Shihan Mike Downs, head of Defensive Arts Dojo, isn't just a sixth-degree karate champ and active member of the Isshin-Ryu World Karate Association. He's also a chiropractor, and that double life as a doctor and a sensei adds richness to his instruction. Like Mike, there's more to Defensive Arts Dojo than mastering kicks and punches. It's a discipline of the mind and the body, and a boosting of self-confidence that permeates their gregarious, yet challenging, lessons. Fighting classes include the defensive techniques of Brazilian jujitsu, kendo and iaido swordsmanship, and Ground Zero courses for thwarting domestic foes. Physical fitness seekers can let their inner warrior loose in Warrior Fitness programs that meld core exercises and cardio training with MMA techniques, and yoga classes enhance flexibility and strength while vanquishing stress through exercise and relaxing meditation.
At Pro Dojos, certified martial-arts experts lead students of all ages and skill levels through a variety of pugilistic disciplines. Each location is independently owned, so the martial-arts styles may vary, but many offer karate, tae kwon do, kick-boxing, aikido, and jujitsu classes. The instructors elucidate the noble combat arts to kiddos as young as 4 years old, helping them build strength and motor skills while instilling the values of self-confidence. Teen classes focus on honing discipline and treating yourself and others with respect, and adult classes reinforce cardiovascular conditioning, strength, balance, and coordination. The instructors also lead classes for the whole family, allowing them to bond as a unit, which could possibly lead to starring in a hit sitcom about a crime-fighting family who takes down comical villains in their idyllic suburban neighborhood.
In 2004, Warren Lee was a high-school teacher by day and a muay thai kick-boxing private trainer on the side. But demand for his private lessons grew, and eventually the one-man business blossomed into a full-time combat fitness business. Today, Lee runs Toronto Kickboxing & Muay Thai (TKMT) Academy at three locations, all of which provide friendly atmospheres for students to work up a sweat, shed stress, and learn self-defense. The staff credits its unintimidating and professional attitude with helping to draw an almost even split of male and female students—a rarity in martial-arts gyms.
All three locations feature pristine facilities and include men's and women's changing rooms and individual showers, as well as a boxing ring, grappling mats, thai pads, heavy bags, and an assortment of training equipment. The staff of committed instructors includes Ajahn Amnat Yodkwain, a former professional fighter and muay thai master who has trained in Thailand's combative arts since the age of 7. All of the academy's instructors possess CPR and first-aid certification and participate regularly in professional development. In order to join the team, they must also pass a series of rigorous tests designed to challenge their skills in muay thai, general fitness, and kicking cookie jars off the top shelf.
Lanna Mixed Martial Arts conditions beginners and hardened warriors alike using hard-hitting fighting techniques taught in a friendly, positive atmosphere. Adults of all fitness levels burn fat and build muscle while learning effective self-defense skills in Brazilian jiu jitsu courses, muay thai kickboxing sessions, and fast-striking MMA matches. Kids age 3–12, meanwhile, learn discipline, respect, and healthy lifestyle practices in children's martial arts courses, showing off their skills at community events and demonstrations.
At Lanna's sleek, spacious facility, guests don sport-specific training pads and spar in comfort and safety. Medicine balls, kick pads, and a forest of punching bags await punishment from hands and feet, while trainees face off in the professional-grade boxing ring.
NSA TrainStation director Niki Aron has been a personal trainer for more than a decade, during which she has helped people reach their fitness goals, all while embracing the transformative powers of TRX suspension training in a converted airplane hangar. Designed by an active Navy SEAL looking for a way to work out without regular gym equipment, TRX employs straps that help exercisers use their bodies for resistance. With straps looped around hands, ankles, or overenthusiastic ponytails, participants lean back, hang upside-down, and twist. TRX workouts are designed to simultaneously improve flexibility, balance, and core strength.
TRX straps wind around the i-beams of the National Squash Academy, the facility in which Niki hosts classes. Through lessons, camps, and outreach programs, the Academy seeks to fill its ten courts with players of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. Because of the origins of the facility, the workout space leaves ample room around equipment and visitors, discouraging overcrowding. The facility was named Best Specialty Fitness Club in Toronto by BlogTO in 2013.
When famed martial artist Bruce Lee created jeet kune do (JKD) in the late '60s, the martial arts world was fractured. Karate was here, kung fu was there, and there seemed to be no room for collaboration. With its emphasis on non-traditional structures and dynamic training, JKD shook the dust off of these old forms, inspiring a generation of martial artists in the process.
Since then, heralded instructors such as Paul Vunak have shaped JKD, incorporating different styles and techniques before ceremoniously kicking the new art form to the next generation. As one of Vunak's students—not to mention a heritage of samurai—Makoto Kabayama blended the form's emphasis on innovation with his own understanding of tradition. Nowadays, he continues to train his JKD Concepts by passing techniques down to their students at JKD Concepts. Although JKD Concepts has absorbed aspects of Brazilian jujitsu, muay Thai, karate, and ninjutsu throughout the years, Kabayama's students still walk away with an understanding of the form's four basic principles: awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, and functional self-defense.