By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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The fight for inner calmness

Photos by Joseph A. Garcia / Star staff: Gus Gates, above left, owner of Gus Gates Kung Fu & Fitness, demonstrates with student Bryan Unsworth the areas to strike an opponent with a stick. Gates also taught his class the use of hand and foot forms for proper Village Fighting. Students Julie Roseman, at left in left photo, and Linda Spencer work on the hand and foot forms as Gates monitors them in his Agoura Hills studio.

Ventura County Star

Growing up in a city where it was normal to carry a weapon for protection, Gus Gates began his kung fu training at age 12, primarily for self-defense.

"You had to carry a weapon or learn how to protect yourself, and I always loved the stories of the Shaolin monks their superhuman ability for fighting and being known around the world as men of peace," recalled Gates, 41, of Oak Park, who grew up in East Palo Alto in the Bay Area.

A karate student at the time, he was inspired to take kung fu after witnessing a man getting attacked.

"I watched him take down three guys in seconds — needless to say, I was very impressed," said Gates, who later discovered the defender had polio. "He had the style and grace of the Shaolin monks."

With that, Gates approached the man's kung fu sifu — a Chinese term for "master" — for training.

"I had to beg his sifu — yes, I said beg," Gates said. "It's very hard to find a kung fu sifu."

Little did he know at the time that Sifu Loi Gwan Yuen had a very Old World approach to teaching that began with an invitation to his home, where Gates was instructed to observe the agility of cats and the graceful way they moved.

"After two long weeks of watching the cats, I was allowed to train," Gates said.

He soon realized that kung fu would teach him more than self-defense; it would change his outlook on life.

"I didn't like to fight, and I love the life skills it taught," he said. "Kung fu is a self-discovery style of self-defense that will challenge and change you as it takes you on a life journey to enlightenment. It's mental, physical, spiritual and emotional all at the same time."

As a young adult, Gates moved to Southern California and began learning another style of kung fu — Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung — with master Paul Borisoff. With his combined knowledge of both styles of kung fu, Gates created a hybrid style he calls The Art of Village Fighting, which he teaches at Gus Gates Kung Fu & Fitness, his Agoura Hills studio.

"Fight means life lessons," said Gates, who has trained at the Shaolin temple and Wudang Mountain Monastery in China, and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a fitness instructor.

Mostly female clientele

His kung fu studio, which opened in 1998 and is considered the largest of its kind in the Conejo Valley, is unique because 90 percent of his students are female, ages 5 to 60.

"Martial arts are generally dominated by men," said Gates, who has about 70 students enrolled in his kung fu program. "When women are in this environment, some of them will get intimidated. If you go into most (martial arts) schools and you take a poll, you find they are mostly men."

Julianne Roseman of Agoura Hills was inspired to learn kung fu by several confident, powerful women who were studying with Gates.

"I did not choose kung fu; kung fu chose me, because I was actually not looking to get involved in a martial art. It was just my good fortune that I chose Gus Gates to get in shape," said Roseman, 44.

For her, it's much more than a martial art.

"Yes, I am learning to protect myself against an attacker, but the principles apply to my everyday life — it teaches me how to handle stressful situations both on and off the training mat," said Roseman, who received her black sash in The Art of Village Fighting in June. "When one reaches this level, they have been taught all the basics to the art and are just at the beginning."

She values inner aspect

The discipline has also made her a calmer, happier person, Roseman added.

"It has strengthened my body internally as well as externally," she said. At Gates' studio, "I have found a place where I can be myself and am accepted for who I am, not for what I have or how I look."

Gates believes one reason his studio attracts so many females is that "they love the connectedness with each other as they go through this process. There's a bond they get from being with each other and encouraging each other."

Monica Kern of Westlake Village gave kung fu a try after seeing the bond among the women who were involved in Gates' program.

"Why am I drawn to kung fu? For the first time in my adult life, I am really changing and I am happy; it is because of my kung fu," said Kern, 43. "Kung fu has made me open myself up and tear down the walls that I was hiding behind. Kung fu has allowed me to feel without being afraid to do so."

Kern emphasized that her training is a unique, personal experience that belongs solely to her.

"While we all are taught the same principles, forms and techniques, my kung fu journey is completely and totally uniquely my own," she said. "My training is allowing me to face the sorrows, disappointments, abandonment and other issues of my past. The more I shed these things and let them go, the freer I become. Free to live, love, laugh. Free to accept love from others. That is just the mind and spirit of my kung fu training."

There is also "the body side" of her training, which has resulted in the loss of almost 45 pounds.

"I am able to do things physically that I never thought I could do jump, kick, roll, fall, throw people and be thrown, defend, block, hit and take a hit," she said. "My bruises are my badges of courage, honor, confidence and success."

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