Kick-Boxing Craze: A new form of aerobic...

Kick-Boxing Craze: A new form of aerobic exercise has participants kicking and punching instead of stepping and stretching and is sweeping the nation as well as the San Fernando Valley, where its founder runs a gym.

Boxing Guru: Billy Blanks, above, brought his trademark tae bo aerobics to Sherman Oaks in 1989, when he opened the Billy Blanks World Training Center. A seven-time world karate champion, Blanks, 42, developed the exercise for a more strenuous yet fun workout. Now his students include Paula Abdul, Sinbad and Shaquille O'Neal. "I was looking for a better way to become a better fighter," he said. Tae is Korean for "leg," and bo for "boxing."

One-Two: Moving to hip-hop music, Blanks' students combine right crosses and left hooks with front snap kicks and side kicks to tone muscles from their necks to their toes. "It's the hardest workout aerobically," said Katie Blurton-Jones, an aerobics instructor who worked out with Blanks before starting her own classes at 24-Hour Fitness in West Hills.

False Security? Critics warn that even though the moves simulate martial arts, the purpose of the exercise is to fight fat, not felons. Trainer Richard Batin of Batin's Kickboxing in North Hollywood says aerobic kick boxers won't be able to defend themselves on the streets, as his own students are trained to do. But Blanks maintains that his devotees will at least be fit and self-confident.

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