In early August, several young kung fu enthusiasts made their way to Baltimore for an international competition.
At that competition, the young crew from Body Balance Academy in Grass Valley claimed multiple medals, placing in almost every event they competed in.
While the hardware and feeling of victory are nice, the youngsters at Body Balance Academy are taking home something much more valuable on a regular basis.
“When I first started, it was more of just a workout,” said Kiala Lujan, 13. “But over time it’s become more of a passion and a drive to be good at something.”
Lujan has been practicing kung fu for four years, and at the Baltimore competition, she won a gold medal for her proficiency in sword sparring.
“Kung fu has made me more confident in myself,” Lujan said. “Just seeing what you can do if you put your mind to it, and how you can protect yourself if anything might happen.”
Believing in ones self and perseverance of mind and body are key tenants of Body Balance Academy said owner and instructor Shih Fu Eileen Hancock.
“Teaching them to believe in themselves, and that with the proper mind set and intention and that same confidence they can achieve anything and they know they can and that’s the cool part,” she said.
Confidence and a want for greater physical strength is what first brought 14-year-old Brian Haennelt to Body Balance, but said he has seen the effects of kung fu seeping into other parts of his life.
“It helps you a lot physically,” Haennelt said. “The breathing. I learned how to breath more effectively, how to do anything more effectively really.”
Haennelt took home a gold in sword sparring and bronze in broad sword form.
Those who train at Body Balance usually only enter one tournament or competition each year, that being the one in Baltimore, but Hancock said they will likely participate in a San Francisco tourney in October.
Emily Melancon, 14, said she is looking forward to it and loves the chance to compete with others.
“It was exciting, fun, hard, the competition was really intense, but our school is so amazing that we placed in almost every event we competed in,” she said about the Baltimore competition. “It was unbelievable.”
Melancon was impressive at the Baltimore competition, winning gold in sparring, beating a much larger boy in the final, a silver in sword sparring, as well as another silver and bronze.
“I enjoy everything about kung fu actually,” Melancon said. “I just think it’s amazing. I wish I could do it everyday for 100 hours.”
Melancon said she has noticed her concentration that she harnesses for kung fu has found its way into the classroom and helps her with her work, which is good considering Hancock expects all her students to maintain honor roll status while in school.
For Nathaniel Welch, 12, who has been practicing kung fu for five years and is on the precipice of earning his black sash, he said kung fu has helped him learn to be a leader and aided him in other sports.
“It’s really become something that is part of my life,” Welch said of kung fu. “Leadership can be seen in doing your chores, doing what your parents tell you, and all of that stuff. I feel like I can do a lot more. That I’m capable of doing stuff I never thought I could before.”
While kung fu provides so many things for those who practice it, the competitions seem to pull just a little more out of them, said instructor Summer Lujan.
“The value of competition is really about having a goal, which inspires them to work hard and perform their best,” Lujan said. “It also is a really great opportunity for them to see people who are even better than them, so it’s humbling and gives them a heathy perspective.”
Hancock said the competitions are great because competitors get to put what they’ve learned in the studio on display in a pressure situation.
“What they really get from the competition is learning to access the zone, so to speak, and stay in it,” she said, “how to come from a neutral place even though the pressure is on. They are able to maintain their focus and precision and their even-keeled neutral stage while they perform. It really enhances their ability to access their center.”
Body Balance Academy also offers tai chi and yoga. If interested in Body Balance Academy, it is located at 151 Mill St., Grass Valley and can be reached at 530-477-0677.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I enjoy everything about kung fu actually. I just think it’s amazing. I wish I could do it everyday for 100 hours.”
Emily Melancon, 14
Body Balance Academy student