At Lowell Martial Arts Center, It’s About More than the Moves
LOWELL -- Sustainability, holistic health and empowerment.
These are the priorities for those who come to Grodojo, a martial arts training center in downtown Lowell.
Mike Cermak and Alejandra Cabrera-Mondragon co-founded The Green Dragons in 2012, which combined education on exercise and healthy eating for public school children. In 2016, Grodojo opened at 8 Kirk St., inside the chapel of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.
The Green Dragons training programs are offered at Grodojo for kids as young as 3 years old. There are evening classes for adults and private classes. They offer tai chi, kung fu and archery classes. Cermak said a lot of traditional kung fu encourages people to move like animals. But at Grodojo, students move like plants.
“They’re heavily intertwined,” Cermak said. “We use that really big lesson that plants have roots and if you develop your root as a person, you can’t be pushed off your root.”
Kids learn valuable lessons about growing and preparing healthy foods like smoothies and salads. The goal, Cermak said, is to move away from the “junk food complex.”
In their garden, they have grown kale, chard, cucumbers, herbs, carrots, beans and more.
“Physical wellness and physical fitness are at an all-time low,” Cermak said. “We’re great, I think, because we’re one of many who try to get high quality fitness activities.”
To supplement the fitness and food activities, students there follow a curriculum. Cermak said there are opportunities to write, play games and, of course, get some homework done after school.
Cermak said he doesn’t take lightly the importance of exposing children in urban areas to things like gardening and this style of exercise.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s totally a social justice step. It’s an empowerment step. A lot of these practices like yoga or tai chi or martial arts are class divided. We see it as a big step to just keep showing up.”
With a background in marine biology, Cermak has traveled to places including the central Pacific and the Caribbean. But he still felt the need to answer bigger questions about the environment, how people treat each other and how people treat the earth. When he began bringing his program to students in Dorchester, where he worked on ways to engage youth of color in the sciences in a way that related to them. Sometimes that meant incorporating hip hop and poetry into the science classroom.
As a kid, he also played in main stream sports as a kid, as well as practiced martial arts through graduate school. Cermak has traveled to China for martial arts training, but acknowledges how special it is to offer this exercise locally.
“They come here, we all work out together, we build connection and community by working together,” Cermak said.
Just last September, they also opened Dragon Root, a cafe located at 499 Broadway St., which serves vegetarian food and healthful smoothies.
“The dream is to have a space like this with the cafe so everything is seamless,” Cermak said while sitting in the dojo Friday. “This is great and hopefully we can expand.”
For more information, on Grodojo visit www.grodojo.org .
For more information on Dragon Root cafe, visit www.dragonrootlowell.com .
Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.