ELMHURST – It's less than 30 minutes into Tony Gutierrez' adult Muay Thai class and he already knows my underworked, junkfood-fed body is surrendering to the crunches, push-ups and lunges. With each new drill, he patiently presents me with a more basic version, catering to my complete lack of experience.
"Try to hit me," says my partner, 12-year-old Antonio Gutierrez, the oldest of Tony's three sons, as he dances out of my way.
Seeing me struggle, Antonio begins to relate story after story about past students who couldn't keep up during their first class either, but are now succeeding.
"For me, the martial arts is something that helps you develop yourself," said Tony Gutierrez.
The father-son duo emulates the family-based philosophy of self-improvement that inspired Elmhurst's True Prodigy Athletics. A life-long martial arts enthusiast with three sons following in his footsteps, Gutierrez saw the need for a more kid-friendly facility.
"A lot of martial arts schools focus on the adults, but the kids are kind of left behind," he said.
True Prodigy, which opened in February, offers kids' Muay Thai, a striking martial art; kids' Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a grappling sport; kids' fitness classes and "Play with a Purpose" for children as young as 4 years old. Adult Muay Thai also is offered.
"We've taken all the programs we've learned through various mixed martial arts schools or martial arts schools and we've child-proofed them," Gutierrez explained. "So yes, we are going to flip a tire, and we may pull a sled. We may do the battle ropes, but we're not going to swing a sledge hammer."
As a parent, he knows the attention span of children; for that reason, he wanted to make True Prodigy parent-friendly, as well. Gutierrez doesn't require his youngest students to wear a traditional "gi" – a fabric used in martial arts – to class as a cost convenience to parents.
"The kid moves on, and now they've got an expensive pair of pajamas," he said.
The gym offers class registration on a month-to-month basis and drop-in pricing for single classes. Gutierrez wanted to accommodate the hectic schedule of a family without expensive fees for classes that only meet once a week.
"If they sign up for a martial arts class, they automatically are eligible to work in a fitness class," he said.
Twelve-year-old Michael Sullivan said he and his 14-year-old brother, Jack, come to True Prodigy almost every day.
"The hardest part is how much work you do and remembering the moves," said Michael, whose favorite class is Muay Thai.
Jack, however, likes Jiu Jitsu better. Both brothers play hockey, and Michael said True Prodigy's classes help keep him in shape.
"What's interesting, too, is martial arts is such a good crossover for other sports," Gutierrez said.
Even though his passion is martial arts, Gutierrez said if he can help kids stay fit and perform better at their chosen sport, whether it's swimming, basketball or cheerleading, he has succeeded.
In that same spirit, Gutierrez plans to have sports psychology interns from the Adler School of Professional Psychology come in this fall to help children and parents in whatever way they can, free of charge.
"The goal wasn't necessarily for me to just have a martial arts school," Gutierrez said. "We want to be part of the community."