by Kevin Flaherty, photos by Peter DiAntoni
When Sahnya Thom was in elementary school, her father insisted that his daughters take at least three months of self-defense classes. More than 21 years and countless hours of martial artistry later, her father’s well-meaning edict has become not only her paycheck: it’s become her lifestyle. Thom, a slim, athletic-looking woman in her early 30’s who radiates an oxygenated sense of well being, could just as easily pass as a yoga instructor as the fourth-degree black belt TaeKwonDo expert that she is. Interested in studying the mind-body connection, she graduated from Rippon College in 1995 with a degree in Neurophysiology before settling in Milwaukee after graduation. For a while she taught kickboxing at the downtown YMCA (located then at the 411 E Wisconsin Building). Later, some of her students approached her and said, “Ms. Thom, we want to pay you direct” for private instruction, and a new business was born.
|Since 1997 Thom has run her own martial arts dojang (Korean for “training school”) known as Alive and Kickin’. Alive and Kickin’s main classroom space is located in Bayview at 2923 S. Delaware Street. Thom also maintains a workout studio that doubles as an office in the second floor of the “Fortress” in Brewers Hill (116 E. Pleasant Street). The Pleasant Street space is dedicated to private and semi-private lessons — she has 15 private students right now — and is home to the eight-member “Riverwest Boxing Club” that meets on Thursday afternoons. Overall, half of the dojang’s 70 students come from the East Side, Riverwest, and Brewers Hill areas. Alive and Kickin’ offers three primary martial arts: TaeKwonDo (taught in the USK Free Style format), kickboxing, and SLAMMS, an acronym for a martial arts curriculum Thom developed herself standing for Sophisticated Liberal Arts Martial Movement Systems. Thom likes to explore the meditative side of martial arts and is not afraid to sprinkle her classes with physics, anatomy (“you should know where your pain comes from,” she darkly advises standing in front of an anatomy poster), and psychobiology. The typical Alive and Kickin’ student is a woman in her late twenties or early thirties who is looking for an interesting exercise and is intrigued by a combination of mind-body activity. Students range from Fuel coffee house workers to teachers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs.|
Thom generally doesn’t take children as students (“Nobody wants to bow to a nine-year old black belt,” she observed) and accordingly her current youngest student is fifteen-years old. Many who join are less interested in kicking butt than just slimming it: they want to get in shape. “Martial arts attract more artists than athletes,” says Thom. The business promotes itself primarily through leafleting and demonstrations. Thom says that a personal-safety demonstration at Falcon Bowl after a rash of Riverwest muggings was incredibly successful in bringing new students to her dojang. The Brewers Hill studio/office is a long, narrow space of approximately 600 square feet, with walls alternately chartreuse, yellow, and a blend of earthen colors. Leather target mitts, kickboxing headgear and other sparring gear hang neatly on the walls and suspended from the ceiling are chains for heavy punching/kicking bags. Thom found the Fortress space “at a great price” when she was looking to exorcize her home from the demands of a home office. Consequently the east wall of the Brewers Hill space is devoted to the office portion of her business. The Fortress is a convenient walk from Thom’s Brewers Hill residence, which she shares with her business and romantic partner, Katie Rose, 31. Rose runs a painting business (one wonders if she’s responsible for the interesting wall colors) and offers business pragmatism to the ideas-oriented Sahnya. On June 21, Alive and Kickin’ sent two of its students, Laura Valent and Tim Ottman, to the Rave for an amateur kickboxing fight. Thom enjoyed the intensity of coaching for an actual bout, reveling in the “psychology of the ring.” Most of the school’s 16 weekly classes occur between 5 and 9 p.m. on weekdays or on the weekend. Class sizes average 12 to 16 students in the Bayview space. Prices range from $40 per month for the Riverwest Boxing Club to $135 every two months for unlimited kickboxing classes. Thom does not teach on Wednesdays, but she has six other instructors who help run the business. Alive and Kickin’ may be reached at (414) 263-4401, and Thom may be reached via email at . Prospective students receive the first class free. Depending upon the martial art selected, long-term students may be required to purchase uniforms. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003