The Daily News
September 15 2006
Written By Clem Richardson

School is out of the (kick)box

Young students at Louis Neglia Martial Arts Academy in Gravesend learn all the right moves from three-time World Kickboxing Champion Neglia (center).

Dozens of inspirational phrases – stuff like "Quitters Never Win; Winners Never Quit" – festoon the walls of the Louis Neglia Martial Arts Academy in Gravesend, Brooklyn.

But only one sprang to mind after watching 12 of the former three-time World Kickboxing Champion's students go through their paces: "If you want to kickbox, train hard; if you want to win, train harder."

A punishing warmup of stretches, leg lifts and pushups doesn't hint at the mayhem to follow as students pair off and proceed to execute a series of close-order, synchronized jabs, punches and lightning-fast kicks to each opponent's shins.

All this while the barefoot Neglia, 52, prowls the room, barking out moves students are to execute and shouting encouragement or criticism as needed.

"Jab! Jab! Jab!" Neglia says in his Brooklyn staccato. "Now kick! Remember, there is no power in the leg! The power is in the hips! Jab! Jab! Jab! Now fake the jab and kick!"

On and on it seems to go, five two-minute rounds of punching, kicking and ducking broken up by 30-second or one-minute breaks that students use to put on more protective equipment as the intensity progresses.

Afterward they pair off again and climb into the boxing ring at the back of the room, or dojo, where they go at each other freestyle, with Neglia again barking encouragement and his observations but largely leaving the attack and defense to the student.

If it looks brutal, that's because it is. But Neglia's students wouldn't have it any other way.

"I love it," said John O'Dea, 35, a Port Authority policeman stationed at LaGuardia Airport. "It lets me get out my aggression and stay in shape. I've been coming here since I was 12, and I look up to Lou like a father."

"Lou is a great man," seconds Maurice Elbaz, 37, a lawyer and emergency medical technician who trained with Neglia for many years. "He works you hard, but he looks out for you, too. You can come to him with any kind of problem and he's there for you."

Neglia was about 14 years old when he discovered kickboxing and instantly fell in love. "I thought it was very hard, so I wanted to see if I could do it," he said.

That curiosity would lead the Brooklyn native to his three world kickboxing titles, a U.S. kickboxing crown, as well as Florida, New York State and Eastern American karate championships in the 1980s.

"My parents didn't know what to do when I told them I was going to be a professional kickboxer," he said. "I had a brother [Peter] who was a lawyer and a sister [Maria] who was a commodities trader."

Neglia would go on to amass a record 34 wins against only two loses. He received the Fighter of the Year award in 1984 and, on his Web site,, notes that no opponent lasted more than three rounds with him in the ring.

"Fighting is like chess," he said. "You have to have a strategy. You throw punches to set up other punches. The punch you really want to hurt him with, you don't want him to see that coming."

Newspaper clippings (many from New York's Hometown Paper), photos taken with movie stars and flyers from around the globe pasted on the dojo walls testify to Neglia's heady career. He headlined at Madison Square Garden, Atlantic City and Vegas and appeared on "The Mike Douglas Show." Neglia signed an endorsement deal with Everlast sports equipment company and traveled to Brazil, Israel and parts of Europe to appear in kickboxing competitions and demonstrations.

"It was front-page news when I went to Poland and, again, when I went to Russia," Neglia said, pointing to two front pages bearing his name.

He also starred in four movies; "Fist of Fear, Touch of Death" (1977), "Sun Dragon" (1979), "Hard Way to Die" (1980), and "One Down, Two to Go" (1982).

"I've had great experiences through the martial arts," he said. "They let me do the things I wanted to do."

Neglia walked away from professional competition in 1984, the permanent crease in his often-broken nose ("That goes with fighting," he said) the only physical testimony to his years in the ring.

World middleweight boxing champion "Rocky Graziano used to come to my fights," Neglia said. "After I won the world title in 1984, he took me aside and said, 'What's one more trophy going to mean?' So I was done."

Neglia soon opened his martial arts school, teaching kickboxing, karate, jiu jitsu and grappling. He admits the training is difficult – Neglia claims a competitor once told a prospective student that ambulances seemed to always be parked outside Neglia's dojo.

"There is no feeling in the world like mastering something that's difficult," he said. "The same strategies you use in the ring, you use in life. To be really successful in life, you have to work really hard."

Vincent Pizzuti, 22, credits the discipline he picked up from Neglia with helping him graduate from Brooklyn College last year. "It a hard school, but I got out on time after four years because I was not afraid of hard work," said Pizzuti. "These classes gave me the strength to get through those classes."

Agnese D'Istria, 34, a teacher at Public School 95 on Avenue U, said her seven years with Neglia have been invaluable for relieving the stress of teaching. "I come in here worn out and leave a new person," she said.

Besides his dojo, Neglia also has had a lucrative career promoting kickboxing events here and in Atlantic City. His next, "Combat at the Capitale," is scheduled for Sept. 29 at the Capitale, 130 Bowery, in Manhattan.

Trainer's rules give students a leg up

Louis Neglia's younger students have to maintain a B average to stay in his school. They also must perform a variety of tasks at home, and have their parents sign a list testifying that the children:

Read a book for 20 minutes each day.

  • Helped with a chore they don't normally do.
  • Made up the bed when they woke up.
  • Cleaned their rooms.
  • Put the dishes away after eating.
  • Went to bed on time.