Self-defense, fitness go hand in hand, says longtime martial arts instructor

Charlie Foxman


Five days a week, Charlie Foxman goes to work at his Midwest Martial Arts Academy. Once there, Foxman is no desk jockey. He teaches five 60-minute classes each day, kicking and punching and sweating and grunting with the students through at least two of those sessions.

“I am trim, I am fit and I work out with 20 and 30-somethings,” says Foxman, who is 69. “Some people say I am St.. Louis’ Jack LaLanne. If that’s an inspiration, if that inspires just one person to get fit, then it’s all worth it to me.”

Originally a New Yorker, Foxman left a business career in 1987 to found the Academy. Since then, he has worked with thousands of children and adults. Over the years, Foxman has tailored traditional self-defense classes to reflect the growing interest in fitness. Character development is part of some classes as well.

Foxman is so certain that what he offers suits people of every age and fitness level that he invites anyone to come to classes for one week – for free. (For details, see Recently, Foxman emerged from the studio long enough to talk about his work.

What do you teach at the Academy?

We teach Tae Kwon Do, a fun full-body workout that improves cardiovascular fitness, burns calories and increases lean muscle mass. You get a good warm up at the beginning and a cool-down and stretch at the end, but in between you are doing martial arts the same way it was done a couple of centuries ago.

Who can do this?

Everyone, from age 3 and up. We all work at our own pace. People in their 80s do Tae Kwon Do. I teach a version to seniors at the Hallmark and the Gatesworth. I also have taught it to people with disabilities and people who use wheelchairs.

How has interest in martial arts changed since 1987?

When we first started, people wanted to learn martial arts, learn self defense and then get fit. Today, the order is flipped – people want to get fit, learn self defense and also learn martial arts.

How have your course offerings changed over the years?

One class combines fitness with self defense. Also, we are credited with bringing Tae Bo – kickboxing – to St. Louis. And we just started a new program called Tabata, which was originated by a Japanese doctor. Tabata alternates high intensity aerobics with brief rest periods. That’s good for building muscle and increasing endurance, and that’s great for your heart.

What has not changed?

The element of character development, especially for children 6 to 10 and high school students. Here, students cannot earn a Black Belt unless they maintain a B average in school. Also, we do a charitable event, Kicking for a Cause, every year. Last year, we raised over $7,000 for Life Skills, a local non-profit that helps people with developmental disabilities live and work in the community.

What about your own training – how has it evolved?

Grand Master Jhoon Rhee, who brought Tae Kwon Do to America from Korea, was my instructor. Now I also am a certified wellness and weight loss coach, a certified personal trainer and a certified seniors fitness instructor. And I have developed a CD about diet and exercise, because that combination is the only way to truly get healthy and maintain weight.

Beyond teaching the classes at the Academy, do you work out?

Every day, I work out at the Jewish Community Center. I use the fitness machines and free weights and then I swim laps.

What drew you to this field?

At one time, I had another life, as president of a small medical textile company. When my son Sam turned 6, I gave him martial arts lessons for his birthday, and I decided to go with him. We both stayed and got black belts, as did Joyce, my wife at the time. I decided to open a martial arts school so she could launch a second career, but shortly afterward, she passed away.

What happened next?

I had to either close the school or start doing what I really loved to do. I realized I could do martial arts for the rest of my life, and that it would keep me healthy. Also, I could help other people get and stay healthy – all while having fun. What better way to make a living?

HealthWatch – Charlie Foxman

WORK: Owns the Midwest Martial Arts Academy at 11947 Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur

HOME: Chesterfield

FAMILY: Married to Lucy, a Judaic artist and program director at the Academy; four children and three grandchildren.

HOBBIES: Spends free time with family