'Bad-Ass Moms' spar in Granite Bay

Class teaches martial arts, self-defense and life coaching
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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On the first week she visited The Studio, Carol Cooper sat outside in her car, peering into the open space as a group of women practiced tae kwon do. The second week, she walked through the front doors but stayed near the entrance, sitting on a chair to observe the class. Finally, on the third week, instructor Amitis Pourarian suggested she join along. “I never looked back,” Cooper says. The 47-year-old started the Bad-Ass Moms class in September. BAM, as students call it, is martial arts, women’s self-defense and life coaching rolled into one program offered twice a week. Some of the ladies are moms and some are not. “I absolutely love it and I’ll tell you why,” Cooper says. “I’m a stay-at-home mom and this has been the best thing for me. I feel healthier. I have more energy. I was an ‘I can’t’ person. Now I only say, ‘I can’t wait to get to class.’” Cooper, mother of a 3-year-old daughter, has since earned her orange belt, which is the first of nine color belts. Each student of tae kwon do begins with a white belt on her inner and outer journey to achieve the coveted black belt, which requires passing each previous color test, several sparring matches, board breaking, self-defense and an essay. Cooper is one of the lowest on the color-belt totem pole, she says, but doesn’t mind. Instructor Pourarian started the program six months ago at the Granite Bay studio she owns. She also owns a gym in San Diego where she used to live and co-owns Folsom Taekwondo with Jack Corrie. The 33-year-old sixth-degree black belt master has practiced tae kwon do for about 20 years. She’s a four-time national champion and a former member of the U.S. World Cup team. During the day, she operates a real-estate brokerage firm. Pourarian opened The Studio Martial Arts and Fitness in January, offering classes in Zumba, belly dance, cardio kickboxing, yoga, jiu-jitsu and more. Then she decided to customize a new program solely for women around the concept of developing a healthy body and healthy state of mind. “A lot of ladies get engrossed in everyday lives and sacrifice themselves,” she says. “This teaches them it’s OK to take care of themselves. Then you can take care of others physically and mentally. They have no reason to feel guilty about it.” Cooper initially felt guilty and afraid at the thought of leaving her daughter behind in the evenings so she could pursue a hobby, but soon overcame that hang up when she realized her participation benefited the whole family. “My goal is to get my black belt before I turn 50,” Cooper says. “I never had goals like that before.” Pourarian also teaches the students nitty-gritty self defense moves to ward off potential attackers, including the groin shot, throat shot and open palm strike to the nose. She says the program promotes flexibility, weight loss, overall fitness, strength building and camaraderie. The Stanford-educated Pourarian — who earned her master’s degree in construction management — remembers the words of a college professor. “He said the person sitting next to you is the most valuable thing you’re going to get here,” she says. “I apply that philosophy.” Student Alex Calhoun said Bad-Ass Moms support each other and “it’s not an ‘oh my gosh, what are you wearing’ workout scene.” “It doesn’t matter how high you kick,” she says. “It’s all about you. Some of the women are super mega-fit. Some people are into sparring. You come here and just turn it on.” The 38-year-old stay-at-home mom joined the class this summer, after watching her two young children take a tae kwon do class at The Studio. She observed a huge change in her once-shy son — “now he’s a leader” — and her daughter developed little quad muscles. “I thought, ‘I wish I had this when I was a kid,’” Calhoun says. “But then I realized I’m not dead yet. I should try it.” Exercising in front of a huge mirror and windows open to passers-by outside was nerve-wracking at first, but she quickly grew comfortable. “I love, love, love (BAM),” Calhoun says. “It’s transformed my shape. It’s a challenge to your mind and body. I’m really happy about seeing my body change, but most of all, I’m becoming confident and proud of myself.” During a recent class, women in white robes tie belts around their waists in green, yellow, orange and white. They stretch and chit chat, until Master P, as students call Pourarian, shouts “Line up!” The 13 women practice moves, forms and sparring — tae kwon do’s version of a sport with rules as to designated areas where players hit and kick. The ladies strap on safety gear. “Mouth pieces if you wish, shin guards if you have them,” Pourarian says. “Go ahead and make contact.” The women throw punches, block kicks and stay light on their feet as they circle one another on the mat, some students smiling broadly the whole time. “The only thing I wish is I had them on tape when they first came in,” Pourarian says, with pride. “They’re not even the same people.” Sena Christian can be reached at --------- Bad-Ass Moms begins a new session Monday, Jan. 3. The cost is $139 per month. Students enrolled in the studio’s “fitness program” pay $50 a month. To enroll, stop by The Studio Martial Arts and Fitness at 4130 Douglas Blvd., suite 405 in Granite Bay. For more information, call (916) 258-5425, e-mail or visit