When’s the last time you felt like a powerhouse?
You know — strong in your body, confident in your skin and ready to kick some tuchus (even if you’re a pacifist and don’t intend to kick anyone’s actual tuchus).
Maybe it’s been a minute. There are ways to rekindle that feeling.
Knocking the daylights out of a freestanding heavy bag at a kickboxing gym is a good one. There’s something so invigorating about repeatedly punching an inanimate object in a socially appropriate environment — even better when the background music is rhythmic and loud and an enthusiastic coach cheers you on.
KUMA Fit is a women’s kickboxing and fitness studio in Saco that has plenty of heavy bags for you to kick and punch. It also features a large padded floor and a wall of boxing gloves hanging on hooks, where students stow their gloves when not in use.
What isn’t as obvious to someone who peers through the window is the encouraging, all-bodies-welcome environment. Owner Stacy Kim built that positivity into her business on purpose; to her, it’s as essential as the equipment.
“Women think they have to go work out for things like weight loss. I grew up in a world where that was first on my mind,” said Kim, who was an athlete growing up and started martial arts training at 24. “But movement is so important for our bodies and minds and wellbeing. I want to be able to get more women moving and feeling comfortable moving.”
KUMA Fit is a “body-neutral space,” she said, meaning Kim and her coaches don’t talk about calories or getting into “beach body” shape. “We want women to feel strong and powerful in whatever body they have. That body might not change or need to change. I want people to feel empowered, whatever their size or age.”
Feeling like a powerhouse isn’t solely the result of muscle strength, she said. Mindset matters, too. That sentiment is evident in the studio, where even the wall decor offers words of encouragement — although the Question of the Week during my visit is more inquiring: “What is your favorite holiday movie?” (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” obviously).
On the gym’s padded workout space, rows of freestanding heavy bags stand upright, nobly awaiting the pummeling they’re about to receive (it’s okay, they can take it). For my inaugural class, I took a place in the back, giving me the opportunity to watch my classmates and better follow along.
Before the warmup even starts, I’m bouncing a little on the balls of my bare feet, amped up by the energy and chatter of the room. A woman next to me says she’s been coming to classes here for more than two years. She loves it because it makes her feel awesome.
Each 45-minute class is broken down into timed rounds: 30 seconds of jabs, 30 seconds of roundhouse kicks, 30 seconds of jumping jacks followed by a jab-cross, repeat. Since we each have our own heavy bag and space, we’re free to move at our own pace and with our preferred vigor.
Prior to the start of each round, Coach Kim demonstrates movements and gives pointers on form. When the clock is running, she moves around the room, offering words of kickboxing encouragement: “Great jabs!” “You’re crushing it!”
For the final few minutes, we split into teams and play a timed card game, with each card representing a movement (10 of spades = 10 squats, 4 of hearts = 4 toe taps). By the time the clock ticks to 5:45 p.m., I’m spent and sweaty and brimming with puncher’s pride.
And I’m really glad I showed up.
To make the experience less intimidating, all KUMA Fit students begin with a foundations course — two classes a week for two weeks. Classes are progressive, beginning with the primary kickboxing techniques and moving on to specialty movements and footwork.
The foundations course also serves as a low-barrier introduction to the KUMA Fit community alongside fellow beginners, where first-timers are welcomed with camaraderie and support.
Whether students show up for their first class or they’ve been kickboxing for years, Kim’s goal is the same: “I want them to feel like a badass.”
Shannon Bryan is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in South Portland. Find her at shannonkbryan.com.