Local kung fu academy impresses at international tourney | TheUnion.com

Local kung fu academy impresses at international tourney

Students at Body Balance Academy in Grass Valley practice their forms Wednesday. Left to right are: Emily Melancon, Shaolien Chen-Graf, and Brian Haennelt.
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Students from the Body Balance Academy made their annual summer trip to the International Kuo Shu Championship Tournament in Baltimore, and when all the kung fu forms and sparring had been completed they headed back home with a plethora of medals.

Ten members from the kung fu studio in Grass Valley competed against their peers from all over the U.S. and world, showing that the foothills in California produce some talented martial artists.

“Each year I get more confident and less nervous,” Kiala Lujan, 15, said. “It’s fun to see my fellow students compete. It’s just a great experience.”

Lujan, a black sash, has competed in several of the International Kuo Shu Championship Tournaments, annually held in Baltimore, and said that each year she comes away with a renewed vigor to improve.

“It makes you work a lot harder,” she said. “I think part of the reason we do this tournament is for the fight toward it. It makes us work harder, makes us more motivated to do well.”

Lujan took home a pair of bronzes, one in swallow tail form and one in two-man set with Nathaniel Welch.

Owner of Body Balance Academy Shih Fu Eileen Hancock agrees that the tourney inspires students to strive harder.

“I think (the reason) we continue to go to these tournaments as teachers, shih fu’s and competitors is because each time your accountable for the practice you’ve put in. Maybe if they got second or third, they are inspired next time to come back and get first.”

Emily Melancon, 14, impressed at the tourney with a gold medal in broad sword, and two silvers in sparring and plum form.

“Emily is a top notch competitor and she is assisting with teaching now,” Hancock said. “She has great work ethic and excels in everything she does. Every time she goes (to tournaments), she puts in her hardest effort and comes home with medals.”

Also standing out at the tourney and turning heads was Brian Haennelt as he took a silver in open hand form, but also wowed spectators with his gold medal performance in sword sparring.

“Brian was an ace in sword sparring this year,” Hancock said. “He drew a whole crowd of people, and there were thousands of people there. Every body from the different divisions turned to watch Brian because he was so skilled with the way he used the sword.”

This was the second straight year Haennelt won his age group in sword sparring.

“Sometimes with sword sparring it can become like a baseball bat with people just swinging at each other, but with Brian he was actually using a really refined technique with the straight sword and he was actually jumping into the air with both feet up and tapping his opponent on the head to score the final point in one of the rounds,” Hancock said.

“It was a great year, and I didn’t think it could get better than last year, but it did,” said Haennelt. “It was an absolutely amazing experience. One of the best in my martial arts career and life. Everyone there has the same passion for kung fu that I do.”

Welch, who was honored along with Lujan when they were asked to perform during the opening ceremony, went on to earn a silver in sparring and a bronze in broad sword vs. empty hand, which he performed with Lujan.

Kaia Smith, 14, earned a gold in sword sparring, a pair of silvers (swallow tail straight sword, open hand sparring) and a bronze (long staff).

“She really excels in her praying mantis form,” Shih Fu Eileen said. “She adds elements of acrobatics and ariels in her form, like a no-handed kart wheel. She really does an excellent job.”

Also competing for Body Balance Academy was Sight Osteen in the mens sparring, Vivian Maritza who earned two silvers, Catherine Stifter, Larissa Gilbert, and Shaolin Chen-Graf.

Body Balance Academy is located at 151 Mill St. in Grass Valley. For more information on the academy visit http://www.bodybalanceacademy.com or call 530-477-0677.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

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