COLUMBIA — Luis Duran raises his gloved hands and throws a left hook directly into his trainer’s hand.
The glove makes a loud “bam.” Duran does it again, this time throwing a jab then a left and right hook into the hand pads held by his instructor Bill Rastorfer, “bam,” “bam,” “bam.”
Duran keeps his feet moving, never touching the ground for more than a second. Each lightning quick strike makes his gloves seem like a black blur, accompanied by a “whoosh.”
“Keep your hands up,” Rastorfer reminds Duran. “Don’t forget to use all your space.”
Duran listens and moves around the gym. He keeps his hands up, but the 12-ounce gloves have started to feel like anchors on his hands. Sweat adds to their weight, and they continually pull his arms down. Sweat begins to show on his gray T-shirt, and he breathes heavily through his bulky mouth guard.
“I’ve had a couple other guys try this, but they’re like ‘no way,’” Rastorfer said. “I think he’s got the determination though.”
Duran and Rastorfer continue their grueling routine. They do three two-minute rounds of jump rope, shadow boxing, pad work and a bag routine. By the end of practice Duran's T-shirt is drenched and the sharp smell of body odor surrounds him.
Seven months ago, Duran was a self-proclaimed disaster. He partied late, looked for street fights and had little motivation. However, when Duran discovered kickboxing, his life turned around. Kickboxing became more than a sport to him. It gave Duran meaning to his life and reason to care.
As a child, Duran spent his life moving with his mother and two sisters. He has lived in Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. As a seventh-grader in St. Louis, Duran was expelled from public school in the state after bringing a knife to class.
Duran was arrested a dozen times after that. His penchant for fighting led to a collection of white scars along the knuckles of his hands. The most prominent is nearly a half-inch long and rests between his pinky and ring finger. Duran chuckles when he discusses the scar, incurred from a punch that met his opponent’s braces.
“I just didn’t care about anything. I was disastrous. I used to party a lot, I was lazy, out of shape and smoked a lot,” Duran said.
Duran was arrested in November 2008, and charged with third-degree assault. He was convicted and sentenced to two years of probation. If Duran is arrested during his probation, he will have to serve an 45-day jail sentence. It served as a wake-up call for Duran. He knew if he continued his disastrous lifestyle, the threat of incarceration would become a reality. Duran looked to boxing as the answer.
"I just wanted to start doing something different," Duran said. "I was doing nothing but going to work. I wanted to have something different and exciting."
Combat sports had always appealed to Duran. When he was 14, he used to watch fights on television and dreamed of taking lessons. However, Duran, whose mother worked two jobs, never thought boxing could be a reality.
“I just always thought it was too much money,” Duran said.
But last winter Duran decided to check the prices for classes. He went online and found out about Rastorfer’s classes at Dojo Studio in Columbia. He learned he could afford to take lessons and decided to give it a try.
Kickboxing forced Duran to quit smoking, go to sleep earlier and stop partying. He has even purchased a punching bag to displace any pent up anger he might have when he is at home.
“After that first lesson, he seemed to really turn on to what I was doing. It was like magic,” Rastorfer said. “He shows a lot of respect, more so than the other students.”
When he first walked into the studio, Rastorfer said Duran had a scowl on his face that came off as arrogant. He acted as though he was better than the beginner kickboxing class he was in. His face was lined with rings that went through piercings in his lip, nose and eyebrow. His baggy jeans sagged far below his waistline and his raggedy T-shirt bore the sinister faces of the band Insane Clown Posse.
Rastorfer said he grimaced at the sight of his new pupil. Most students Rastorfer teaches at least show up wearing athletic shorts.
“That first day I said, ‘I’m not teaching this kid,’” Rastorfer said. “I just thought he was trouble. I just didn’t want to teach him.”
During the first class, Rastorfer said Duran simply went through the motions. He huffed and wheezed from the cigarettes he smoked. Duran was pudgy, with more fat than muscle. When Rastorfer tried to teach him a basic kickboxing stance, Duran would ignore the advice and do it his own way — the wrong way.
“He was cocky, and showed little respect. It seemed like his Mom had brought him in as a way for him to get reformed. He just had that look on him,” Rastorfer said.
However, when they began doing pad work, Duran began throwing punches with vigor. He wasn’t just going through the motions anymore. He was using proper technique and listening to Rastorfer’s advice. Rastorfer said Duran threw each punch with power and looked like he was actually having fun. Rastorfer could tell, Duran had found his niche.
“He became much more open and friendly. He wanted to know different kickboxing combinations to do and work on,” Rastorfer said.
After that first practice, Duran began to develop a passion for kickboxing. The sport allows him to throw punches and kicks, something he said he finds exciting. Duran said kickboxing works out the whole body and there is always a new move to learn. Kickboxing provided him an attainable goal he can work for.
"It's more possible to do this because it's more of what I know," Duran said. “It’s given me determination and discipline. It’s made me proactive."
After learning the basics, Duran decided to take it a step further and compete. Duran said he wanted to try something new and set another goal for himself. Rastorfer said a lot of people want to fight, but aren't willing to learn the basics. Duran, however, stays so late after practice working out that Rastorfer has had to kick him out. Rastorfer said he thinks that dedication will make him a good fighter.
"When he gets tired, he'll stick with it. So many people will quit when they hit their breaking point," Rastorfer said. "He'll never quit."
His mother Mylda Duran said she doesn't like the idea of her son competing in a fight, but has noticed he has made more friends and appears to be happier. She said that before kickboxing, he had few friends, but now he has a girlfriend and no longer gets into fights.
“He’s nicer with people. He understands more, and he doesn’t get pissed off as easily. He just seems happier,” Mylda Duran said.
Now the 5-foot-7 frame that was once pudgy and soft has become firm, and Duran only gasps for air in practice because of his mouth guard. He hasn't been in a fight or arrested since November.
“It's kept me out of trouble, kept me busy, and just kept my life in beat." Duran said. "I've got a heavy bag at home now. Instead of getting physical I can get my anger out on that."
Duran plans to compete in an amateur kickboxing match Aug. 22 in Springfield, Mo. He says he doesn't know how well he will do in the tournament, but is certain he will continue kickboxing for as long as possible.
"Hopefully it leads to something bigger," Duran said. "If not, I guess I'll keep trying."