Stanley J. Holcomb, 65, wraps his hands and slips on his kickboxing gloves, flashing a smile and a warm welcome to the women trickling into his class at Fitness Evolution in Hyattsville. A few regulars follow Holcomb’s lead, wrapping their hands as they prepare to kick, punch and pummel the air.
Lean and spry, Holcomb bounces through a jab combination, staying light on his feet as women half his age try to keep up. Some stop to catch their breath. Others pause for a swig of water. But Holcomb keeps going.
At an age when many people are sidelined by aches and pains, Holcomb is letting nothing slow him down. He teaches cardio kickboxing twice a week, even after undergoing knee and shoulder surgeries.
“You have to listen to your body and pace yourself,” Holcomb said. “As you get older, you get a little wiser. I get regular checkups, eat small portions. It’s a lifestyle.”
Holcomb has been enamored with martial arts since he saw Bruce Lee in the 1973 classic “Enter the Dragon.” The power and artistry captured his imagination, but it wasn’t until he read a newspaper article about a karate studio in Silver Spring later that year that he decided to pick up the sport.
Holcomb found a home at that Silver Spring studio, training under owner Kim Ki Whang until his death in 1993. During their years together, Holcomb competed in professional tournaments and placed in the top ranks. His highest achievement occurred after Kim’s death, when Holcomb won the 1999 grand champion title at his grandmaster’s Eagle Karate Classic.
“He understood a lot about character,” Holcomb said of Kim. “And his training taught me a lot about perseverance.”
It is that fortitude learned from Kim that inspired Holcomb to open his own studio in 2000. But instead of carrying on his instructor’s tradition of karate and taekwondo, Holcomb tried another format he had grown to love: Tae Bo.
Anyone alive in the ’90s probably caught the infomercial of Billy Blanks promising to whip you into shape with the flurry of punches and kicks that defined Tae Bo. The workout blended rhythmic cardio and martial arts, sans all the sparring.
Holcomb became a certified Tae Bo instructor and opened a studio in Laurel, called the Washington Metropolitan Training Center. It was a tough business. Holcomb taught 18 classes a week, but bills started piling up, as revenue from the $10 classes was not enough to cover expenses.
Although Holcomb closed up shop in 2002, he continued to teach classes around town and eventually landed at Fitness Evolution four years ago. He has built a loyal following of people such as Nicolia Gentles, 41, and Jackie Martin, 52. The sisters say they’ve rarely missed a class in nearly three years. And you can tell.
The two were lockstep with just about every move Holcomb made in the recent class, remaining on beat with the stream of ’80s R&B hits blaring in the background.
“It’s hard work, but in the end it does pay off,” said Gentles, who lives in Hyattsville. “Stanley motivates us. He just keeps us going, even when you’re tired.”
The fast pace of Holcomb’s class could easily wear anyone out, even the instructor. Holcomb prides himself on mastering the art of pacing — going full speed as he demonstrates, slowing down a bit to coach and ramping back up to keep the energy in the room high.
“I’ve learned as an instructor that when you demonstrate something, you have to give energy, and if you’re too tired then you can’t give that energy,” Holcomb said. “I want people to have the same energy that I give.”
People such as 71-year-old Asma Rahman. She may not have delivered rapid-fire punches or sky-high kicks, but Rahman never needed to stop through any of the combinations. It has been three years since the Brookland resident has made Holcomb’s class a staple of her Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Five years ago, kickboxing seemed impossible. At that time, Rahman was in physical therapy, trying to recover from a knee fracture that occurred in a car accident. As she regained strength in her legs, she started lifting weights, and she gave Holcomb’s class a try to step up her efforts to get fit.
“I knew if I started really moving, I’d really be on the mend,” she said. “After two months or so, I just told myself, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to push myself.’ ”
At this point in his life, Holcomb can’t imagine a time when he would give up his class. The 65-year-old still works his day jobs teaching plumbing at Prince George’s Community College and the Associated Builders and Contractors, and he has no plans to retire any time soon. Teaching, he says, gives him a sense of purpose, whether it’s in a classroom or a studio.
At his age, Holcomb said, “it’s hard to wake up in the morning sometimes. But when I get here and the music comes on, I’m ready to go. Seeing people reach their goals is rewarding.”
Kickboxing with Stanley Holcomb
Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.,
Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.
Fitness Evolution, fitnessevolution.com
Membership starting at $9.99 a month
3500 East West Hwy., Suite 1120, Hyattsville