By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
For Robin Leong, starting kung fu at an early age was not his decision.
“I was 4 years old when I started kung fu, so of course, I didn’t have any say about joining it,” said Leong, jokingly.
With hung gar grandmaster John S.S. Leong as his father, Leong was born into the world of martial arts.
After starting classes at the Seattle Kung Fu Club, Leong developed his own interest and ability. He eventually became the club’s head instructor at age 18. His experiences fueled a desire to open his own studio specializing in martial arts for children.
“I’ve always loved children, and I have a special connection with them,” said Leong. “And since I started kung fu, I know the benefits of what martial arts can do for kids.”
Although Leong got his start in Seattle and flies back a few times a year, he currently lives in and operates from Singapore. As a college sophomore, Leong spent a summer in Hong Kong where he was discovered by a talent agent and was asked to shoot two action-drama films. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from the University of Washington in 1993, Leong returned to Hong Kong full-time to pursue entertainment projects.
In 1997, Leong visited Singapore for the first time while filming an ad campaign. He fell in love with the city and decided to move there. Over the next few years, Leong starred in more than 15 television dramas, sitcoms, and feature films while developing the first of his dream entrepreneurial venture, Ch’i Life Studio.
The studio offers various martial arts classes including Chinese wushu, hung gar kung fu, Shaolin kung fu, and tai chi. The classes are offered to children, teens, and adults, but the program specializes in developing the talent of children.
Although Leong’s background lies in hung gar kung fu, a traditional art form that is ground-based and focuses on building a strong lower core, he emphasizes the need to explore all art forms.
“The whole concept of my studio is that you allow children to pick the martial art that they find most comfortable,” said Leong. Students start off learning different types of martial arts in one studio, which then allows them to discover which form they most enjoy.
“I always say it’s about all martial arts, not just kung fu … everybody has to try out each one to find which is right for them.”
The freedom to choose which martial art to practice also instills children with personal responsibility. In order to advance in their classes, students must work on their forms and receive grades for their efforts. If they’ve done well, students will receive badges and belts as rewards.
“My classes equip students with self-confidence and discipline,” said Leong. “Children learn how to set goals and come away from classes feeling better about their abilities, and I believe that’s a priority for personal growth.”
The success of his Singapore studio led to the opening of its Shanghai and Beijing studios, which have also seen enormous success among expatriate and local clientele. Leong recently opened his latest and first U.S. location in Redmond.
“I’m expecting to see the same success with my Redmond studio that I’ve seen at my other locations,” he said. “It’s great to finally return to the Seattle area and come full circle with the studio.”
On top of managing his businesses in Asia and the United States, Leong still works in the entertainment industry. He currently hosts Asian lifestyle and sports programs, and he’s developing a television show for kids and an action-comedy script back in Singapore. But his own projects won’t deter the growth of Ch’i Life Studio as he plans to open additional locations in Beijing due to the overwhelming response there.
“My father started me down this path and it’s enlightened me forever, so I’m just trying to continue these teachings with the next generation,” said Leong of his students.
“I love seeing my students become more talented and confident. But I don’t want to see them become talented in just martial arts — I want to see them talented in life. And when I see this happen, it makes me very proud.” ♦
For more information, visit www.chi-life.com.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.