I’ve seen several promotional Facebook posts about Rockstar Kickboxing in Fort Walton Beach, so I’ve been curious for a while.

I’ve always been fascinated with aggressive sports, such as rugby and martial arts classes, because hitting and kicking objects seems downright primal. Hey, it’s practically in my DNA.

Despite my piqued curiosity, I’m not keen on group fitness classes. It brings my social anxiety out of hiding places I wasn’t aware existed.

The only way to conquer a fear is to confront it. I make it my life mantra to never let fear dictate my decisions, which — by default — means trying a fitness class or two.

Taking a class at Rockstar Kickboxing seemed like an excellent opportunity for several reasons. One, I primarily exercise in a gym, and it’s important to switch up exercises. Two, the classes are designed for participants of all skill levels, including beginners like myself.

The first two classes at Rockstar Kickboxing are free, so that gives you a chance to decide if it fits your needs.

 

THE FIRST IMPRESSION

Rockstar Kickboxing sits on the corner of a shopping center off Beal Parkway NW in Fort Walton Beach. Because the glass windows are darkened with curtains, it doesn’t look too exciting from the outside.

When you walk in, it definitely feels like a boxing gym. Many black punching bags hang from a large frame in the center of the room above a large gray mat. There are signs reading, “No shoes on the mat,” because participants exercise in socks or barefoot.

One of the most obvious attractions is the light show (hence the dark curtains), in which colorful lights bounce across the room in tune with the music. The flashy lights and upbeat music definitely put you in a workout mood. In case you’re a music junkie like me, I heard Soundgarden, Lady Gaga, AC/DC and a couple other familiar tunes while inside.

Scott Smith, the co-owner and cardio kickboxing instructor, said he wants the gym to have a club atmosphere.

“I kid you not, ‘Cupid Shuffle’ will come on, and they start to dance out there,” Smith said with a laugh. “I don't mind. That’s exercise.”

While I assumed the name was a result of the semi-psychedelic light show, it has a different meaning.

“I used to have a gym in the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee,” Smith said. “Every rock star and movie star who performed in Memphis stayed in the Peabody, and they’d hire me as their personal trainer.”

Smith was a personal trainer for 30 years, he said, which made me feel confident in his ability to instruct.

 

THE VIBE

Smith sets the tone at Rockstar Kickboxing.

I can see why he is an effective instructor because he beams when he talks about the class and what it’s done for participants’ confidence. It empowers people, he said.

A huge smile swept across his face as he told me about one member who started out timid, but has since earned the title Queen Kong — because boxers get nicknames, he said matter-of-factly.

Smith’s enthusiasm shows how much he believes in cardio kickboxing as a resource to raise the heart rate and build muscle. While the venue evokes an intense vibe, Smith exudes a lighthearted, fun vibe that eliminates the intimidation of a group class. Smith thinks of his students as a family.

“Everyone knows everyone in the class,” Smith said. “You’re never a stranger. You go to another gym and you’re an account number; you’re not a name. Everyone who comes in here, I know their name and I know who they are.”

 

THE WORKOUT

I went to the 9 a.m. class on a Wednesday, which wasn't a busy time. I chose it intentionally because I wanted to get a feel for the place and instructor.

Many people prefer the evening classes because they get the full effects of the light show, Smith said.

The morning slot gave Smith the chance to walk me through the different routines step by step. His patience impressed me because I’m the type of person who regularly beckons the phrase, “No, your other left.”

Smith approaches instruction with a proportionate balance of encouragement and a don’t-stop attitude. He also has a degree in exercise physiology, so the class has a medical and health approach, he said.

The class starts with warm-up exercises, such as sit-ups and planks. It continues with routines that have catchy names to help participants remember, such as the "Criss-cross" (aka the standing sit-up), "One-hit Wonders" and "The Gauntlet," which I presume is likely the most dreaded.

While he mixes up the routines, I think it would take only the first couple free classes to remember the basic movements. From there, participants can improve on speed and form.

Each movement offers a solid balance of strength training and cardio. What I like most about it, however, is how they all engage the core. The core is often activated because your knees are bent and you’re performing movements where limbs cross the body.

Because it's cardio kickboxing and not professional kickboxing, there is a heightened emphasis on the cardio aspect. This seems appropriate for people who don’t want to run out of breath after taking the stairs and, frankly, might need to punch a couple bags for confidence purposes.

It didn’t take long to realize what makes the class appropriate for all levels: Participants can modify the movements. They can punch the bags with the intensity of their choice, move at the speed of their choice and choose among three kicking movements — front kick, roundhouse kick or a knee kick.

In this capacity, the class is what you make it. While Smith will encourage you to push your limits, the only person who can make that happen is the participant.

One of the pillars in the room has names of participants who have set records written with a Sharpie. For instance, there is one name under the 2,000 Club, because she once threw 2,000 punches in one session.

This class makes sense for a group. Exercising next to others might encourage participants to keep up with the group or, better yet, lead the group.

The ultimate goal is to get people in shape, Smith said. There is no specific age limit. It has children starting at 10 and adults upward of 60, he said.

 

THE COOL DOWN

There is nothing I love more than ending a class with intensity.

A class at Rockstar Kickboxing sometimes ends with “The Gauntlet,” which involves shuffling through two tunnels of punching bags and hitting each one a certain number of times. The number increases every time you shuffle through, so it wears you down quickly.

The Gauntlet is essentially equivalent with sprints at the end of a high school sports practice, which sucks, but in a good, make-you-sweat kind of way.

Other times, the class ends with a sparring session between you and the punching bag. One of the rarest components of the class is shuffling, Smith explained. Many other boxing classes don’t incorporate shuffling back and forth, or staying on your toes as boxers do, he said. This one does.

This high-intensity conclusion will definitely leave you feeling accomplished.