Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass grad Nguyen’s Chinese Kung Fu Wushu Academy reopens

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It was a promise between Binh Nguyen and his ailing karate teacher Ken Grimshaw, who had been diagnosed with leukemia: continue the martial arts tradition. Grimshaw, founder of The Kung Fu Academy in Chicopee, died on Sept. 3, 2011 at age 49. Nguyen quit the school after losing his mentor, but remembered his vow.

A month later, he acted. Nguyen, a 29-year-old University of Massachusetts graduate (’09) opened the Chinese Kung Fu Wushu Academy in Hadley on Oct. 10. Opening a school was a dream of his since childhood and he embraced the opportunity to serve the Amherst/Hadley community.

Nguyen’s business, along with nearly a dozen others, was destroyed in a four-alarm fire that ravaged a Russell Street strip mall on Oct. 27 of last year. Nguyen lost $20,000 on the uninsured building, but decided to reopen down the road at 195 Russell St. It was the first business to restart since the blaze.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Nguyen said as he recalled watching his school burn down.

He received a phone call telling him the strip mall was on fire and drove there to see if it was true. “I don’t have kids, but it’s like watching someone you love pass away. That school was like my life.”

Though Nguyen admits that he was hesitant to continue on with the business after the fire, support from his students and the local community – in the form of donations and fundraisers like bake sales – gave him the motivation to reestablish his school.

gofundme.com page has gathered the most financial help for the school. At press time, $2,439 had been raised with a goal of $20,000. Nguyen currently works without a salary.

Chris Rasmussen, 39, is the only instructor at the new school besides Nguyen. He joined as a student last August with 15 years of Chinese martial arts experience and currently teaches tai chi, while Nguyen focuses on kung fu and qigong.

Rasmussen said the fire hurt morale, particularly for younger students who haven’t experienced much loss, but cited the larger new location as a “silver lining.”

“We’ve got higher ceilings,” Rasmussen said, “which is great if you’re using swords or spears or something like that, if you’re swinging those around. We’ve got plenty of space for things we used to do in the parking lot.”

He added that the revival of the school wasn’t surprising, given the commitment of its students. Rasmussen likened the dynamic to that of a church, saying he attends several times a week and that it’s where he goes for community and support.

Lisa Dubchak, a first year graduate student at UMass, also finds community at the school. Dubchak and her sister Katie joined in October at the original location. Siblings Philip, 22, David, 17, Jeremy, 13 and James, 10, are also active members. The elder Dubchak enrolled six months ago.

Lisa said the environment is the same as it was in the old school and although she is a beginner, she enjoys the high-impact mix of martial arts and exercise.

“Sifu Binh encourages everyone to keep working and to keep trying,” she said. “It’s not easy to work out and do all of the different things he teaches us. You don’t just go to the gym and run on the treadmill for half an hour. He pushes us, which motivates us.”

Katie, a junior biology major with a minor in music, studies kung fu and wushu, like Lisa. Neither sister has earned a belt yet in their martial arts. Katie said she appreciates that students are taught with their experience level in mind. Both sisters plan to continue attending the school through college.

Nguyen said his school is not in danger of closing, since he was able to secure nearly $20,000 between loans and money borrowed from his parents. A larger dojo has led to increased enrollment numbers and the teacher believes that trend will continue to grow. His goal is to open a second location in Amherst.

“People know we’re strong,” Nguyen said. “We’re not going to go anywhere.”

Peter Cappiello can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.

 

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