I got my ass kicked last week when I took my first-ever class at Park Slope’s iLoveKickboxing.
Opened 3 months ago by Jennifer Ma and her husband Rick Rodriguez, iLoveKickboxing is located at 540 5th Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets in a former 99 cent store. Newbies, like myself, are called First-Time-Friends, receiving a warm welcome on our first day and a one-on-one chat with one of the instructors to discuss our fitness goals, get a run-down of what to expect from the class, and get to know one another.
“We sit you down in the beginning and talk to you for at least 20 minutes—not necessarily about kickboxing, just about yourself, to get to know you…. What’s your favorite restaurant in the neighborhood? [We] really try to build that connection so that you can trust us while you’re in class. You can trust that we’re guiding you in the right direction,” Ma explains.
The one-hour high energy class is simultaneously intense and super fun. An intro package of $19.99 offers 3 classes and a free pair of boxing gloves on your first day.
Ma fortunately warned me beforehand that the first 15 minutes of the class are the hardest—the warm up part when students run laps around the studio at top-speed before doing a rapid-fire series of jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, and other strength training exercises.
Following that excruciating 15 minutes, students then do some stretches before getting six rounds with the punching bags, trying different variations of jabs and punches, and eventually kicks. One of the two instructors, Rachel Timan, worked one-on-one with me and another First-Time-Friend, Jill Benson, giving us extra attention and instruction.
Walloping the punching bags was hard as hell, but also exhilarating and cathartic. After working on the bags, students pair up with a partner and spar—don’t worry, it’s only glove-to-glove contact. At the end, there is a 5-minute cool-down after which the pumped-up and supportive group all give each other encouraging fist bumps.
I was exhausted afterward but did feel invigorated, energetic, and positive, though for the next couple of days I felt sore in areas that I’d never felt pain before.
After the class Benson said, “I had been to other kickboxing classes in the area before and I thought this one was much more suited to someone like me. The others concentrated on younger women, mostly, and kids.”
She adds, “I really appreciated that they had someone one-on-one with us for the first class.”
Park Slope resident, Julia Parris, who joined iLoveKickboxing about 3 weeks ago, absolutely loves the classes.
“I know it seems challenging, and it may seem a little intense, but it’s so much fun when you come in and the music is pumping,” she says.
“The camaraderie and the energy of the class are great. It’s a hard class, but everyone is [supporting] each other through it. Everyone is working super hard, so you all feel like you’re in it together. It’s never boring,” she says.
“Physically, I definitely feel challenged. I’m starting to build more strength, but even more than that, I didn’t anticipate the emotional and psychological benefits. I feel much more positive throughout the day,” she adds.
Parris says prior to signing up for kickboxing she, like so many others, “was feeling bogged down by the political climate.” She says after taking a class, “I absolutely feel more empowered. I feel like I can make it through the day and not feel bogged down or overwhelmed. I feel like I can see the larger picture.”
Ma discovered kickboxing herself a few years ago during a dark period in her life. Her parents had died within two years of each other. Ma, an only child, and Rodriguez (her fiancé at the time) both moved from Manhattan to her childhood home in Bayside, Queens to figure out what to do with her parent’s house.
“I was really unhappy with everything that happened. I was daddy’s little girl,” Ma says. “I was going crazy because at that time I was the Marketing Manager for a small skincare brand and I was working from home,” she explains. “I was going stir crazy. I needed something to [make me] go out and meet people and release some energy.”
“I wanted to take my mind off things. I needed a release,” she recalls. One day she discovered an iLoveKickboxing branch in Bayside. She said to herself, “Okay, it’s kind of scary, but I’ll try it.”
Her intro class was difficult and she enjoyed it, however she says, “I liked the class but I didn’t love the class at first.” What changed her mind was the vibe of the studio. “I felt comfortable there. I signed up and started going to class 2-3 times a week. Then I started to fall more and more in love with the classes,” she recalls.
“It was such a great release for me. Sometimes I would take two classes a day to take my mind off things. I felt like they were family. They knew my name. They would greet me within seconds of walking in the door.”
She eventually convinced Rodriguez to try a class, and he immediately loved it and signed up as well. The couple had always been entrepreneurial—Rodriguez owned his own graphic design firm in California for seven years and Ma briefly ran a wedding cake business. They often discussed starting a business together.
“I picked him up from class one night and I remember I said, ‘Let’s open up an iLoveKickboxing,’” Ma says.
Rodriguez initially laughed at the idea, but Ma convinced him that it was the right type of business for them, because as she explains, “we’re able to inspire and help other people and transform lives. We have a passion for fitness and helping others so that’s why we chose this.”
So the couple did their due diligence, talked to other iLoveKickboxing franchise owners, and eventually purchased three Brooklyn territories—Park Slope, Downtown Brooklyn, and Bay Ridge. Park Slope is their first studio.
“The area is really up-and-coming. Where we are is growing so much,” she says. With a new Crunch Fitness opening soon across the street from her studio, Ma jokingly says the block is destined to become a “fitness mecca.”
iLoveKickboxing partners with Sweat Angels by Causely, an organization that connects them with a different charity to assist each month. Ma’s business makes a donation to a selected charity based on the number of members who check into class on the studio’s Facebook page.
Last month her studio helped feed seeing-eye dogs and in January they donated coats to the needy. Ma says it’s another way that iLoveKickboxing helps its members feel great.
Ma and Rodriguez are overjoyed that they’ve started a community where many of their members are becoming friends. She says that members are “hanging out together, having after-work parties, and potlucks.” She and Rodriguez are happy to give their members “the opportunity to build friendships, make connections, and build a supportive, inspiring community.”
Ma’s iLoveKickboxing location currently has more than 300 active members. “We are comfortably growing and we’re constantly gaining new members,” she says. Ma hopes to start scouting out real estate in Downtown Brooklyn for a second location in about six months.
“My dream is for it to keep going the way it’s going, provide that positive environment for our members,” she says. “Have them keep renewing [their memberships] and coming back.”
Speaking from experience, she says, “It’s a safe place for everyone to feel good and release any stress that they have and transform themselves both mentally and physically.”