Puttin’ the hammer down

The last time this pampered princess picked up a tool was, well, never. The last time this pampered princess even looked at a car tire was, well, never. But suddenly I find myself armed, not just with any tool, but a massive SLEDGEHAMMER, hitting two car tires with all my might. It feels, oddly, great.

I’m at Powerclub, a recently opened boutique gym in Forest Hill’s Upper Village, founded by Rachelle Bronfman, which specializes in “elite personal training.”

Married to one of the sons of the late Edward Bronfman (the wealthy philanthropic family best known for Seagrams), Rachelle Bronfman has been active in philanthropy for as long as she can remember.

Starting the club, she explains, is just another way to express her philanthropic nature.

How so? I wonder, but I wait until later to ask.

Before I arrive, I’m told to park at the side of the building, on Eglington Avenue, and enter through the “private VIP entrance,” the only way to get into the club.

Honestly, I’m walking through the back of an alley, but I’m all for calling it a VIP entrance. It has a better ring. Bronfman herself pays for parking spaces attached to her club, for her clients, which is a thoughtful touch.

Inside, however, the club has a different vibe than most fitness clubs.

First, the club only focuses on mixed martial arts (MMA) especially krav maga (Israeli self-defence), sambo (Russian marital arts) and Brazilian jujitsu. Trainers are Israeli experts in hand-to-hand combat. (And they’re all good looking!)

The club is not just for men. It has the feel of a boutique. At what other club, I wonder, will I ever see an Orthodox Jewish woman (who has eight children) practise krav maga next to a six-foot-two Toronto police officer? Um, nowhere!

Everyone, from all walks of life, seems to be getting into the MMA scene, especially a scene that is this upscale.

Immediately after walking in, I’m handed a blueberry protein shake and taken on a tour by Bronfman, an extremely fit and outgoing woman.

There’s a rooftop patio, with lounge chairs and trees, where clients can sit and soak up the sun after a hard workout (Or, in my case, before the workout.) There’s a fireplace on the main floor, a juice and coffee bar and a room on the lower level dedicated to stretching after a workout.

The stretching room features four massage tables and feels more like a spa. Today I’m getting a lesson in krav maga from Erez Cohen.

He’s a 29- year-old Israeli and a five-time national judo champion, member of the Olympic team for Israel and, ahem, was named Mr. Israel in 2003.

Also, he served in the Israeli army in an elite anti-terror unit for four years. Cohen is so soft spoken and gentle I often have to ask him to repeat himself. It’s hard to believe that he can kill you. (But he is supereasy on the eyes. )

News of the Powerclub has spread, and they have already collected quite the clientele. Actor Joe Dinicol, who stared alongside Paul Gross in Passchendale, is a client. The owner of Maple Pictures, who released Precious, is a client. Actress Ashley Leggat, known for her role in Life with Derek and Marcia in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, practise here, as do numerous NHL players.

And, now, at least for today, so do I. Before we start, I ask Cohen, “Will I hurt you?”

“Yes,” he answers.

“Will you hurt me?” I ask.

“Maybe,” he says.

Wonderful, I think.

We start by using a fake gun, and I learn what to do if it’s pointed at me. He pulls out a fake knife and grabs me and holds it to my neck. I crack a joke that this is good for me to know if someone pulls out a knife and wants my iPod.

Apparently, krav maga is no laughing matter.

“If someone pulls a knife on you like that, they don’t want your iPod. They want to kill you,” says Cohen.

Wonderful, I think. We practise a few times, and I get the hang of it quite quickly. “That’s the great thing about krav maga: After only a couple sessions, you learn,” says Cohen. “And you learn fast.”

Then he asks me a question I never thought I’d ever be asked. “Have you ever worked out with a Sledgehammer?”

“Um,no, Ezra. I have not,”I respond.

Next thing I know, he’s explaining how to pound two tires with the sledgehammer. Like I said, it feels great. And, apparently, it’s great for the stomach muscles. (Which turns out to be true.The rest of the day, my sides are killing me!)

After we train, I ask Bronfman how opening a gym is a philanthropic pursuit. She explains that she sends her trainers to schools across Toronto, everywhere from Forest Hill Collegiate to schools in the Jane-Finch area. “We are very anti-bully. So we teach them good self-defence and selfcontrol,” she explains.

In fact, a number of teenagers go to Powerclub, which has surprised even Bronfman.

“They come at first and they’re not confident. And then you see them become confident. Not only that, they want to become good at it. They’re really dedicated to it. And it’s great to see teenagers trying hard at something they’re interested in.”

She also organizes fitness adventure getaways in Israel (Israel Defense Style!) with shooting excursions, briefings with IDF special intelligence and Shabbat dinners with a hundred IDF soldiers.

There is no monthly fee to join the club.Trainers cost $110 an hour.

What I love, too, is that everyone is friendly. I speak with the Orthodox woman who gives me her husband’s name (a dentist).When I compliment Bronfman on her Swarovski watch, she asks me if I want one. It’s the type of place where you know people can get things done for you. Plus, where else can you just hit a sledgehammer for fun?


Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO