This is the second part of our September 2014 feature on fitness options for moms and dads. For part 1, click here.
Founded in 2006 by Vince Soberano, Black Tiger Fight Club is the only Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) studio that caters primarily to expats. With two locations in Beijing and a third due to open later this year in Gongti, Black Tiger Fight Club offers martial arts and fitness classes for women, kids, teens, and adults in Muay Thai, kickboxing, Brazilian jiujitsu, wrestling, and Martial Fit – their newest program.
“Martial Fit is Black Tiger’s own brand of integrated martial fitness and functional training,” says Soberano. “We took out all the fluff and eliminated harmful training methods. We re-wrote the book on Muay Thai training, integrated MMA, and re-defined fitness.”
This hybrid system is less about fighting and more about fitness, yet still combines striking, wrestling, and grappling. Martial Fit uses little equipment but every muscle in the body; it’s designed to improve cardio, agility, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination.
Black Tiger’s group classes and personal training sessions share English-speaking, internationally-certified coaches. Most students train at least three times a week, with group classes typically attracting 8-12 students.
Despite the fact Soberano is a world champion Muay Thai fighter, author of 50: Fit and Fighting, and frequently in demand for talks and tours, he still leads many of the club’s classes. “Teaching is where I started, and it still gives me so much satisfaction seeing my student’s progress,” he says.
Soberano says anyone can give Martial Fit a try, so that’s what I did. The class was much smaller than usual, as it was the tail-end of the summer break. It was incredibly hot, so light clothing and plenty of water was needed. We started by warming up, which involved jogging on the spot combined with front punches, hill climbs, squats combined with abdominal twists, push-ups, and jumping jacks.
Fully warmed-up (and then some), we were ready for some cardio sets, followed by three sets of 10-20 reps for several exercises. The latter included dumbbell presses (while jogging on the spot), overhead weighted ball lifts, kettle bell passes between the legs, dumbbell upper cuts, ball burpees, and kettle bell squats combined with abdominal twists.
By this point I was more than hot and about ready to give up. But I was spurred on by the thought of the next stage of the class: the punching bag. We did rounds of front punches, uppercuts, and kicking with the feet, knees, and shins. It was hard work, but there’s something great about punching or kicking a bag for minutes at a time!
The class was rounded off with some stretching exercises. It was fast, it was tough, but it was exhilarating too. The variety of exercises keeps you engaged and focused. With a larger group, I can imagine this class being a lot of fun, with some healthy competition thrown in for good measure.
The next day, my shins were a bit bruised, so I would suggest shin pads if you want to avoid that particular look. Martial Fit workouts are challenging and a lot of fun, and I can see why the converted say martial arts keep you coming back for more.
Venue: Black Tiger Fight Club
Cost: RMB 200 per day (drop-in), RMB 1,200 for monthly membership (group classes), RMB 1,500 for ten-class punch card, RMB 3,000 for three-month membership (group classes) or five-session personal training package, RMB 5,000 for ten-session personal training package.
Contact: 1) 2/F, 5 Laiguanying Donglu (across from WAB, west of Lane Bridge Villa), Chaoyang District (139 1071 2576, firstname.lastname@example.org) 朝阳区莱广营东路5号2层（京西学校对面，长岛澜桥西侧）; 2) Sino-Japanese Youth Exchange Center Gymnasium, 40 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District 朝阳区亮马桥路40号
My yoga class at Prana Vikasa Yoga Shala takes place in a glass-walled studio, overlooking a terrace and gardens on top of SOHO Shangdu. The space is restful, the teacher’s raised plinth surrounded by purple yoga mats, and portraits of and quotations by a pantheon of spiritual teachers on the walls. The studio covers two floors with two large exercise rooms, changing facilities, lockers, and showers.
Most of the classes are lead by Founder Hemanth Venkataram from Mysore, India, who opened the school in 2010. His philosophy of yoga is rooted in its ability to heal and harmonize the human body. “Traditional yoga heals the body,” he says. “Commercial yoga tempts people with losing weight or looking good. But I don’t teach trendy yoga – neither flow nor hot yoga. I don’t think it’s beneficial for people to try to use yoga to focus on the external. Yoga is about developing your focus inwards, and then deepening that focus.”
I join Venkataram’s beginner class for opening the spinal cord, which is especially popular with desk-bound office workers like me. Because we are hunched over our keyboards all day long, the class is designed to correct and bring balance to the spine.
Although I am the only non-Chinese participant in a class of 20 people, 90 percent of Venkataram’s instruction is delivered in English. I check with him afterward; this is not for my benefit, as he tends more toward English instruction.
