March 19, 2017 3:00 pm JST

Boxing in the dark lets shy Tokyoites awaken inner 'b-monsters'

New fitness company keeps the lights low and the music loud

MINORU SATAKE, Nikkei staff writer

Inside a b-monster studio: The room is usually darker.

TOKYO -- A fresh twist on boxing fitness is helping even inhibited Tokyoites get in shape. This 36-year-old reporter recently stopped by a studio in the capital's Aoyama district to throw some punches. 

Boxing-based exercise is nothing new, but this particular fitness studio, called b-monster, is like a cross between a nightclub and a gym. Behind a thick, soundproof door, 54 white sandbags are faintly visible in an otherwise dark room. When the music starts pumping, the bag-clobbering begins.

This type of training, popular among New Yorkers, offers an exciting change of pace with body benefits to boot, according to the gym operator.

In this case, though, boxing is believing. 

I stood in front of sandbag No. 46 and affixed a heartbeat monitor to my abdomen. A nearby iPad soon showed my heart rate: 90 beats per minute. Apparently, I was already fired up.

Natsu, a 23-year-old instructor, showed me how to jab and move my feet properly. Having had some experience with kickboxing in my teens, I figured this would be a breeze. Yet, even during a warmup session that included squats and a thigh-raising exercise, my heart rate exceeded 170. I simply could not keep up with Natsu.

As I struggled, I found myself feeling grateful to be in a dark, loud place. I could barely see Natsu, who was standing 2 meters away from me. There was no way anyone further away would notice me grimacing, and the bass-heavy music drowned out my groans.

The latter half of the 45-minute workout was spent punching the sandbag. Stepping to the beats, I hit the bag, attempting to follow Natsu's instructions to "jab," "cross" or "hook." "Power, power," she shouted occasionally, sounding like a DJ.

Three-quarters of an hour zoomed by. I burned 500 kilocalories, according to the iPad. I took a shower and hopped on the scale -- to my amazement, I had lost 3kg. The bulk of that was water, of course, but I thought I looked a little thinner in the mirror.

B-monster is a family-run business launched by two sisters, who were both college students at the time. They first encountered boxing in the dark when they took a lesson in New York in January 2016. Right away, they were sure that Japanese would like it.

In just several months, they set up a company with other family members. They opened their first b-monster gym in Tokyo's Ginza district last June; the Aoyama location opened in December. By May, they intend to open three more gyms in central Tokyo.

Makoto Tsukada, one of the sisters, said they want to create a clublike but healthy atmosphere. The approach seems to have struck a chord in Japan, where many people will tell you they feel embarrassed to exercise in front of strangers. B-monster's membership count has already grown to around 3,000.

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