By Michelle Love
Photos by Blair Ramsey
Everyone could use a boost of confidence in their lives, and at The Garage Kickboxing, one is sure to find it.
The Shelby County gyms have provided more than just kickboxing classes to the members of its Alabaster and Calera locations over the past several years. They’ve provided a place of support where people of all ages can learn how to respect themselves and others.
Zak Moore, one of The Garage’s owners, said the minute anyone walks through the door, the goal is to make them feel right at home.
“We want to make a welcoming environment, so people can feel comfortable,” he says. “That way, they feel at home, and the classes feel easier and more enjoyable.”
The locations have approximately six trainers between the two spots, and the gym has a total of 120 students, though Zak says that number is growing every day. Since they started doing classes for kids and teens, many of their members are kids ranging from ages 5 to 13 years old.
While some parents may feel hesitant at first to enroll their kids in kickboxing, both Zak and Jonathan McSwain, one of the kids class trainers, say kickboxing can provide an abundance of positive benefits both physically and mentally.
“Sometimes combat sports like kickboxing or any martial arts in general—it doesn’t get enough credit for how mentally stimulating it is,” Jonathan says. “There’s a big misconception out there that you just get out there and start swinging wildly.”
“Our kids’ classes are different from our day-to-day workout and training,” Zak explains. “Jonathan has such a wide variety of techniques that he’s able to teach these kids. It’s a real confidence booster for them, and we get kids of all different social groups and backgrounds who come together for a common purpose. It creates friendships and bonds, so our kids’ program has been very successful.”
One of the main features students can improve upon, self-discipline, is evident through The Garage’s training techniques—something Jonathan says is a key component of the sport itself.
“I wish people would understand that the discipline it takes to learn this stuff properly can really help you in life,” Jonathan says. “If you learn how to be disciplined in this, it can serve as a foundation to help you be disciplined and structured in life. We set up classes where they learn there are specific steps to take to reach a certain goal, and if you set your life up like that in the long run, you can implement that philosophy into the rest of your life.”
Jonathan says he’s had parents tell him that they’ve seen their children perform better academically and become less disruptive in class. Jonathan credits these improvements to kickboxing being a creative outlet for expelling excess energy. He recalled his own time as a teenager and how learning kickboxing and combat sports helped keep him out of potential trouble.
“I know I saw positive changes in myself when I was younger, particularly in my teens,” he says. “Kickboxing really helps one to learn discipline, self-respect, respect for others and consent. It teaches you some structure. We don’t tolerate kids being mean to each other. We nip that in the bud as best we can and also try to explain why it’s not okay. Kids are smart—they understand, and they respond positively to it.”
Bailey Newman, age 9, began taking classes at The Garage after receiving the opportunity as a Christmas present. Her father, Richard, said she was so excited to learn the sport. She even looked at her parents after the New Year and said, “New year, new body.”
She and her father began taking classes, and slowly, her parents began seeing an improvement in Bailey’s focus and discipline. Bailey was struggling particularly with her math grades, so her parents sat her down and compromised that if she could focus on raising her grades, she could continue to do kickboxing. Her grade went from a D to an A.
It wasn’t just Bailey’s discipline levels that improved. She says her confidence level improved as well, and she says that learning new moves in every class made her feel stronger.
Richard says it was rewarding as a parent watching Bailey grow in her confidence.
“It’s really exciting to watch,” he says. “It wasn’t just her doing [kickboxing], like we did it together. I would catch myself while she was working out and learning. I would stop and watch her, and I was just inspired by her. I’m 46. I’ll be 47 in October, and it inspired me to show her that if she wants to continue at any age or any point, she will be able to do that. It was very exciting for me to see her round out just the way that she did and learn to focus. It was awesome.”
Both Bailey and Jonathan praised kickboxing as an excellent way to stay in shape and lose weight for those who have that goal.
While exercise not only helps with physical health, kickboxing can also drastically improve your mental health as well.
“Kickboxing helps your mental health tremendously,” Zak says. “Hitting a punching bag or pads can go a long way, but getting that fitness in and seeing the results of hard work you’re putting in, that just pumps positivity through you. You’re seeing the improvement in your technique, the weight loss and the functional changes. You feel better every day, so it helps in so many aspects.”
Alex Johnson, age 12, has been attending The Garage for the past two years, and his aunt, Rikiya, says she also saw her nephew grow through his kickboxing lessons.
Rikiya found an advertisement for the gym on social media and thought it would be a great outlet for Alex to be around other people and learn a new skill during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to today, and Alex still loves learning new moves.
Rikiya says it makes her proud to see Alex thrive and evolve the way he has through kickboxing.
“It means a lot because I know where we started,” she says. “It was a bit of an adjustment for him to do that type of physical activity at first, but he was open to it. He’s learned a lot, and I’m so glad to see him evolve. It was something totally new to both of us. It does my heart good as an aunt to see him bond with other kids and his coaches. He really enjoys it. He looks up to the coaches, looking forward to seeing them. As hard as they push him, he wants to give it more.”
Rikiya added that she thinks kickboxing is a great alternative to the main sports that are available for kids in Alex’s age bracket, such as football and basketball
“Not all kids are athletic in sports like football and baseball, so kickboxing adds something else to the mix,” she says. “Every kid isn’t going to be a football or soccer player, but kickboxing adds something that teaches them discipline and structure and builds their confidence.”
Zak and Jonathan also stressed the importance of learning kickboxing as a self-defense technique. Zak emphasized how it’s important now more than ever to have a handle on protecting oneself, and Jonathan says it’s better to learn the skills and not need them versus needing them and not having them.
Whether one is looking to learn a fun sport, get some exercise or is interested in learning self-defense, Zak says The Garage team will always have their doors open for those willing to try something new.
“We’re a kickboxing gym full of great, like-minded people, and I mean like-minded in the sense of if you’re coming here, check your ego at the door and everybody gets along,” Zak says. “We have a great kickboxing family that keeps getting bigger and better every day.”
Richard still attends kickboxing lessons, and he continues to see the impact the sport had on Bailey. He says he’s also grateful to The Garage for always treating her with the same respect they would an adult student.
“Bailey is an artist, and when she started she thought, ‘You know, the place needs a bit of color,’ so she did several paintings on canvas and took them down there, and right away, they displayed them,” Richard recalls. “That’s another part of the philosophy that they are going to embrace everybody who comes down there. Don’t get it twisted: you are going to work when you’re there. You have to put in the work, but that’s how it is anywhere. The more you put in, the more you get out of the place.”
While Alex doesn’t do the kids’ classes anymore, he still goes to the gym and does the instructed workouts with his coaches. For those thinking of trying kickboxing, he has some very simple but thoughtful advice.
“Don’t give up,” he says. “Try harder, eat well, sleep plenty and train some more. But don’t give up.”
Those interested in taking lessons at The Garage can visit garagekickboxing.com.