The class begins and ends with a meditation and chanting. I can’t join in because I don’t know the words, but I enjoy the bookending of the physical practice the singing provides. Venkataram leads us through a series of poses designed to lengthen and loosen our backs. The class begins simply enough, but gradually progresses to more challenging asanas (or poses).
Venkataram walks between the rows of students, checking on their progress, making adjustments, and giving detailed directions for every pose. He peppers his descriptions with medical and physical information, explaining how to avoid injury in every asana.
After class, I ask for Venkataram’s take on adjustments. “I give a lot of adjustments,” he says. “I may even jump on or sit on my students, but I never force anyone to make progress so I never hurt anybody.”
“The purpose of my adjustments is to assist poses or help people’s bodies into alignment, all the time watching their face, breath, and body,” he continues. “People get hurt when their body tenses up and their teacher continues pushing against their breath.”
He particularly emphasizes relaxing the face, breathing naturally, and doing only what your body can achieve without pain or struggle. “People who can’t achieve full movement should just do as much as they can,” he says. “Be relaxed and comfortable. Never hold your breath. It hurts your body. As you practice more, your function cannot remain limited and your flexibility and form will improve naturally.”
Venue: Prana Vikasa Yoga Shala (also known as PV Yoga)
Cost: RMB 198 per drop-in session. Thirty-class, 50-class, and yearly cards available; prices provided upon application.
Contact: Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6.30pm. Rm 2409, 4/F, North Tower, SOHO Shangdu, 8 Dongdaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (5869 6438, email@example.com)
Descending the steps to the basement of Guanghua Lu SOHO, I hear dirty, high-energy dubstep, brisk instructions in a British accent, and the whir of jump ropes rapidly hitting the ground.
Middle Kingdom Fitness looks hardcore, gritty, and basic – the kind of place where Rocky Balboa might train. There are ring pulls and swathes of red and blue silks hanging from the ceiling, and weight plates and kettle bells around the walls. In the center is Englishman Tim Hill, founder of Middle Kingdom Fitness, and my trainer for my first-ever Crossfit session, breaking down the Workout of the Day (WOD) for a class of eager devotees.
Hill initially came to China to study putonghua, but quickly saw an opportunity in the fitness market here. “I began Middle Kingdom Fitness because there were no gyms where I could train like I wanted to,” he says. His high-intensity cocktail of aerobic, anaerobic, and flexibility work focuses on developing all aspects of physical fitness.
The environment might be intimidating, but Hill is anything but. He’s not the kind of trainer who gets in your face and screams, but he exudes a kind of no-nonsense can-do attitude that quickly has me attempting and mastering things I was frankly frightened of before. “It needn’t be intimidating,” says Hill. “We start with what people can do and move on from there. There are a lot of underlying principles, but they can be applied to any age or ability.”
The RMB 800 six-session Elements course I signed up for is designed to teach everything necessary to participate in the regular Fitness classes. These workouts vary, challenging participants with an ever-changing mix of cardio, calisthenics, gymnastics, and weight lifting.
With the daily Fitness class running at the same time; Hill switches focus back and forth between the group and our one-to-one Elements session. After a jump-rope warm up, Hill assesses my form while squatting and then takes me over to the barbell rack. He notices one of the Fitness class participants exhibiting poor form on her squats and pulls her over to demonstrate safe technique to both of us. Although the gym is a hive of activity, Hill intentionally keeps the numbers low; he wants his clients to get the most out of their workouts, and he knows he has to keep a close eye on them to accomplish this.
The friendly group dynamic, thrill of working out with barbells, and sheer goofiness of many of the exercises create an addictively fun atmosphere. My first workout has me walking like John Wayne on day two, and wincing as I gingerly ease myself out of my swivel chair on day three. But I feel macho like Arnie, so I know I’ll be back.
In addition to daily Fitness classes (morning and evening), Middle Kingdom also offers yoga, Olympic weightlifting, and aerial silks.
Venue: Middle Kingdom Fitness
Cost: RMB 100 per drop-in class, and RMB 400 for private training sessions. There are several discount packages ranging from ten-session passes to yearly memberships that bring the price down to RMB 30-80 per class. Check the Middle Kingdom Fitness website for details. The six-session Element class for beginners is RMB 800.
Contact: Mon-Fri 6am-9pm, Sat-Sun 9am-noon. 129B, Guanghua Lu SOHO, Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District (156 5232 6889, firstname.lastname@example.org) middlekingdomfitness.frontdeskhq.com
This article originally appeared on p63-65 of the September 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email email@example.com.
Photos: Sui and courtesy of Black Tiger Fight Club