Playa del Rey kickboxing studio helps students of all ages “train hard, win pretty”

Feb 6, 2023

Kickboxing master Hayward Brown is a gentle soul living in a warrior’s body. His high-energy kickboxing classes combine martial arts and self-defense to inspire both teens and adults. One class with Hayward and it’s obvious he’s living his best life–his passion for fitness and people shines through.

Hayward has his motto posted in his Playa del Rey gym: “Train hard, win pretty.”

According to Hayward, the motto is his strategy for training hard physically, but not forgetting to train mentally, too, because a strong mind is as important as a strong body.

Hayward poses in his Playa del Rey gym, where he designs classes that are not only challenging, but also fun.

“In life, you could be very successful, but your body may not be where it’s supposed to be. Your posture may not be where it’s supposed to be. You’re sitting behind the desk and your finances are great, but your body hurts everywhere and you’re winning at some things, but you’re not winning pretty. It’s like playing chess. When my kids and my adults are learning self-defense, they are playing chess and dissecting every move their opponent is making,” he says.

By training hard both physically and mentally, you build confidence, he says. It’s a lesson Hayward learned very young, long before he had a career in fitness or as a professional kickboxer.

Growing up in Long Beach, Hayward’s parents were often busy working to support him and his five sisters. While his parents taught him a strong work ethic, it was Hayward’s mentor, Lieutenant Martin Davis, who would have a profound influence on him.

“We called him LT, but he wasn’t in the service. He took me under his wing,” says Hayward.

LT taught 12-year-old Hayward invaluable life skills like proper dining etiquette, tipping your server, how to open a bank account and how to bring in extra income. Together, LT and Hayward would teach fitness classes at a nearby school. Hayward reminisces that he got paid $40 a week, which was a lot for a middle school student back then.

 LT, who owned and operated a Kung Fu studio, also introduced Hayward to martial arts and kickboxing–sports where Hayward excelled. Soon, he would be traveling the world competing in tournaments and would go on to earn a fifth-degree Black Belt in Lima Lama, a Black Sash in Wing Chun and a Black Belt in Ukidokan.

After Hayward’s professional kickboxing career ended on a high note, “28 wins and two losses in four years,” he found a home at the Marina del Rey LA Fitness gym for 16 years. He started as a personal trainer then moved up to eventually managing the gym for seven years. In 2009, he made the decision to leave the corporate gym model and branch out on his own.

“I wanted to do my own thing,” he says after feeling limited with other gyms’ cookie-cutter workout programs. “You had to stretch at this time and no boxing gloves at this time. I wanted to bring people up as I was brought up and really show I care about people.”

Now with his own studio, Hayward Kickboxing, on Pershing right down the street from his home, Hayward gets to make his own rules and he enjoys every minute of it. But for him, it’s not just about making money, it’s about the impact he hopes to make on his students.

“It’s about the way they leave me, the way they talk about me in the future and leaving something with them years later,” says Hayward who has now owned the studio for 14 years. “Most of my teen students get high grades in school because if you can do what I teach you, you can sit up straight in the chair and knock out any math problem or any science problem. If you can do this, you can do anything. We’re not going to take a loss. We’re going to win in everything we do.”

Hayward’s partner, Leigh Carlson, helps him with the technical side of the business, like setting up virtual classes and updating the website. She feels he’s gifted when it comes to working with people, and she has seen teenagers really come into their own under Hayward’s guidance.

“Some kids get bullied,” says Leigh. “But with Hayward, they learn the confidence to avoid that conflict. It’s about having enough confidence and training to know they could defend themselves if they need to, but they’re also not looking for trouble.” 

“It’s in the students’ eyes,” says Hayward. “When you look in their eyes, you can see the confidence in their face. They’re not afraid of any situation. Just that confidence alone will keep them out of trouble. They’re not intimidated to be intelligent, raise their hand in class and be a leader.”

Heike Sussman, a local mom of two girls, agrees.

“From the moment we met him, Hayward’s energy and enthusiasm shined. Hayward has had such a positive influence on my daughters, who have learned lots in taking his Kung Fu boxing class,” she says. “His passion, as well as interesting stories, have encouraged them to want to continue learning and perfecting their skills, all while building their confidence. He shares life skills that bring out the best in everyone. His place is not only a studio, it’s a community.”

But beyond the mental and physical discipline, Hayward knows how to have fun, too.

“I have a great sense of humor, I keep it loose,” he says.

Just make sure you laugh at his jokes because he might make you do pushups if you don’t.

“I will entertain you whether you want to be entertained or not,” he says with a deep laugh.

Anyone looking for a great cardio workout where they can build muscle and learn self-defense in a positive, fun environment is a good candidate for Hayward’s classes either in-person or online.

“We want people to come here, feel safe, be comfortable and not feel like people are judging you,” says Hayward.

Story by Shanee Edwards. Photos by Robert Higgins.

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