|Posted on January 12, 2010 at 10:09 AM|
Martial arts for women only
Businesswoman kicks through gender barriers
ASBURY PARK PRESS
BY: Amanda Oglesby
January 11, 2010
Prairie Rugilo, 31, is giving new meaning to the phrase "hits like a girl."
The Toms River resident is determined to make her all-female mixed-martial-arts business kick through gender barriers in the normally male-dominated arena.
On a recent Tuesday, women met at the Brick Police Athletic League, where black-and-white photographs of boxers — all men — line the walls. The lithe women donned boxing gloves and prepared to join Rugilo's Girl Fight Martial Arts classes.
Rugilo believes her business will appeal to women who might not join a mixed-martial-arts class attended by men.
"There's really not many girls in the real kickboxing classes. They're intimidated by the male environment," Rugilo said. "It usually does attract law enforcement, military, big guys."
Opened in December, Rugilo's business already is attracting a steady stream of clients, she said. Relying only on word-of-mouth and her Web site, www.thegirlfight.com, two to three new clients a week are signing up for classes, Rugilo said.
As her Web site unites her with women interested in kickboxing, the site also has received criticism. After launching the site, she received anonymous comments attacking the business, she said.
"That just makes me feel good," Rugilo said. "It lets me know that this is a good idea and they're threatened by that, (by) the competition."
Of mixed-martial-arts fans nationwide, about 20 percent are women, said Diana Illiano, publicist for Scarborough Sports Marketing, a company that is studying the sport's fans and their purchasing habits.
"No surprise that mixed-martial arts is a male-dominated sport," said Howard Goldberg, senior vice president at Scarborough Sports Marketing. "That doesn't mean it won't be growing more into a female following, but the core demo(graphic) really is about men 25 to 49."
In addition to being mostly male, Scarborough research finds the group to be affluent. A 2009 Scarborough survey found mixed-martial-arts fans are 15 percent more likely than an average American to have a household income of $75,000 or greater and are 10 percent more likely to own a second home.
This affluence has attracted advertisers and spawned the rise of programs such as the Ultimate Fighter Championship and companies selling varieties of mixed-martial-arts clothing and equipment. In addition, centers like Rugilo's are operating throughout the country.
"The market (for mixed-martial-arts schools) is pretty much saturated," said Christopher Kenney, owner of The Phalanx Thai boxing gym in Toms River. "From a business point of view, there's probably half a dozen schools within a 5-mile radius anywhere in the state."
Despite the competition among schools, Kenney supports Girl Fight and sees a market for all-female classes.
"Traditionally, from a gender point of view, women and men work out differently," he said, as his 11-year-old daughter Nina stretched and prepared to join Rugilo's class. "There aren't any programs like this . . . . Women have a bigger need for self defense."
In addition to support from Kenney, she is receiving positive feedback from friends and family.
"It was the first thing in my life that everybody else said was a good idea," said Rugilo, who also works as a real estate agent and owns an online surf shop.
Though she currently operates two classes a day sandwiched around her real estate work, she hopes to make Girl Fight Martial Arts a full-time job.
"I've never been into it for the money," Rugilo said. "I just want to be inspiring. I want to be able to stay in shape. I just really want to change people's lives and show them that they can be whatever they want to be as long as they try hard enough."
"Now if I make a living out of it, that's even better," she added.
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