In the spring of 2011, I began my search for a martial arts gym in Boston that was both affordable and within close proximity to my office.
I had no experience, I was out of shape, and I was looking specifically for group exercise and an alternative to a regular gym.
After foraging around Yelp, I discovered a gym called Boston Ultimate Fitness (also known as Nam Pai Academy).
It received rave reviews from a number of different members and visitors, so I decided to journey down to 33 Harrison Avenue in Boston’s Chinatown one weeknight after work.
After climbing up out of the Chinatown T station and making my way through some narrow and crowded streets, I walked up to the old brick building with a nondescript entrance.
I walked in and ascended to the seventh floor. The elevator door opened and l was greeted by a vast, colorful space filled with a boxing ring, workout equipment, traditional weapons, and individual training spaces.
I was immediately welcomed by Sifu Larry Wong, who introduced me to the Hung Gar system of Kung Fu. The style originated in southern China and relies heavily on the low “horse stance” and bridge hand techniques. As I later found out, it’s always leg day in Hung Gar.
Over the next few moments, Sifu demonstrated and described some of the various disciplines taught at Nam Pai and provided me with a class schedule and prices. I returned within a week to take my first class, and I haven’t left since.
I have been attending Nam Pai Academy for over six years and now visit their 70 Beach Street location, where they moved to in early 2017. In that time, I have delved into a few different styles, including Hung Gar, Wing Chun, Wushu, and Arnis/Eskrima, but mostly focusing on Hung Gar. While I don’t attend every night, and I’m guilty of a few extended periods of absences, I make a conscious effort to pursue the art.
We train with and without weapons and classes are flexible enough to accommodate all learners. In our style, we lack any type of varicolored belt system, instead tailoring each class for the skill levels of students who are present. Despite this lack of hierarchy and structure, I find that I learn something new each and every class.
The gym is clean and well-equipped with some weights and workout machines, and every Monday we partake in a rigorous fitness conditioning routine with a blend of students from a few different classes.
Nam Pai offers much more than a place to exercise, and in my time here, I have met an incredibly diverse group of friendly and motivated individuals from all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. I have trained with PhDs, high school students, paramedics, bartenders, restaurant entrepreneurs, scientists, and union representatives alike. All are welcome and everyone seems to have a unique story to tell. My network and cultural knowledge has expanded immensely since joining.
Most classes are split up into a series of conditioning exercises, drills, and forms, but we sometimes jump into informal sparring sessions. A couple of my friends there are active with martial arts tournaments and have provided me with valuable training time and instruction (along with plentiful bruises).
Sparring offers students a controlled environment to test out their skills and techniques, and it’s also an exhausting and exhilarating workout. Mouth guards, gloves, and cups are recommended.
I love the community at Nam Pai and am glad to have chosen this style of workout over the many alternatives.
The teaching staff is incredibly knowledgeable, with a wide selection of instructors (full-time, part-time, and guest) offering decades of real-world experience. Everything is offered at an affordable price, and teachers are often flexible in terms of extending weekly, monthly, and à la carte payment options.
Nam Pai offers an authentic and practical approach to learning traditional martial arts in a fast-paced 21st century. Sifu Larry focuses on core principles and body mechanics in his teachings, which transcend many different disciplines of martial arts. I never feel pressured or uncomfortable at Nam Pai, and the gym lacks any of the flash and over-commercialization of a “McDojo” you may have encountered in your search for a martial arts school.
While I’m six years into my training, I feel that there is plenty more to learn, and I believe that Kung Fu can require a lifelong commitment to master. I would highly recommend this community for any age or experience level, especially those curious about exploring an alternative fitness regimen!