Randall Church is a man with a focus. The Bridge City native bought the local martial arts studio two years before Hurricane Ike with the aim of providing local youth with an outlet that in addition to teaching martial arts would also give them a purpose in life.

A properly operated martial arts studio does more than teaching someone to be aggressive or to be able to defend themselves. Martial arts promotes self discipline. To be successful the student has to focus and develop a serious approach to learning; in addition to the moves, the philosophy, and the mental toughness to go through several years of the learning process to be good and progress in the chosen art.

Zeb Lowe, another Bridge City native and a 2001 graduate of Bridge City High School is a prime example of a nearly lifelong commitment to be the best he can at martial arts.

After nearly two decades of studying martial arts, earning an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University and a masters degree from Lamar University, Lowe decided to pursue the study of muay thai in the homeland of the art–Thailand. Lowe went to the village of Don Tum and trained with Kru Panya, an ex-professional muay thai fighter.

“I moved out to the middle of the jungle and trained the old way, kicking banana trees and fighting with our hands wrapped in rope (no gloves).

“I lived in Thailand close to a year and then moved to Cambodia to study the original martial art of Southeast Asia, called boxkator. This is where muay thai and muay boran come from. This martial art is over 1,000 years old and contains over 10,000 techniques made up of animal styles and god styles. It is a close quarters combat system that was never designed to be used as a sport, only for combat. I moved to Cambodia to study with the only remaining Grand Master of the art. We trained seven days a week, eight to ten hours each day. We kicked bamboo, elbowed coconuts, fought, wrestled, ate and slept together.

“By the time I left, I was the only foreigner to become a Black Karma and a certified teacher of boxkator. There are only five teachers of this art in the world and the other four are in Cambodia,” said Lowe.

Martial arts in Cambodia suffered after the communist regime in the 1970’s; to the extent that most martial arts Grand Masters were executed. The Grand Master that Lowe studied with was one of the few to escape Cambodia during those years. He was able to return to his homeland and resumed teaching his art.

“Boxkator is a defensive art, unlike others that teach aggression. I wanted to study boxkator after seeing what a beautiful form it is.

“For instance, tiger form is based on moves the tiger may make to claw out the throat or claw the eyes out. The art form follows those motions.

“Each morning we would do 1,000 kicks with each leg on a concrete post wrapped with bamboo poles. It was a rough way to start the day,” said Lowe.

Presently Lowe teaches taekwondo, tai chu, and kung fu at the Ancient Martial Arts Studio in Bridge City. He is ready, willing and more than able to accept students in boxkator or any of the other martial arts he is certified to instruct.

The studio is run under the direction of Grand Master. The diminutive native of Mongolia is a most humble and modest person, yet she rules the studio in a no nonsense manner. She sets high expectations for the students and sees to it that the rules are followed at all times. Under the iron glove is the velvet fist. She is a devout Christian and treats all that she comes in contact with in a respectful manner.

“When you get your report card, bring it to me. I need to see that you are doing all your school work. Now go home and do your homework,” said Grand Master to a student who left to go home after her class.

Grand Master is an eighth-degree black belt and has been teaching martial arts for nearly 50 years. She is highly energetic and qualified to be the master of the studio.

Among the many contacts in the martial arts world for Grand Master is Hae Man Park. Hae is possibly the most famous person in the world of taekwondo. The South Korean native is the man who developed Taekwondo and is the authority on the art.

Hae visits Grand Master and the Bridge City studio on a yearly basis. He is also a member of the sanctioning body for kukki won and chungdo kwan for the international Olympic games.

In addition to the talents of Grand Master and Lowe, another instructor at the studio is Honour Harry. Harry is a freshman at Lamar University, Beaumont and drives to Bridge City to teach her classes at the studio. Harry is a fifth-degree black belt who studied ten years before becoming an instructor. She studied under Grand Master and Lowe and is currently teaching taekwondo and kung fu.

“Before the hurricane, we had 50 students; currently we have less than half that number. Some folks relocated and the economy has hurt others. I want to keep this studio open for the kids,” said Church. “Two weeks after the hurricane I had this building ready for classes. I just finished my house last week”, said Church.

“My son had some problems and was taking medication and needs some direction and discipline in his life. I enrolled him in martial arts classes. He liked it and stuck with it. By the time he was 14; he had improved to the point that he was off all of his medicine.

 “I want this studio to be successful for the kids. I want them to have a place to go and to learn things that will stay with them all their lives. Martial arts is more than learning to fight. It will give a kid discipline and direction,” said Church. “We are lucky to have people like Grand Master, Master Zeb, and Master Honour on our staff. Hopefully things will open up for other children and adults to join us and learn as we have learned.

”The first weekend in January will bring a unique and exciting event to the Bridge City studio. Grand Master Paul Gonzales will bring students from his kick boxing academy to Bridge City for testing by Grand Master. They will also give an exhibition at that time.Paul is a two time Texas Grand Champion and has also earned one United States, one International, and one World title in kickboxing.

For information on classes at the Ancient Martial Arts Academy, you may call the studio in the evenings at 409-735-6577. You may also call Grand Master at 409-790-5354 or Church at 409-299-0796.