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March 11, 2009 > Healthy body, healthy mind

Healthy body, healthy mind

By Simon Wong

More than 200 visitors descended on the Union City Sports Center for a fascinating display during the recent Martial Arts Showcase. Masters and students demonstrated control, discipline, finesse and mental agility associated with the practices and traditions of combat training.

Maneuvers were executed in "slow motion" for exhibition purposes. Movie stunts that most perceive as martial arts were shunned. "Such stunts often lead to injury," says Sifu Alson Yuen of Wing Chun Kung Fu. He believes martial arts are about being smart.

Sigung Jeff Macalolooy, Dragon's Den Mixed Martial Arts, is also pragmatic and trains students to do what others might regard as mundane. "I show the kids what they need to know to get home to their parents," he says.

The term "martial arts" originated in 15th century Europe and refers to the art of warfare (from Mars, the Roman god of war). Today, it refers specifically to combat systems of Asian origin. Some have a code of honor or are associated with beliefs such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto. Many are practised as competitive combat sports, and some take the form of dance.

Macalolooy is a master in Kajukenbo, which combines karate, tang soo do, judo, jujitsu, kenpo and kung fu. Through Dragon's Den Mixed Martial Arts, he offers classes in Hawaiian Kajukenbo, Filipino Martial Arts, women's self-defense, cardio kick boxing and USA boxing.

He describes himself as "Union City to the bone." He took up Hawaiian Kajukenbo in 1980, began wrestling at Alvarado Middle School in 1986 and continued until his graduation from James Logan High School. "I also took up boxing, jujitsu, judo... I've dabbled with almost everything in the last 30 years, and that's what our mixed martial arts school represents," he says. He teaches sixth grade physical education at Cesar Chavez and coaches the wrestling team.

Wing Chun Kung Fu
Wing Chun Kung Fu specializes in close-range combat whose practitioners use minimal energy for maximum effect. Students are taught not to confront and overpower the greater force of an aggressor but to defend themselves intelligently.

Alson Yuen loved martial arts as a young boy in Hong Kong, but his parents would not consent to lessons. Fortunately for the kung fu world and his students, his love for martial arts was so strong that he saved his breakfast money and quietly started taking classes at 14. He later studied under Grand Master Kenneth Chung, who teaches Wing Chun Kung Fu at Stanford University. After Yuen became "Chi Sau" Champion at the 1991 International Wing Chun Tournament, he started to teach for free in Fremont. He also volunteers as an instructor in Union City.

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form combining dance, martial arts, music and self-defense. Participants form a circle (Roda de Capoeira), play instruments, sing and clap or take to the middle of the circle to spar in pairs. Capoeira is characterized by sweeping movements, kicks and playful acrobatics.

"It was invented in the 1800s by slaves brought to Brazil," explained Oscar Baeza. "It resembled a dance, so their captors would not realize they were training to defend themselves. It attracts a lot of kids because it is like a cross between break-dancing and martial arts."

He took up Capoeira 16 years ago to remain fit and has taught the art form in Union City for 12 years, performing for Union City Special Olympics, farmers' markets and parades.

Karate and Filipino Martial Arts
"Karate develops strength, stamina and physical well-being," says Master Max Pallen, who has taught in Union City for more than a decade. It employs punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-handed techniques.

Filipino Martial Arts is a collective term for martial art forms originating in the Philippines, such as Arnis and Senkotiros which students demonstrated with rattan sticks and aluminium training knives. Pallen learned martial arts from his grandfather. He has studied under many masters in the US and Philippines and continues to learn about different styles. For him, martial arts are a way of life.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and, loosely translated, means "the way of the foot and fist." Master Alexander Choi started martial arts training in Korea as a shy six year old whose mother wanted him to gain confidence. He eventually taught, went to Paris, then came to Union City to open Choi's Martial Arts in 1996. Last year he opened a school in Fremont.

All five men derive a sense of satisfaction from sharing their knowledge and experiences. Besides the obvious physical benefit, kids and adults learn and flourish. Children are focused and well-rounded individuals. Adults report better performance in their jobs.

"I always tell them that education is the priority," says Yuen. "Martial arts per se won't help your career; being a good fighter won't help you find a better job."

"My main objective is that students set goals, acquire self-discipline and achieve future success. Many of my students are now at college and university. Self-defense will automatically be part of their lives because of the training," echoes Pallen.

"The kids that participate also learn to communicate with other people. Many children lack social skills because they spend so much time alone in front of a computer or TV," Yuen adds.

"I feel good when students emerge from their shells," says Choi. "They focus better. The parents also tell us of their children's improved performance in school."

"Their successes are my reward," explains Pallen. "When I learn of their achievements in school, in life or in any endeavor, that is a gift to me. I ask for no more."

Although the main purpose of seeking the tutelage of these men is usually for self-defense, students soon realize their mentors value the ideal of the "gentleman athlete" whose body, mind and soul are wholesome. "It is also important that they learn honor, respect, integrity and dignity," says Macalolooy. This is the true spirit of martial arts.

The Jesuit motto, based on a quotation by Francis Xavier, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man" is a fitting way to describe what the masters achieve.

The martial arts programs featured are available through Union City Leisure Services which joined the city's 50th Anniversary Committee to organize the showcase. Visit for more information.

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