Fishtown fit

A mini series ex­plor­ing the top places to sweat and fit­ness trends in Fishtown and the River Wards.

The art of MMA self-de­fense: A view of Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts and Kick­box­ing on Gir­ard Av­en­ue in Fishtown. MARY ELIZA­BETH SUL­LI­VAN / STAR PHOTO

There are two mar­tial arts schools just blocks away from each oth­er in Fishtown. Since I like high in­tens­ity sports, I figured I would check them out. 

A few years ago, I took kick­box­ing classes and loved them. They were up-beat, non-stop ac­tion, wheth­er you were punch­ing the air or punch­ing a bag.

Al­though I felt con­fid­ent that my four years of col­legi­ate rugby and count­less years of es­cap­ing wrest­ling moves im­posed upon me by my older broth­ers would keep me safe in a dark al­ley, I de­cided to give these gyms a chance to en­hance my skills. 

The first place I tried was Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing, 262 E. Gir­ard Ave. The second mar­tial arts train­ing cen­ter I checked out was Bal­ance Stu­di­os, 1314 Frank­ford Ave. 

Here’s a break­down of what I ex­per­i­enced:


The cost may vary for chil­dren, but adult rates at Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing run around $99 per month for two classes per week, after a $100 in­stall­ment fee.

At Bal­ance Stu­di­os, it’s hard to miss the at­tract­ive ‘33 days free’ of­fer for new mem­bers pro­moted on their web­site. And al­though there is a lot of in­form­a­tion on the classes they of­fer, the sched­ule and price list is bur­ied, and is something that in­struct­ors dis­cuss in per­son or over the phone with po­ten­tial stu­dents. I’m still not sure how much these classes cost. 

In­struct­ors & Staff:

At Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing, the in­struct­or, and also the own­er, was quick to re­spond to my out­reach, and was wel­com­ing as I ar­rived at the gym. 

The in­struct­or at Bal­ance Stu­di­os was friendly, funny and ac­com­mod­at­ing, es­pe­cially to the two new stu­dents.

Both in­struct­ors were hands on, and made sure I un­der­stood the move that was be­ing taught. 


Be­sides the provided mats on the floor, the only real equip­ment needed is ath­let­ic cloth­ing for both classes. If you do de­cide to be­come a stu­dent, you’ll need a kar­ate uni­form, called a gi for short. 

So, let’s get in­to the classes.

I was hop­ing I would find some kick­box­ing classes at Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing, but the gym no longer has kick­box­ing classes, and in­stead fo­cuses primar­ily on Tae Kwon Do. They did have one class on their web­site that in­ter­ested me though: an adult be­gin­ner class that fo­cused on MMA self-de­fense.

A kid’s class was just fin­ish­ing up when I ar­rived at Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing. As I waited, a few people came in for the adult class, however they wer­en’t quite my defin­i­tion of ‘adults.’ This could have been due to the im­pend­ing snow storm, but I was still sur­prised about the age range, which I’m guess­ing was around 13 to 16 years old, sans my­self and the in­struct­or. 

The class covered the ba­sics: jabs, kicks, cross punches, blocks, and round­house kicks to name a few. 

Over­all, I worked up a sweat, and learned some ba­sic moves that could be help­ful in that dark al­ley. Based on watch­ing the class be­fore mine, Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing seems like a great place for kids to learn mar­tial arts.

A few days later, I dropped in­to a wo­men’s only jiu jitsu style, self-de­fense class at Bal­ance Stu­di­os, and had no idea what I was walk­ing in­to, but in a good way. The move­ments were com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the class at Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing.

There were about eight people in the class, which was a good size class to learn with. We paired up, and the first move taught how to break free from a per­son who has a knife to your neck. 

Ser­i­ously. We really jumped right in­to it.

With­in the hour class, I learned how to toss a per­son stand­ing be­hind me over my shoulder, roll a per­son off of me when I was pinned on the mat, and a choke move that in­volves press­ing an artery on both sides of a per­son’s neck with your thumbs while ex­ert­ing pres­sure from your legs while they’re wrapped around that sorry per­son’s neck. 

That last move was worth the class alone. 

So, what did I learn from these two classes? That MMA is hard. And there is so much to learn. And the people who are trained in MMA are hard­core. And if I met them in a dark al­ley, I’d want them to be walk­ing with me. 

If you’re in­ter­ested in be­com­ing one of those hard­core people who prac­tice MMA, the best place to start learn­ing more is at either gym’s Face­book page or web­site. 

Some Words of Wis­dom from Don John­son at Phil­adelphia Mar­tial Arts & Kick­box­ing: He told the class that if you take any­thing away from this class about self de­fense, re­mem­ber ‘eyes, throat, nads, and knees’ — all great places to at­tack if be­ing at­tacked. 

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