Jim Graden, right, with his MA Fitness business partner Dave Stickler.
Jim Graden, owner of MA Fitness, with his son, Jackson.
SEMINOLE – MA Fitness owner and former world kickboxing champion Jim Graden celebrates 30 years in the fitness business this year.
For about 15 of those, the fitness guru has called Seminole home; his MA (martial arts) Fitness gym is located at 9104 Seminole Blvd.
“I’ve been here forever,” he said. “I love being in Seminole.”
Graden began studying martial arts as a teenager, following in the footsteps of his older brother. Eventually he trained under Joe Lewis, who dominated competitive martial arts in the 1960s and 1970s and trained Chuck Norris. He credits Lewis with turning him into a world champion.
“I was extremely fortunate to train under a legend,” Graden said. “He took me under his wing.”
In 1983, Graden opened his first martial arts school, the Florida Karate Academy of Largo. That same year, “Karate Kid” came out and Graden saw the market change. Rather than training competitive fighters he shifted his focus to families and children inspired by the hit movie.
“I jumped in with both feet,” he said.
Graden doubled the size of his space in Largo and hired three full-time teachers. But eventually, he said, he burned out and “lost the passion.”
So he decided to reinvent himself and his brand in the early 1990s, creating Cardio Karate a couple of years prior to Billy Blank’s Tai Bo craze. Graden personally certified 6,000 instructors from across the country.
“It fuses martial arts and fitness,” he said. “It’s the best workout there is. Both your body and mind are engaged.”
He quickly realized there was more to promoting health and fitness than simply working out and eventually created the Ultimate Bodyshaping Course. UBC combined fitness kickboxing with resistance training, flexibility and a sound nutritional program.
“If you go home after working out and eat a pizza, you’re not going to get results,” Graden said.
This is where MA Fitness, the second reinvention of Graden’s fitness instruction career, comes in.
Graden takes what he’s learned from Cardio Karate and the Ultimate Bodyshaping Course to create workout offerings that “reflect more current times,” he said.
MA Fitness offers a wide variety of classes at all fitness levels.
“We get a lot of average people, 45-year-old moms and dads who are bored to death with what they’re doing (to work out),” he said. “So I’m offering them something different. Training like a fighter is one of the best things you can do.”
And inspired by his 8-year-old son Jackson, Graden has also started training children again.
Graden is a five-time member of the World Champion United States Karate team that won team world titles in London, England in 1985 and Munich, Germany in 1987. He also won the international Karate League World Heavyweight Kickboxing title in Palermo, Sicily in 1991.