It’s a typical Thursday night mixed martial arts class.
Starting at 6 p.m., students run through a warm-up. Side planks, jumping lunges, mountain climbers, push-ups and side-to-side planks.
After a minute and a half break for water, the students bow to Master V, Vince Vanderlipé, co-owner of the Kugtar Mixed Martial Arts studio.
But the students aren’t bowing and saying hello at the studio on North Main Street.
They’re doing it in their living rooms, bedrooms and garages over Zoom conferencing.
“It’s not 100% to the way we want to teach,” said co-owner Cecília Vanderlipé. “But it gets them going and the material stays fresh in their minds… I’ve gotten a lot of messages from the parents telling me that my students at night are practicing the moves we teach in our online classes.”
While doing the classes from home, the students are improvising their movements at times, using living room pillows as dummies for grappling.
All the while, Cecília, Vince and their two children — daughter Anesa (referred to as Miss Anesa by the students) and son Vicentejordan (Mr. VJ) — call out instructions and encouragement to specific students.
“The way we teach, we are very verbal,” said Cecília. “We see every little thing in our online classes, it’s the same as if we were teaching in the studio. The only thing is I can be physically there to move their leg.”
Online classes have been the new norm for Kugtar since the COVID-19 pandemic spurned shelter-in-place orders county-wide.
Classes remain a Monday through Friday schedule with curriculum for kids including Tang Soo Do (a Korean karate-based mixed martial art), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts.
“I love seeing kids improve,” Anesa said. “It’s cool when people are willing to do what we do and learn from it and be able to go home and comprehend and practice themselves.”
Since then, he’s worked to create an art he could pass down to his children and Salinas residents.
“(I’ve been) surrounded by this sport since I was born basically,” said Vicentejordan. “It’s really cool to see people experiencing it for the first time and seeing them progress through the same stages that I have. Teaching what my parents have shown me throughout my whole life, I really like that.”
Vicentejordan and Anesa are both standout athletes for local schools.
Anesa, a North Salinas High graduate, suited up for Hartnell track and field last spring in myriad events including hurdles, throws and jumps.
Vicentejordan, an Everett Alvarez High senior this year, was the best pole vaulter in school history and one of the best this year in the state. If the spring sports season wasn’t canceled due to COVID-19, he was a lock to break the county pole vault record and earn Central Coast Section and State championship hardware.
He credited his discipline for training and body control for pole vault to his martial arts experience as a kid.
Now kids, like Vicentejordan was years ago, are students learning and competing in a new sport.
“If my students get (slighted) by the referee or they mess up in a tournament, they keep coming back and keep trying their best,” Vince said. “I love that. That’s life, you know. It doesn’t just happen right away. You got to work for it.”
Roughly 50% of new students have never done anything as physically demanding, Cecília said.
“What I expect from the parents is that they need to be one with us,” she said. “If they’re going to contradict everything we do and we have to start every day, we pretty much do let them go.”
Cecília and Vince both take their instruction seriously and, in doing so, have a lasting effect on their students.
“Because this is not just for fun and games, we teach martial arts for all their lives as they grow up,” Cecília said. “I still have students from 1995-1996 that are in Hawaii, in universities that tell me they wouldn’t have survived if they’d never trained with us.”
Kugtar also has classes for adults in addition to the three disciplines for kids. Adults can take Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Tang Soo Do, Eskrima (a Filipino martial art), Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Cage MMA fighting and yoga.
“Seventy-five percent of women and kids that come in have either been bullied or have a really bad life and they don’t have a say,” said Cecília. “So when they come to me, I put them in kickboxing or something that has more discipline… (They) understand that they are empowered within themselves and they should not have to be embarrassed with any situation.”
The family hopes to re-open Kugtar in the next month. Cecília said they’re down two months of rent, but one of their students started a GoFundMe to help cover the costs of the temporary closure, titled “Help Keep KUGTAR MMA open.”
Of a $3,000 goal, they’ve raised $1,485 as of Friday. For the Vanderlipé family, it’ll go a long way.
“Eighty percent of the kids all go to college and 80% of them go into other sports and do really well,” Cecília said. “I know the discipline in martial arts got them to that.”
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