Master Keith Mazza:
By Burlington County Times: Wednesday, September 1, 2010
A Mount Laurel man teaches ancient Chinese skills.
MOUNT LAUREL — Growing up in New York’s Chinatown, Keith Mazza, who is “100 percent Italian,” took in the culture.
“I started speaking Chinese, writing Chinese. My dad would go, ‘You know you’re Italian,’ ” Mazza said.
At age 5, he began kung fu lessons. For him, the martial arts were like soccer or Little League to other kids.
Then he met grand master William Cheung, who taught the late actor Bruce Lee as well as Marines who prepared for hand-to-hand combat.
“He took me under his wing,” Mazza said. He was Cheung’s first private student.
After years of training, Mazza began teaching kung fu himself at age 24. He’s been at it ever since and is now called a master.
Nine years ago he opened the Traditional Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy on Church Road. The business blossomed like a lotus flower.
“I teach the art,” Mazza, 46, said. “I try to teach the Chinese culture for education, not for fighting. I teach them how to fight, but it’s not just about fighting. I want them to learn the whole culture. Kung fu is a way of life.”
Almost 200 people come to the academy for training, from children to an 85-year-old woman. Unlike many martial arts programs, which are geared to children, Mazza said most of his clients are adults. They pay $130 a month for lessons and unlimited use of the facility for practice.
Waldemar Bonilla of Audubon, Camden County, said he’s been taking lessons for seven years because kung fu offers a “different style, a different philosophy. It’s good for you.”
Mazza also teaches tai chi, a fitness routine, to residents at retirement communities and is under contract to the Defense Department and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, teaching close-quarter
combat to the military and law enforcement agents.
He and his wife, Laura, run the academy near their Mount Laurel home. They met at a gym where he had taken up weightlifting. The two understand each other as she, too, grew up in a martial arts family. Her father taught jujitsu at a gym in Evesham.
“It’s a lifestyle for us, not a hobby,” Laura Mazza said.
“My wife is my partner, behind me 100 percent,” Mazza added. “We’re a good team together.”
They have a 10-year old son, Keith Jr. Mazza’s mother, Alexandria Goldman of Evesham, also teaches tai chi classes at several centers for senior citizens.
On the academy’s website,www.traditionalwingchun.com, Mazza explains the different types of martial arts. Some involve weapons, while others develop fitness of mind and body. The concentration required to perform the various moves can reduce stress as the person focuses on the techniques.
There are many styles of kung fu. Mazza said the wing chun style is the one to which he’s best suited. It combines the best moves of several other forms of kung fu.
According to the academy’s website, the method was developed in secret at a temple by Han monks in China as a defense against the Manchus, who held power and wouldn’t let the Hans own weapons. But the Manchus burned down the temple. The only grand master to survive the attack was a Buddhist nun, who taught the moves to an orphan girl, whom she named Wing Chun (“hope for the future”). She eventually told her husband, and the wing chun style of kung fu became known.
Mazza visits China about once a year. There, and in New York’s Chinatown, there are clubs for people 100 years or older, he said. He believes the martial arts training and lifestyle keep a person healthy.
At 64, Diane Hardies of Evesham has the figure of a much younger woman. She’s been taking lessons with Mazza since 1992. She addresses him as “si fu” or teacher.
“He’s a fantastic person to be around,” said Hardies.
Fred Grant has been coming from Upper Darby, Pa., for lessons for 10 years.
“There are a lot of people who teach it,” Grant said, “but when he teaches you, he teaches from the heart. It’s more personal.”
Mazza is looking to the future. He’d like to work with children who cannot afford martial arts lessons through his new Art of Life Foundation. He’s working on a curriculum to “teach children how to control stress and to create a positive outlook” while building confidence and self-esteem.
Another purpose is to teach people of all ages how to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and to help research alternative methods for fighting diseases. More information is available at theartoflifefoundation.com.
“I grew up in the streets. Thank God, I’m doing well,” Mazza said. “This is my way of giving back.”