Fighting to succeed

by Emily Kaiser

Sweat dripping down their faces and red marks across the tops of their feet signaled the end of a Friday night workout for those attending a Cellar Kickboxing class.

“If you aren’t sweating after this, you are probably dead,” said University alumnus Peter Rich.

The instructor of the hour-long class and University alumnus, Chris Cichon, was all smiles afterward. On Saturday, Cichon will celebrate his first official day as owner of the gym by competing in an amateur kickboxing fight at Grand Casino Hinckley.

The gym, nestled underneath Joe’s Market and Deli on Como Avenue Southeast, was going to shut down when the owner decided kickboxing wasn’t her passion anymore, said Simona Whiley, former owner of the gym.

Cichon, an instructor at the time, offered to take over ownership to keep the gym open. Cichon graduated with a degree in entrepreneurial management and said he always dreamed of owning his own gym.

“This was a great opportunity for me and something I just had to run with,” he said.

The Cellar opened nearly three and a half years ago and attracts primarily University students and recent graduates, Cichon said.

“One really cool thing with The Cellar is that it breeds a family atmosphere,” he said. “They are my family right now, my brothers and sisters, and we become really close.”

Cichon began karate when he was 6 years old and began teaching at the age of 15, he said. There are now five black belts in his family.

The Cellar offers those who learned karate the new option of kickboxing, which is much more physical, but an easy transition, he said.

“The techniques and skills are almost identical,” he said. “Your practice transfers very easily.”

A typical class at The Cellar is an hour-long session that is primarily partner based, Cichon said. One partner is holding the pads, while the other student practices techniques in two-minute rounds.

“We usually start out doing rounds of punching, kicking and combinations,” he said.

The classes are taught by skilled instructors in a variety of martial arts and kickboxing techniques who always keep you guessing during the workout, he said.

“Every time it’s new and exciting, which makes it easier to stick to it,” he said. “If you are bored with a workout, you will fall out of it.”

Students vary in levels of experience and many come just to get a different workout, he said.

“This is one of the best workouts you’ll get in your life and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It works the entire core of your body.”

During the Friday night session, the experience level ranged from those attending the gym for the first time to instructors who had previously competed in kickboxing.

The students jumped from different combinations quickly, with Cichon making sure everyone was as pumped up as he was. The music in the background was often overpowered by the punching and kicking of the students.

Entrepreneurial management senior Anthony Marotta said he tries to attend The Cellar regularly and has a strong background in martial arts.

“This is a lot more intense because there is more of a cardio element rather than traditional form so you are pushed a lot further,” he said.

Cichon said he has to compete for customers with the University recreation center, which is free for full-time students.

The Cellar offers the first class free and a 20 percent student discount on future classes, Cichon said.

Cellar fight team

In addition to classes, The Cellar has a fight team that is nationally recognized and trains some of the best kickboxers in the United States, Cichon said.

Justin Whiley, The Cellar fight team trainer and Simona Whiley’s husband, works closely with Cichon and other fighters to prepare for upcoming fights, including Cichon’s fight Saturday evening.

“When Chris started training, I knew he was very special,” Justin Whiley said. “He had a lot of respect for the sport and our gym.”

Justin Whiley competed in the past, but said as he got older, he got sick of getting hit in the head.

“It’s pretty furious,” he said. “Your opponent’s job is to knock you out.”

After the fight this weekend, Cichon will begin his work as the new owner of the gym.

Cichon said he plans to someday take the gym to a larger location and offer a variety of new classes.

“A lot of people are very excited and that speaks more to Chris than anything,” Justin Whiley said. “He is just such a nice guy and you sometimes wonder how he punches and tries to hurt people in the fights.”