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Women-only martial arts class created with a purpose

Left, Ruth Gebhard practices punches and kicks with her sparring partner at the Women’s Muay Thai Class at the Stray Dogs Club in Monroe on Sunday, April 7. At right, 9-year-old Courtney Hufford practices a kick with sparring partner Rebecca Pearce. Hufford’s 12-year-old sister Joy and mother Virgie also attend the class.

MONROE — The late Sunday afternoon sun streams through big windows into a room covered wall-to-wall in gym mats. “No Sleep till Brooklyn” by the Beastie Boys plays loudly through speakers and women and girls of different ages begin their warm-up, jogging across the room and back. As more women come through the door they are greeted with a chorus of “hello!”
The women are here to tackle a two-hour women-only Muay Thai class that happens every Sunday at Stray Dogs Club in Monroe.
Angel Sanchez is the instructor of the free-to-attend class. The class was inspired by his female friends who mentioned that they wanted to try a martial arts class but were intimidated by joining a class full of men.
 “It kind of developed also around the time that there were a few assaults here in town on women” last year, he added, “and most places offer self-defense, but there is a fee … personally I know that you’re not going to learn from one class.”
So, Sanchez volunteered to begin teaching a Muay Thai class weekly so women have a chance to practice and build on what they learned the week before. “I’m not a self-defense instructor, I’m a Muay Thai kickboxing instructor,” Sanchez said.
Muay Thai is a form of martial arts described as “the art of eight limbs.” It’s the national sport of Thailand.  Sanchez described it as similar to kickboxing but uses legs, hands, elbows and knees.
In addition to learning skills that they could use for self-protection, Sanchez tries to create a place where women who are curious about trying a martial arts class could come and learn, judgement-free.
Cory Roller joined the class in September to be able to better protect herself from what she described as the “criminal element in the community.” As a grandmother, she wants to be able to walk in a parking lot at night with her young grandson and feel like she can defend him if need be. Roller had only positive things to say about the class.
“First of all I feel like I get an amazing workout,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends in this class with women who I probably wouldn’t normally interact with in the community.”
Her advice to women who are considering the class is to “just come and try it, there’s every kind of woman here.”
Among the class regulars are Joy and Courtney, sisters ages 12 and 9. The girls are experienced with martial arts and have been practicing Muay Thai in addition to Jiu-jitsu, wrestling and more for over three years. They spend multiple days a week practicing. Joy said that she likes the class because “you’re not scared to talk to people here. They’re very kind … but be ready to be really tired after class.”
According to Sanchez, confidence building is a large benefit of martial arts. Muay Thai also helps with getting in shape, improving strength and practicing discipline. “It is two hours of hard work. I dread it, but I feel so amazing after,” said Alex Watanabe. Watanabe has been attending class since November. Her 7-month-old baby girl comes too, and happily watches her mom from her carseat in the front of the room.
As warmups end, the women take a drink of water and smile at each other through heavy breaths. They know that the hard part of class comes next — the training.
“It’s a safe place to learn,” said Watanabe, “we just have this sense of a badass girls club.”
The all women’s Muay Thai class meets every Sunday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Stray Dogs Club, 19527 U.S. 2 in Monroe (the same parking lot as Ben Franklin Crafts and Safeway.) Females over the age of 6 are invited to attend and encouraged to bring a friend. For more information on Stray Dogs Club, visit their website at www.straydogs



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