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Martial Arts Inspiring Story - Itzak Lefler - Northern Shaolin Kung Fu

Finding Peace with Kung Fu

I can distinctly recall a few phases of my life of how I learned that :

My family moved a lot when I was younger. Growing up until junior high, I was raised in predominantly middle-class, Mormon suburban neighborhoods. Being a half-Israeli, half-Filipino Jew wasn't too rough, and I was generally accepted among my friends. Around the time I was 11, my father was panicking that I didn't know enough about my Jewish heritage, so we moved to a city closer to a large Jewish community and synagogue.

My world switched around as I was no longer a minority... yet I still was. My classmates were then predominantly Mexicans and Polynesians; I was asked once ''Are you Samoan or Tongan,'' and due to my ignorance growing up, my answer was, ''Is that like a gang or something?''

At first, I thought I would be easily accepted and make friends - complete opposite. When my classmates found out I was also Jewish, I was harassed daily. My classmates made a pseudo Nazi group to hate on me during class. I would hate riding the bus home, as I was taunted and made fun of. It didn't help either that I was a little chubby. I would run home with no dignity and hated myself for not fitting in. I was bullied for being myself. I tried to wear the right clothes, like wear ''skater shoes'' or ''G-Nikes,'' say the right things and try to fit in, but it was no use as I was still an outcast and bullied to embarassment.

I wanted to get back into martial arts (I did Tae Kwon Do when I was a younger kid, like so many other people who start martial arts). I looked all over the valley, and it wasn't until I met Master (Cheng Tsang) Lu that I was satisfied. Though his studio was the largest in the valley, I could tell he wasn't in it for the money. All the other schools in the valley would charge me for every other damn thing, and I could tell martial arts wasn't a passion but a profit for them.

Master Lu guided me to start working hard. His Taiwanese training and methodology was no different than the angry masters you would see in old school kung fu movies. Through hard training and persistence, I started to gain confidence... and it showed. I didn't want to get any reputation that I knew how to fight now because I knew I would get challenged at school; however, instead people respected me more. I didn't put up with name-callings anymore, and I carried myself with respect.

Everyone thought I was some black-belt when really I was an amateur kung fu student. I stood my ground, and even though I went through a couple of fights, I was generally more patient with people. However, my confidence carried over into high school where I would hit anyone who would say, ''That's Jewish.'' In hindsight, I can see how I was overly aggressive towards ignorant people, but at the same time, during my time in high school I was feared and people didn't mess with my little brother knowing I would be there for him. That meant everything to me that he didn't go through what I did.

During my time in the military, my knowledge in martial arts made me the top student in my Marine Corp Martial Arts Instructor class; I ended up gaining a second military occupational specialty teaching Marines how to fight in combat. I was at the top of the world knowing I was the guy who taught Marines how to fight and eventually save lives.

Post military and 5 years later, I forgot who I was. I slipped into a depression of not knowing where I fit in society. I was addicted to online games, wanting to get lost in virtual worlds to forget how I was getting nowhere with my life. I ballooned from my fit 150-pound days to a 210-pound stranger. One day when I was on vacation in California with my brother and girlfriend, we had our group photo taken at Hard Rock Cafe. I looked at it and saw someone completely different: out of shape, no confidence and definitely not a former Marine.

I wandered back into my old studio, greeted by Master Lu. Like a second father to me, he smiled and asked how everything was going. We both knew I had to finish what I started when I was younger. I stopped online gaming completely, stopped smoking and trained hard under Master Lu, losing weight at the same time and getting promoted within the school. A few years later, I eventually became one of his disciples then ultimately now, a master in the Northern Shaolin Kungfu style - Chung Shing Kungfu.

Fast forward to a little over a year ago, I was still practicing kung fu and still in shape, but I still felt lost. I knew I had to live my dream of studying kung fu in the homeland of China. When I was younger I always thought that was a cool idea of leaving everything behind to really discover your passion. At the time, I had a house, and complained to my friend ''I want to leave everything behind... but I have a mortgage. I have to figure out what I'm going to do.'' Literally the next week, I had a random stranger knocking on my door, ''Can I help you?'' the lady responds, ''Hi, you're never home (work and school), and I know this is random... but I was wondering if you'd be interested in selling your house?''

The gates of fate were opening up for me - this was obviously a sign that ''YOU NEED TO GO TO CHINA!''

So I did what I had to do: I quit my dead-end job, sold my house and traveled the world, eventually ending up in Wudangshan, China. I studied for 6 months at the China Wudang Kungfu Academy in Wudangshan, Hubei, China, a very popular school teaching internal martial arts; I figured this was a perfect complement to my external shaolin martial arts. I learned so much in such a short period of time, studying 6-8 hours a day of doing nothing but martial arts. It was a dream come true.

Fast forward to now - I now know where I belong. I have an amazing career that I feel right in, while at the same time, I'm now teaching martial arts to my community. I hold free weekly tai chi session in Salt Lake City, Utah, simply because I want to share my passion, not just make money off of it. I also loved the tai chi communities in China where everyone gathered to practice; money wasn't a concern. I'm part of a successful Lion Dance Crew in Salt Lake City, and I have more than 150 students in my SLC Community Taiji Meetup Group. My website for personal classes is: www.wudangutah.com.

Every time I forgot who I was, martial arts reminded me. It's always been a part of me. Because of martial arts, whenever I stray off the path or don't know where to place my feet, kung fu has given me a path of where to walk - where I belong.

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Itzak Lefler
Northern Shaolin Kung Fu
Salt Lake City UT 84115
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