Lee’s Korean Martial Arts Academy (LKMA) has been a prominent component of the Rancho Cordova community for over three decades. The economic turmoil caused by COVID-19 has put it through immense strain. It has recently reopened for hopefully the last time. 

Following the recent lifting of California’s stay-at-home order, Master Alex Lee, Head Instructor and Co-owner of LKMA, finds himself welcoming students back into the dojang once again. 

Oscar Lee, a high school freshman with second-degree black belt, practices his spinning hook kick. (Kieu Anh Nguyen Le)

In the evening, students donning doboks and face masks could be seen practicing taekwondo and hapkido ten feet away from each other. 

California’s choices to repeatedly close and reopen its businesses has been widely criticized as reckless and unwise. According to The Guardian, “frontline workers [are warning] that a premature reopening could prolong the crisis.”

“My personal opinion is that if they want to shut everything down, I am one hundred percent okay with it. As long as everybody […] follows the same strict guidelines and [we] eliminate this entirely,” Master Alex said. 

“But with some stuff being open, some stuff being closed, people going here and there —  [it’s]  just slowing down the inevitable. [But] I can understand where they’re coming from. It’s a really hard position to be in.”

Business for LMKA has decreased about sixty percent. Other family-owned martial arts centers across California have also felt the plummet and many have had to closed.

LMKA was already forced to shut down their Elk Grove location early on in the pandemic. They are hoping they can hang onto their Rancho Cordova location. 

The academy has implemented every social-distancing measure in order to stay afloat. 

As an in-person class wraps up behind her, Manager and Instructor Chandra Wagner sits crossed-legged in front of a screen, addressing her students who had logged onto her online class. 

Though they have helped, online classes are difficult to manage and were definitely a learning-curve for the instructors according to Master Alex.

Hand-sanitizing stations and no-contact thermometers have also been implemented in order to keep the dojang open. 

LKMA has been a part of Sacramento ever since Grandmaster Kidong Lee, Master Alex’s father, opened his first martial arts center in 1987, two years after he immigrated from Korea. His business was a way to share with the community his skills and culture. 

 

Oscar Lee and Gefrie Wang await instruction. (Kieu Anh Nguyen Le)

Over the decades LMKA has grown to be more than just a martial arts academy. For many of the students and instructors alike, it is a second family. 

“It’s a very tight knit and close. […] I feel like I am a part […] of all of the families that come here here. I go to their houses for dinners. We celebrate Christmas [together.] They come to my house,” Master Alex explains.

LKMA is dedicated to instilling in their students the necessary tools for life. “We really take a personal interest in the kids. We don’t just stop at the studio,” Wagner said.

“If the respect and the discipline that we’re teaching here isn’t being applied at home, we’re working with the parents very closely to come up with a plan. If what we’re doing here doesn’t translate to school, we are emailing teachers.” 

Long Huynh, a college student who has been part of the academy for ten years, describes how LKMA has provided him the opportunity not only to explore martial arts but also to grow as a person. 

“Honestly, I don’t think I would be the person I am today without them,” Huynh said.

LKMA is hopeful that now that the stay-at-home order has been lifted once again, they may get back on track and keep serving their students. 

“Since we are open now and we’re starting to make more money and have gotten a few new students. We’re not getting as many. It’s nothing really we can do about that. But [closing] is a fear. We’re a little bit more relaxed right now though, just because we can have people come in.” Wagner explained.

With over three decades of history on the line, should the last LKMA location close, the community will be losing a rich component of its culture.