Kickboxing ConfidentialHave You Heard? Yoga isn’t the only game in town
If Mark Tuthill’s martial arts studio in East Hampton were a bar, it would be a speakeasy. You’d only hear about it through word of mouth and only if you knew the right locals. And then you’d have to locate the place. (A long squat structure, hidden in plain sight, on a rise above a busy stretch of Three Mile Harbor Road.) Once inside, you’d find a veritable conga line of—well, enough metaphor. Pilates instructors, personal trainers, dancers, yoga teachers, physical therapists, and no small number of ordinary people have all passed through Tuthill’s dojo for what is widely considered one of the most effective mind-body workouts in town.
They come for daily classes in kickboxing, a discipline that unites elements of karate, boxing, Muay Thai, and jujitsu. For sixty minutes at a time, six mornings and three evenings a week, Tuthill puts students through their paces, alternating intervals of full-on punches, elbow strikes, and kicks with old-school cardio and resistance exercises. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might think the class was performing a martial-arts inspired aerobics routine. Unlike American boxing, which focuses on upper body strength, kickboxing uses hands and feet, so it gets your heart rate up. Tuthill conceived of the classes as “more of an exercise program than a combat sport.” (Since there’s no sparring, there’s no chance of getting punched out.) Regulars testify that the tough yet non-punitive practice builds core strength and the long, lean muscles as well as mental toughness, physical confidence, and stamina. As a bonus, it’s fun. There is music and a great deal of Lycra. Students beat up on a heavy bag and shadowbox in the mirrored dojo while Tuthill goes around the room, correcting form and spurring laggards to kick cleaner, try harder.
“The first thing we work on in our classes is technique,” says Tuthill, who holds high-ranking black belts in karate and jujitsu and teaches every class. “Fast and wrong doesn’t impress me. Once you do it right, you increase the speed and in that way you learn the mechanics.” Attention to the fine points, students say, is what distinguishes Tuthill from your average teacher of kickboxing who chances are isn’t fully trained in the martial arts. He goes on: “I want my student to punch and kick correctly. If someone’s outside crescent kick is off, I can figure out what the problem is.”
His form is dazzling. When Tuthill throws a spinning back fist, a side kick, a round house kick, he is a blur of energy, a human pinwheel who moves with uncommon grace. As a young boy growing up in Brooklyn and on the East End of Long Island, his hero was Bruce Lee, whom he watched every week in the television series The Green Hornet. By the early 90s, Tuthill was a committed student of the martial arts. Only then did he seek out one of Lee’s teachers, Wally Jay, the founder of Small Circle Jujitsu, and went on to train with him for decades. He counts Jay, who died in 2011, as a formative influence. “He always used to say, ‘Whatever you do today, you’ll pay for tomorrow,’” recalls Tuthill, “and in one way or another I try to convey that message in the dojo. Practice with diligence and you’ll get better.”
Mark Tuthill’s Martial Arts Center
37 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton