INTERVIEWS WITH BEIJING'S TOP
MARTIAL ART COACHES
All interviews by G. Brundage - 2010
Ajarn Vince Soberano and Black Tiger MMA Club
& Muay Thai Gym in Beijing
Black Tiger Club Hero gym in Beijing has China’s three top Muay Thai trainers: Master Instructor and world champion Vince Soberano, Chief Instructor and Southeast Asian Champion "Kenny" Pongsak, and Senior Instructor and French champion Christian Macia. With a very modern and clean 650 square meter training area, professional ring, the widest variety of bags in China, a weight room, showers, Muay Thai kick boxing equipment and (healthy) snack shop, Black Tiger Club Hero gym in Beijing is by far and wide the best Muay Thai training school in China, and one of the best in the world.
Thursday March 4th, 2010 I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Muay Thai Kickboxing World Champion (WPMF, WKBA, IKBA, IKBL, IMTA and IKF) and Master Instructor Vince Soberano Kaewsamrit. Far more than just an acclaimed fighter, he is also a founder and co-owner of the internationally famous Black Tiger Club Hero Muay Thai gym in Beijing, and a master software engineer
Informal and soft spoken, he doesn’t come across as a stereotype pro fighter. “Well, some people call me ‘Ajarn,' or ‘Kru’
which mean ‘master,” and ‘teacher’ in Thai language, but some people just call me ‘Vince.’ I’m not big on titles.”
He started training Muay Thai kick boxing at the age of 10 in Bangkok and entered his first competition at age 13.
Most fighters start fighting because they’re bullied in school, need the money, or were attracted to the glamour. Ajarn Vince however doesn’t fit into any of these categories. When asked the big “why?” question, he answered: “I just liked it.”
This is believable because as a kid his father was working for the U.N., so he didn’t need to fight for the money, he was in no more than the ordinary number of school yard fights, and just doesn’t come across as the “glory hound” kind of guy.
At the age of 16 he and his family moved to San Diego and started training in Kyoshinkai (full contact) Karate. At age 18 he moved to Van Nuys California where he started training in kickboxing at one of the famous Benny “the Jet” Urquidez centers. During his years at the Jet Center he entered a lot of competitions, as they hold regular Friday and Saturday tournaments.
From the age of about 20 to 25 however, he cut down his competition and concentrated on his other chosen profession: software engineer.
But by his late 20s, he started thinking about a World Title, and began hard training again. At age 30 he won his first of many world titles.
Thus, Ajarn Vince’s martial art training went full circle: Muay Thai, Karate, Kickboxing, Muay Thai.
Asked about his other career, Muay Thai gym founder and co-owner, he briefly described opening his first “Black Tiger” gym in San Diego in 1992, (which is still there today), and then in 2006 he opened his Black Tiger gym in Beijing, along with Gracie Jiu-jitsu black belt, Professor Chet Quint. In March of 2009 his Black Tiger operation in Beijing was bought by the Chinese “Hero Sports” which owns 10 gyms around China, an organization in which he now a partner. His Beijing Black Tiger gym has some 400 members, making it the biggest Muay Thai club in China.
Another remarkable thing about Ajarn Vince is that even now at age 46, he still competes, most recently in the Battlefield X1, held November 11, 2009 in Beijing, winning his bout, which is not surprising given his record of 65 wins with only 2 losses. Battlefield X1 was the first in what is to be a series of big Muay Thai events sponsored by Hero Sports. All proceeds went to the China Children and Teenagers Foundation which helps orphans and disabled children.
Black Tiger Club Hero Muay Thai gym in Beijing offers personal training and group classes in several martial arts besides Muay Thai, including Jujitsu. There are five Star and discount hotels in the area near his gym and guests warmly welcomed.
Interview by Greg Brundage
Beijing June First International Wushu School - Coach Tan Hua
In the large gym at Beijing June First International Wushu School pictures of Wu Bin, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and even Deng Xiaoping peer down on students as they train, reminding them that this is the school of legends.
Major training location of the Beijing Wushu Institute, BJFI Wushu School is one of only a few Wushu schools in Beijing that are officially recognized by the government as an “official” Wushu school. Moreover, this school is gold medal heaven for those wishing a stellar career in Wushu. The students from this school usually go on to win big at whatever they do.
The head coach Mr. Cao Yong was doing a seminar in the U.S. at the time I visited, but I was lucky to interview Coach Tan Hua, who was trained by no less than the Master Wu Bin himself. She was part of the international Wushu team in the 1980s that did a goodwill tour of the U.S. and many other countries, introducing the name “Wushu” to the world’s vocabulary. Her training started at age eight, and has never slowed down.
The styles taught at BJFI Wushu School include but are not limited to Chang Quan (Shaolin Fist), Nan Quan (Southern Fist), in addition to six styles of Tai Chi (Chan, Yang, Wu, Wuu, Sun and Li), and “Wu Qi” or weapons, including “Dao,” (curved sword), “Jian” (straight sword), “Qiang” (fighting spear) and “gun” (stick). However, if someone wished to learn Po Dao (Halbard) a teacher can be supplied. What’s really remarkable, is that Coach Tan Hua can teach any of these styles at a master level. Basically, they teach the 24 styles of Wushu needed for international competition.
Foreign students that visit BJFI Wushu School can set their own schedules, and take other classes if they like including Chinese language, Chinese culture (and be awarded with a license at the end of the program), and paper cutting. Also the school can provide tours of the city visiting the Great Wall, Summer Palace, shopping districts, etc.
Several people at the school speak English. If you want to spend a couple of days, weeks or months, that’s fine. If you’re working in Beijing and want an International Middle or High School for your kids, and you want them to learn Wushu too, you should at least visit BJFI Wushu School.
For more information contact Ada Zhang at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com Their site can be found at: http://www.jfws.org/
School Address: 17 Dinghui Xili, Haidian District, Beijing, China, 100036
Tel: +86-10-8814 9516
Interview and Photos March 9, 2010$25 per hour, except with groups of five or larger, in which case the fee is $15 per hour.
There is a dorm which costs $10 per day and food is $15 per day.)
“The Gentle Man of Steel,” Master Jin Chengsheng
Beijing Milun School of Traditional Martial Arts
Master Jin Chengsheng is a genuine classic. He’s an older fellow, polite, with a sense of humor and very gentle, but his body is rock hard and his movements are quick, precise and unstoppable. At this traditional school they teach the very oldest forms of traditional Chinese martial arts: Chuojiao Fanzimen and the powerful internal styles of Tai Chi, Baguazhang (Pa Qua) and
Master Jin wakes before sunrise six or so mornings a week, and practices in the park for several hours. His evening classes are, for him, I suspect, an amusing breeze. He has devoted his life to mastering the full range of Chinese Wu-Su styles, including Shaolin, Chinese Kickboxing (Sanda), Shuajiao Wrestling and even Taekwondo. He is also rich in understanding of the Chinese
philosophies underpinning classical Wu-Shu and life in general.
The training hall is located in a Ming Dynasty Hutong (traditional architectural style of Beijing). When the weather is nice they practice in the scenic courtyard, when it’s not they train in a large ancient yet professionally styled hall. Though this idyllic scene sounds and looks far from the cosmopolitan center of Beijing, actually it’s only a couple of hundred meters from one of if not the main center for shopping and eating in Beijing - Wangfujing.
His staff consists of several other highly talented teachers including Zhang Yuxuan – a master of Zhang style Xingyi and Tai Chi and twice over national Sanda kickboxing champion. He has won various awards in different martial arts, has been featured on Chinese CCTV, BBC and NBC and regularly travels to the U.S. Zhang Yuxuan also speaks English well.
Most of the students are friendly young foreigners who speak Chinese well, and there is no problem communicating. Club
fees are very reasonable and they are happy to design training schedules to meet any visitor’s needs.
Contact: Yuxuan Zhang < firstname.lastname@example.org
Joanna Wong email@example.com
Liu Xiaoyan - Jinghua Wu Shu Club
Liu Xiaoyan is one of the new generation Wushu teachers in Beijing and now teaches at Jinghua Wu Shu Club.
He started training at the age of 8, when his parents sent him to live at the now world famous TaGou Shaolin School in Dengfeng, Henan province. For those not familiar with TaGou School, it is the world’s largest martial arts training center with over 38,000 students. At the age of 29, he’s been a teacher for 10 years now. Though he can unquestionably kick and punch his way through cement walls, he comes across as quite gentle, and talks about things like having a peaceful mind, and using the minimum force necessary to control an assailant.
Liu Xiaoyan’s specialties include Shaolin, both Yang and Chen styles of Tai Chi, Qigung, and Qin-na, a traditional
grabbing/locking/twisting/throwing art used by the PLA and Chinese Police. Master Xiaoyan is a teacher of “old school,”traditional Chinese martial arts, not flipping around. At the same time, he’s personable, doesn’t hide behind a bunch of formality, and speaks English quite well. During the Olympics he was chosen by the Chinese government to teach NBCs large staff every day for a month, and has also been featured on NBC and BBC.
Liu Xiaoyan teaches children in several of the international schools and three adult classes every week at “Pulse Health Club,” which is part of the luxurious five-star Kempinski Hotel complex. The adult classes are relatively small and very reasonably priced.
Contact: MasterLiu Xiaoyan Tel. 86-10-13141072677
Adult classes are: Sun: 8:30 am, Tues: 7:30 pm, Sat: 6-7 pm
ADDRESS: F. 1 Pulse Health Club, Kempinski Hotel Apartment, 50 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing; Jinghuawushu@yahoo.com.cn
Shaolin Tagou site: http://www.shaolintagou.com/
Arnold Urquidez Beijing Sports University’s Master Boxing and MMA Coach
The true story of how a poor kid from East L.A. became the premier trainer and coach of Beijing’s best boxers and MMA stars.
At this time Beijing has both rapidly developing boxing and MMA scenes. And, Arnold Urquidez, - older brother, mentor and coach of World Champion kickboxer and full-contact Karate fighter Benny the Jet Urquidez - is the titan trainer, teacher and coach to those who wish to pursue professional careers in the fight game in Beijing. In Beijing, Arnold is THE MAN, to train with when it comes to stand-up fighting.
Arnold was born during the bleak period of the 1940s when the U.S. was still trying to make a recovery from the Great Depression. He’s the oldest son with five brothers and four sisters. To keep the family fed, his father became a professional boxer, fighting in 20 some bouts.
(This was “back in the day” when they wore six ounce gloves.)
Though his father was a pro in the sweet science Arnold really started his boxing career at the famous Boys Club in East L.A. His
Asian martial art training started a few years later at age 14 with Shito-ryu Karate, studying under legendary teachers like Nishiyama and Dumura. Meanwhile he continued with his boxing career, fighting in the middle-weight division (153 lbs.) accumulating a record of 14 wins and six losses. Asked about his favorite “stopper” punch, Arnold replied: “The left hook.”
Though sports were his consuming passion, most of the money he earned came from his full-time job as a licensed construction
contractor. Years passed well enough until fate laid its heavy hand upon Arnold’s life when at age 24 while working on construction site
the scaffolding collapsed leaving him with a broken back. It took him a full year to recover, but during that time he kept working with his bothers and
especially his younger sister Lilly Rodriguez who was later to become known as the “pioneer of women’s kickboxing.”
He cites “good physical condition” as having saved his life during that period.
During the period of the early 1970s to 1981 he and his brother Benny co-owned a school called: Urquidez Brothers Martial Arts. In addition to teaching, he penned the rules for the U.S. kickboxing State Athletic Commission, and, together with Chuck Norris in 1975 co-founded the National Karate League (NKL). In 1976 he and his brother Benny started the World Karate Association along with Howard Hanson.
Asked about famous fighters he’s helped train, Arnold cites: Benny, Lilly, (his younger brother and sister), “Monster Man”
Everett Eddy, Mark Costello, Brendan Leddy, Bobby Castro, and many others.
In 1981 he went back to working as a contractor, because that paid the bills though he continued working with fighters on the side.
One day in 1998 he took one of his sons to a karate school owned by Jerry Blank, lightweight kickboxing champion, where his son was training and met the woman – a trail lawyer, no less - who was to become first his good friend, and later - his wife: Marta Shen Urquidez. At the time he
was producing a movie called: “The Bouncer,” and he hired her on the spot.
During our interview, Arnold was justifiably proud of his extraordinary wife, mentioning that she had recently been hired to work with Beijing’s most respected law firm and was a member of several prestigious legal organizations both in the U.S. and in China. Arnold indicated a photo behind me, and yep, there was a picture of his wife with – President Barak Obama – no less. Arnold could not say enough good things about her, e.g.
she speaks five languages… and so on.
In 2004 he retired from his contracting job and was watching some Chinese Olympic boxers on TV when his mentioned to his wife
(also Chinese) that “They need help.”
His wife answered:“Really?” She made a few phone calls, and soon they were on a plane heading to the world capital of martial arts, Beijing. They’d visited before, back in 2002 for five weeks and had a really good time so the move was a welcome one. During the first year they lived on campus at Beijing Sports University, arguably the best sports training center in China while he trained their boxing and Sanda team. Then, they got an off campus
apartment and really settled in to life in one of the world’s greatest capital cities.
Soon after, Brazilian Pedro “Bebe” Schmall a coach at Beijing Jiu-jitsu introduced him to the owner and head coach, Andy Pi, (also founder of the “Art of War Fighting Championship®) who invited him to train his MMA fighters. Arnold’s most famous MMA stars in Beijing at
this time include Vaughn Anderson, Zhang Tie Quan, and Liu Wen Bo. When I asked him if he’d change any of the rules used in MMA fighting, Arnold replied: “In boxing you get hit a lot more than in MMA. In MMA a lot of time is spent grappling, choking, arm bars and so on. An MMA fighter’s career can last a lot longer than a boxer’s.”
Asked if he had any advice for young fighters, Arnold’s advice was: “Stay in school.” That’s called: “Straight shooting,” in
colloquial English. Asked his opinion of women in boxing, Arnold replied: “It’s exciting, I know because I taught my sister Lilly. The national
team here is really excellent, at the World Games here they two took gold, four silver and six bronze. Everyone placed in the top four
On the subject of his philosophy for fighters, Arnold said the real question for a fighter is: “How bad do you want to do this?
Conditioning is so important. Don’t be a puss… and just train a little. You either do it or you don’t.” Only a coach that loves his students can be so
Proving what a small world it is, when I went to Arnold’s office in the swanky “Wanda Plaza,” in downtown Beijing, I noticed that Black Tiger Muay Thai kickboxing club owned by Ajarn Vince Soberano was just around the corner. When I asked Arnold about this, he mentioned that Vince had
trained at one of his brother’s kickboxing schools in Van Nuys California. When they met here in Beijing it was a big surprise to both as they had met many years before.
As if this isn’t enough to keep Arnold busy, he also works as the President of California-Asia Wine Exchange, and is the exclusive distributor for Napa Valley, Lakeside Winery, six varieties of Shannon Ridge wines, and Vicker-Isaac wines in China. His customers here in Beijing
include Shangri-la, the Hilton, other five star hotels, and even the government.
In addition to all that, he’s got a couple of grandkids studying and working in town. Thus, Arnold Urquidez may be one of the busiest guys in town, which isn’t bad for a gentleman teacher/trainer of the sweet science.
Interview with Mr. Ruy Menezes “China Top Team” & Beijing Sports University’s Jiu-jitsu/MMA Master Coach
To call him “world famous,” is no exaggeration. First, Ruy Menezes was trained by Carlson Gracie, eldest son of the Master:
Carlos Gracie Himself – co-founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
He’s been to China 11 times before, teaching Jiu-Jitsu/MMA seminars in Beijing, Xian and numerous other cities, and before
that he was in Japan, training many fighters including Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira – the first Japanese Pride Heavyweight Champion from 2001 to 2003 – and the first and only heavyweight to have held Championship titles in
both Pride Fighting Championships and UFC.
At this time Coach Menezes is living in Beijing training the “best of the best” of Chinese MMA fighters who at this time belong
to “China Top Team.”
Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Coach Menezes started training with Master Gracie back in 1989. Before that he’d studied
Karate, but after one Jiu-jitsu class he said: “I love it!”
Asked how he came to work here full-time, he said he was in Japan talking with a friend who persuaded him to visit Beijing
for some shopping. His friend knew Andy Pi, founder of the“Art of War Fighting Championship®” Beijing’s first big MMA organization. They met and his work in China started. In 2010, a new organization called “China Top Team” coalesced and Coach Menezes signed on. The debut event held June 14th 2010 in Beijing was a huge success and
just a week later he was off to Hong Kong for their second big event.
“MMA is still very new in China,” said Coach Menezes “but it will be very strong in another year or two. What we need now are
more sponsors. Gyms are not making money yet, but China Top Team has a good plan and many events are planned.”
Asked if there were any changes he’d make to existing MMA rules, Coach Menezes answered: “At this time, each organization has different rules. Art of War for example got its rules from Chinese Sanda; the Japanese “Dream Mixed Martial Arts” got its rules from Karate, and the UFC from the Boxing Commission in Las Vegas. Between the three of them I like the UFC rules the best because they make it safer for the fighters, like kicking a man when he’s down is in many cases prohibited, opening the way for more groundwork.”
On the subject of his advice to young fighters he said: “Most important is to choose the correct coach and gym. Train every
day, but rest correctly, and eat correctly.
What kind of schedule does he have his fighters on? “We train five or six days a week, two to three hours in the morning and two to three hours in the afternoon.”
How about running? “Most coaches have their fighters run for 45 minutes or so every day. Why? A fight isn’t that long. My
training is different. Long before a match, I’ll have them running for 45 minutes, but a few weeks before a competition I switch and have them running less over-all time, but with more sprints. Just before a competition, like today, I’ll have them run 10, 1 minute sprints.
“Professional trainers need a good program, like working on stance, speed and explosive power – long before the fight. Most MMA programs don’t have both anaerobic and aerobic programs.”
What about women in MMA? “Oh! That’s very good, and very important for say, pay-per-view events. In fact, I’d like to invite all
women who are training in boxing, wrestling, or Sanda to join our gym, and train with me. Pros don’t pay!
What about a philosophy for fighters? “I got my philosophy from Carlson Gracie. First, keep life honest. Pay attention to your
friends, family, attitudes and eat correctly. Health, happiness and money come from this road.”
Though he’s traveled around China a lot, he said his favorite city is Beijing.
Fighter, teacher, philosopher, and family man, Ruy Menezes is living the dream here in Beijing while simultaneously helping a
lot of young people attain their dreams too. And, he’s training the best of China’s best in the legendary Gracie style of