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March 18, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Sweat drips down Edward Oganesov’s gray T-shirt as he lunges toward the padded target in front of him. He smacks a leather shield, barely missing his partner’s exposed forearm. Both young men cock their fists near their faces and, bending their knees, revert to a guarded boxing stance. Oganesov, a native of Russia and current student at Moberly Area Community College, quickly wipes his forehead and steadies himself on the balls of his feet. He swings again.
Oganesov and six other young men visit Dojo Studio at West Ash Street on a biweekly basis. They learn different boxing and kickboxing techniques from Bill Rastorfer, a retired champion and present instructor.
As high tempo pop music pours out of an old CD player, the students wrap their hands in gauze tape and stretch out on rubber mats. Some of them practice their punches against faded boxing mannequins with menacing faces.
The studio’s glass door is steam-covered, a product of the body heat within the building and the freezing air outside. Inside, posters of famous boxing matches and fighters hang on the walls. The largest of these, a Muhammad Ali print, sticks to the back door and beckons the living boxers to match his world-renowned skills.
The men line up in two rows when Rastorfer claps his hands. Facing him and a wall of floor-length mirrors, the class stands still and anticipates further directions. Both the instructor and the students bow slowly.
When Rastorfer takes a guarded stance and begins shuffling the weight between his feet, the younger men mimic his motions. Eventually, all of the boxers are jumping in rhythm.
Kickboxing, like ballet or belly dancing, requires many swift movements. The men begin their practice rituals with small repetitive punches and then add wider swings into the line up.
The stereo blasts “Single Ladies” as these men add more punches and stronger swings to their boxing melody. A few of the men comment on the song choice. Edward, with his pronounced accent and somewhat blunt mannerisms, mentions that he likes Beyoncé’s music video. A friend punches his arm.
“I bet you do.” The men laugh.
Switching to the next move, each student picks up one of the torso-sized leather shields. The instructor sets a digital timer, and the men repeat some of the previous hand motions while facing their partners. They grunt and utter occasional expletives as their shins either hit or miss the intended spots on the padded mats. Excitement in the room rises. Sweat rolls off the boxers as they work against the countdown. With each progressive kick, they become more assured of their skill. Finally, the timer beeps.
Brisk movements stop, and a dangling sense of energy is left over. The students stretch, releasing a portion of the adrenaline they have built up during the past hour. When they stand, one student walks toward his towel. Immediately, he is summoned back to the mats, and he hurries into place as the men line up. The instructor bows, Edward and his peers follow suit. Boxing class is over.