing flow of prescribed motions that balance body and mind.
The sounds of flailing feet and fists correctly striking padded opponents pervade Absolute Martial Arts’ 3,600-square-foot facility, where students learn how to lose weight, tone up, and defend themselves simultaneously. Atop a large mat that the staff disinfects daily, professional instructors lead structured muay-thai kickboxing classes that slowly introduce exercisers to the fundamentals of the 1,000-year-old sport, which is similar to kickboxing and dissimilar to napping. Many of the trainers, including Thai-native Master Toddy, boast years of extensive training and practice, pushing students beyond their perceived limits but always keeping their safety in mind. It also offers Brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed-martial-arts classes to allow students a chance to explore new forms or augment their muay-thai practice.
The multitalented team of instructors, which includes trainers certified in Agatsu Kettlebell and Commando Krav Maga, helps to strengthen hearts, bodies, and minds during self-defense, fitness, and fight courses. Instructors lead beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of kettlebell fitness, a class that incorporates fundamental swings, cleans, snatches, and Turkish getups to simultaneously work several muscle groups at once.
The team also helps to build endurance by leading participants through Latin dance steps in Zumba and through a tapestry of kicks and punches in cardio kickboxing. Additionally, trainers helm courses in krav maga, a form of martial arts designed to increase confidence, protection, and Bruce Lee comparisons. Following a functional warm-up, instructors run through drills to teach students how to escape from chokes and disarm an opponent using lighting-quick pressure and weakness-point attacks.
When asked about their teaching qualifications, the instructors at Finney's HIT Squad—including Jesse Finney himself—all point to their win records. All of them have a competitive fighting history in their chosen disciplines, and several have earned championships or black belts. As full-time employees of the gyms, they school guests on MMA, kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian jujitsu, and wrestling. They also access their inside knowledge of the industry for fighter-development programs, which strive to transform beginners into professional combatants without stuffing them into hollowed-out punching-bag cocoons for 5 years. For amateurs and experts alike, they assert that "you fight how you train," and aim to simulate official rounds inside their onsite cages, boxing rings, and matted arenas. In 2011, their professional chops helped Finney's HIT Squad take the title of Best MMA Gym in the Riverfront Times Best of St Louis feature.
Despite their investment in competitions, however, the staffers view the two gyms as all-inclusive spaces. Whether they are instilling confidence in children through kids' jujitsu, orienting a new member to the fitness equipment, or leading a women-only martial-arts class, they mentor students of all backgrounds.