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Preparing for battle

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By Dan Johnson

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’re no doubt familiar with the answer to this question: What’s the first rule of Fight Club?

Answer: The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

Conner Cordova broke the first rule.

The way he saw it, he had no reason not to.

Now, before you get worried that Conner, a 16 year-old junior at Dakota Ridge High School, is the leader of some underground teenage fighting ring, you can go ahead and exhale. Cordova only fights others in a supervised setting.

This Fight Club is strictly dedicated to training - and thanks to Conner - is open to anyone willing to push themselves through the grueling two- and three-hour workouts at Peoples Kenpo Karate.

The “Fight Club” workout was designed by Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and his trainer, John Hackleman, with the original designs of getting young Conner in better shape after he admittedly ran out of gas at a tournament last year.

“I knew the reason I came in second was because of my cardio,” said Conner, who had to compete in four consecutive matches at the aforementioned U.S. Open. “I didn’t want that to be an issue again.”

After going through some of the workouts, Conner was likely wishing his dad, Chuck Cordova, hadn’t made the call to Hackleman, who Chuck Cordova (he runs Peoples Kenpo Karate, with wife Carol serving as chief instructor) has known for many years.

In fact, when Conner underwent his black belt testing six years ago, Hackleman and Liddell both flew out from California to be there. Inside the Peoples Kenpo Karate studio is a picture of a young Conner being lifted into the air by Liddell.

The “Fight Club” workout specifically targets the fast-twitch muscles, which are largely used in point-sparring or any other martial arts competition. Conner was flipping tires, dragging sleds, working his grip, doing plyometrics, throwing medicine balls and any other evil exercise his mom, Carol, called out during the sessions.

It was a brutal experience. And a lonely one. Conner figured if he was going to be suffering through these intense workouts, it might help make the time go by faster if he were accompanied by some friends.

Carol and Chuck agreed and they began to open up the “Fight Club” workouts to other members of Peoples Kenpo Karate, which is located at Kipling and Bowles in the old Albertson’s shopping center.

Six months later, “Fight Club” routinely sees 25-plus kids in the gym, with classes sometimes reaching as many as 50.

“I’m blown away,” Carol said of the number of students participating. “We are training these kids like professional fighters. We tailor the exercises to their age group and experience, so they aren’t doing anything that will hurt them.

“We also talk a lot about nutrition and proper rest. Those are just as big, if not bigger, than the training we’re doing.”

Peoples Kenpo Karate also stresses to its students that while they may train tough in the gym, outside the gym they are to treat others with respect.

“Kenpo mixes a lot of different forms of martial arts and teaches you to use them in a self-defense manner,” Chuck Cordova said. “It’s always evolving, but one thing that remains constant is respect. We don’t want to hear about any of our students acting in ways they shouldn’t when they leave the studio.”

One thing is clear, the workouts work.

Conner recently won the 2008 U.S. Open, winning eight fights. He is now the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA) World Champion.

So, if you’re looking for information on this “Fight Club” remember it is OK to ask. Contact Peoples Kenpo Karate at 303-933-2211.