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Monday, August 21, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Man Gets A Real Kick Out Of His Profession -- World Champ To Open A School In Bellevue

BELLEVUE - Curtis Schuster presents an intimidating figure. He stands 6 feet, is 218 pounds of solid muscle and has a shaved head and a sinister-looking goatee.

His shoulders are tattooed with huge wildcats because he fights as "The Cat." He got the name from the speed of his hands."People say I'm as fast as a cat," says Schuster, who lives in Bellevue.

Schuster, 26, also must be pretty fast with his feet and elbows because he is the world superheavyweight kick-boxing champion for the International Sport Karate Association, a title he recently defended in Paris and will defend again Saturday in Reno.

When it comes to kick-boxing champions, the Eastside has more than its share of bragging rights. Besides Schuster, there are Kim Messer, world-champion female kick-boxer, and Maurice Smith, holder of the World Karate Association heavyweight kick-boxing championship and, at age 33, considered the grandfather of kick-boxing.

Smith is the reason the three champions in this little-known sport decided to start a kick-boxing school here, to open next month at 1807 132nd Ave. N.E.

Schuster met Smith three years ago while making the rounds around Puget Sound as a heavyweight boxer. He'd won a bronze medal for boxing in the 1984 Junior Olympics.

"When I first met Maurice he told me I could be a world champion," Schuster says. "I was tough and could hit hard, but I didn't have much knowledge in kick-boxing."

Whatever Schuster lacked, Smith was able to supply. Smith had been undefeated in championship fights for 11 years. He'd been knocked out only once, in 1991 by a boxer from the Netherlands in a nontitle fight, and that was only the second time he'd been defeated.

When the two met in Kirkland, Schuster had a black belt in Thai-Kenpo, and he knew how to use his hands.

"Maurice taught me how to use my legs and knees," Schuster says. "You learn how to use every point of your body."

There are three types of kick-boxing. The form allowed in most states permits only kicks and punches. Modified Thai boxing also allows use of the knees, and Muay Thai, practiced overseas, includes leg sweeps and elbowing.

Schuster, who has had 17 professional bouts, fights under any form. None of his challengers has gone past the third round, and all of his victories have been by knockout.

Although Bellevue may seem an odd place to open a kickboxing gym, Smith says, "there is more money in Bellevue than Seattle." Kick-boxing lessons, or working out at a kick-boxing gym, costs from $50 to $75 a month. It's "a good way to work out," Smith says. "We believe we have the best experienced kick-boxers in the country."

Another reason Bellevue attracts international kick-boxing attention is Kirk Jensen of Kirk Jensen Promotions, the Don King of kick-boxing.

"I've been involved in kick-boxing for 18 years, and I'm able to give the fighters an opportunity to fight," Jensen says. "I called Paris and said I had a good fighter (Schuster) to send. They know me and trust me."

Although Schuster has made some money as a professional kick-boxer, he makes his living in real estate. He acknowledges that people are usually frightened when they first meet him because he looks like he could beat the stuffing out of them.

"But once I start talking and show that I know what I am talking about," he says, you can see relief spread across their faces."

Schuster says he's never had a chance to find out how he would do in a bar fight because he doesn't go to bars. Besides, he adds, if someone started a fight with him, he'd try to talk his way out of it.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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