Catwoman's fancy footwork in "Batman Returns" has inspired a surge of interest in kick-boxing. As its name implies, kick-boxing is a full-contact sport that combines punches such as the jab, cross, hook and upper cut with numerous well-placed kicks--often to the head. Ouch!
Michelle Pfeiffer trained for several months to make her graceful-yet-powerful moves, but the biggest fight scenes required a professional kick-boxer to stand in.
Kathy Long, who holds five world championships in the featherweight division, was Pfeiffer's powerhouse body double. In addition to the on-screen battles with Batman Michael Keaton and his double, champion David Lea, Long served as Pfeiffer's coach for more than four months.
Long, who also teaches classes in Bakersfield, cautions women not to depend on kick-boxing as a primary means of self-defense. "It's not as effective as other martial arts systems, such as kung fu," she explains. But for fun and a solid aerobic workout, Long says nothing tops kick-boxing.
Long notes that women are especially adept at the sport because of their flexibility in the hip, which allows for higher kicks. "Within the first month most women lose four to eight pounds just from the workout," she adds.
While there are scores of martial arts centers in Southern California, only a few are noted for their kick-boxing training. Some of those recommended by the experts because of the quality of the teachers and the cleanliness of the facilities are:
* Benny's Jet Center, 14540 Friar St., Van Nuys, (818) 780-6774. The first name to roll off almost any kick-boxer's tongue is this one. Owner Benny Urquidez, his sister Lilly Urquidez Rodriguez and her husband, Blinky, are world-champion kick-boxers who teach full time. Membership at the gym includes three private lessons. Louis Gossett Jr., David Lee Roth, Patrick Swayze and, yes, Batman Michael Keaton have all been Benny's students. The gym is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A 3-month membership is $300.
* Eric Nolan's Academy of International Martial Arts, 2721 Alta Vista Drive, Bakersfield, (805) 325-5425. Kick-boxers determined to achieve professional status often make the trip for a series of classes and a chance to spar with Catwoman's mentor Kathy Long or owner Eric Nolan, both of whom teach at the studio. Group classes here are $50 a month and the price includes a free uniform.
* El Monte Self-Defense School, 3321 Tyler Ave., El Monte, (818) 579-3335. The site of many a kick-boxing film, this 5,000-square-foot gym features a 20-by-20-foot ring. Owner Lorenzo Rodriguez has guided several amateur champions to titles and now organizes events to showcase the sport. Children as young as 5 train with him for an opportunity to be part of his Mighty Mite kick-boxing team. After paying a registration fee of $25 and $50 monthly, members may work out as often as they desire and attend classes, Monday through Friday, noon to 9:30 p.m.
* Steele-Town Kickboxing, 1312 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-5269. Owners Chris and Stephanie Steele have trained a star-studded clientele, including Lisa Bonet, Laura Dern and Jodie Foster. Stephanie Steele was Michelle Pfeiffer's first instructor for her Catwoman kicks. For students who can afford $50 an hour for private lessons, this one-on-one studio is open from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.
* American Karate and Fitness Center, 11160 Nebraska Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 475-0011. International kick-boxing champion Greg Wilkinson has been teaching the sport for 23 years. He offers classes in kick-boxing with 10 to 15 students, as well as private lessons. Special classes for women and children are available. Richard Mull and Emmanuel Lewis have both learned the art from Wilkinson. The Westside gym is open six days a week, Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The charge is $65 a month for unlimited classes and use of the facility.