A New Exercise Kick : Fitness classes combining self-defense and martial arts offer a rigorous, body-altering workout.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Alicia Doyle writes frequently for The Times</i>

The ancient art of self-defense has been combined with the latest aerobic steps of the ‘90s. And whether it’s called Tae-bo-aerobics, Cardiobox or some other name, this is one killer workout.

Only a handful of fitness centers in the San Fernando Valley offer these specialized classes, which combine self-defense moves, from tae kwon do to boxing, with high- and low-impact aerobics, as well as step aerobics.

“I call it a new form of American martial arts,” said Billy Blanks, owner of Billy Blanks’ World Karate and Tae-bo-aerobic Center in Sherman Oaks.


Tae is the Korean word for “leg” and bo is short for “boxing.” Blanks, who began teaching Tae-bo-aerobics when he opened the center in 1990, wanted the name to reflect the focus of his class, which incorporates intense leg exercises with upper-body boxing moves.

“At the time, I was trying to get more women involved with martial arts,” said Blanks, a seventh-degree black belt in tae kwon do. “I knew they preferred aerobics, so I tried to create an aerobic workout that, combined with martial arts, would be fun and effective.”

The Spectrum Club in Agoura Hills offers a similar class, called Cardiobox, that combines kicking and punching martial arts techniques in an hour’s worth of high- and low-impact aerobics. Meditation is also incorporated into the cool-down at the end of the class.

The benefits of Cardiobox are more than physical, said class instructor Gus Gates, who has studied kung fu for 10 years and teaches a similar class called Kardio Kick at the Westlake Sport House in Westlake Village. “The class builds confidence in a person and increases their drive and motivation. I call the class a mind-body benefit. I teach people to make their body and mind work as one unit.”

Both Cardiobox and Tae-bo-aerobics begin with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up and deep stretch.

Tae-bo-aerobics is followed by about 40 minutes of upper-body boxing moves combined with tae kwon do kicks, which use the lower body’s largest muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings and the glutei (the muscles of the buttocks).

Familiar leg moves in Tae-bo-aerobics include the step, side and roundhouse kicks, which work most of the lower body muscles as well as the abdomen. Upper-body boxing moves include jabbing and punching.


“Most women don’t have a problem defining (the muscles of their) upper body,” said Blanks, who teaches Tae-bo-aerobics 12 times a week. He said his class concentrates more on the areas women are the most concerned with: the legs and abdomen.


Cardiobox, which also incorporates kicking and punching moves, draws participants of all ages and sizes, according to Gates. He admits, however, that the class intimidates many.

“Half the people in the class thought they couldn’t do it at first,” Gates said. “They said they were uncoordinated or had two left feet. I told them as long as they had feet they could take my class.”

Cathy Beaton, who coordinates Spectrum’s aerobics program at the Agoura Hills facility, says the best thing about the class is that anyone can participate: “It’s not strictly a martial arts class. It’s not specifically for someone who wants to learn self-defense, even though it uses a lot of self-defense techniques.”

Although Blanks requires class instructors to have at least a brown belt in tae kwon do to teach Tae-bo-aerobics, he says participants need only the desire for an intense cardiovascular workout.

He maintains that an intermediate-level participant could burn up to 1,200 calories during the one-hour class.


Steven Loy, professor of exercise physiology at Cal State Northridge, says that, although it is possible to burn up to 1,200 calories during one Tae-bo-aerobics class, it is unlikely.

He said that if a person ran 11 miles in one hour, at 5 1/2 minutes per mile, that individual would burn 1,230 calories.

“There are not many people who can run 11 miles in an hour,” said Loy. “It would take an elite athlete.”

Jill Zweier of the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America says a novice would have difficulty enduring an entire Tae-bo-aerobics class.

“Tae-bo-aerobics is the hardest class I have ever taken,” said Zweier, a certified aerobics instructor for 10 years. She has taken Blanks’ class for the past eight months and says it has improved her body in ways she thought were impossible.

“I’ve seen my body transform right before my eyes.”

Where and When

What: Tae-bo-aerobics classes.

Location: Billy Blanks’ World Karate and Tae-bo-aerobic Center, 14336 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks.


Hours: Classes daily, Monday through Saturday. Call for times.

Price: $8 per class or $90 for 15 classes, $150 for 30.

Call: (818) 906-8528.


What: Cardiobox classes.

Location: Spectrum Club, 5115 Clareton Drive. Agoura Hills.

Hours: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Price: Classes open to club members. Call club for membership fees.

Call: (818) 879-9500.


What: Kardio Kick classes.

Location: Westlake Sport House, 31425 Agoura Road, Westlake Village.

Hours: 7:45 p.m. Mondays.

Price: $10 per class.

Call: (818) 991-4500.