Monday, March 14, 2011


Mixed martial arts studios are everywhere. Often, however, the term mixed martial arts is a misnomer, as gyms will offer only one or two disciplines for practitioners to delve into.

This is not the case with Dragon Gym in Exton, PA, however. The center, which has been offering martial arts classes for 38 years to hundreds of members, offers seven different disciplines: Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Aikido, Tai Chi, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Russian Kettlebells, and an MMA program based on Bruce Lee’s fighting techniques and philosophy. Further, Dragon Gym has 20 instructors, all certified trainers in their respective discipline. But the variety isn’t the only reason to attend Dragon Gym.

“Our big draw is the facility,” said Somnath Sikdar, one of the owners. “Most [gyms] are storefronts. We offer space to train and high ceilings, and we have access to tools and equipment –a full set of Olympic weights, a full set of kettlebells. A lot of places are one-man shows. All of our instructors are certified and veritable experts in their field.”

All three owners, Sikdar, Lonnie Beck, and Chris Taylor, who each put in around 60 hours a week at the gym, are black belts in Tae Kwon Do and blue belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, it was the owners’ passion for martial arts and long-time commitment to Dragon Gym that prompted them to purchase the business in 2007. The trio implemented some changes in the programs offered, and many local citizens may not be aware that the gym isn’t exclusively for martial artists.

“We have been here for so long,” said Beck. “The majority of people think of Dragon Gym when they think of martial arts. What they don’t know is how much we’ve diversified and how much we’ve learned [in order] to give back to this community. We have everything that a health club has and more. We want to change the public perception from what Dragon Gym was to what it is.”

This mindset led Beck to learn, compete in, and now teach Muay Thai.

“I did Tae Kwon Do for 20 years,” he said. “I wanted to find something new, branch out, and be a student again. [My Tae Kwon Do] master left, and I wanted to learn something new.”

Beck began training with Kru (teacher) Angel Cartagena in Philadelphia six years ago. In time he honed his skills and made the decision to travel to Thailand to compete.

“After years of Tae Kwon Do competition, I got this Muay Thai bug,” he said. “We would train for half the day, then they’d match you up with someone they think matches your skills.”

Of the three fights Beck competed in, he won two and lost one. It was the loss that was most memorable for him.

“I got KO’d in the 2nd fight by a guy who was 30 pounds lighter than me,” he said. “His name was Sitrak. I’ll never forget him. It was enlightening; it showed me the true power of this art. It’s not about size or strength but economy of motion, creating angles, good footwork, composure, reading your opponent, and using your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.”

One aspect of Dragon Gym that is evident is the sense of loyalty within the team. Recently, the head strength and conditioning coach, Brian Petty, was diagnosed with liver cancer.

“The outlook is bleak,” said Beck. “He is a huge mentor to the majority of the people in the gym, and he is as unique as they make them.”

To assist their colleague, the gym is sponsoring several fundraisers to assist Petty with his bills and costly medical care. The first event will take place on Saturday, March 12 at 9 AM. There will be a free Muay Thai seminar and demonstrations by Cool Hearts Muay Thai in Philadelphia and Dragon Gym. Food and beverages will be provided. The owners hope for a large turnout and generous donations for the cause.

A second fundraiser, a beef and beer event, will be held at the Stadium Grille in Chester Springs on April 30 at 7 PM. Raffle tickets for a substantial prize of various and sundry bottles of liquor, dubbed the “Basket of Cheer,” only cost $5 per ticket or $20 for five tickets.

Finally, the group started a web site ( to garner further donations for their friend.

“Everybody would agree with the impact that Brian has had on this place and the type of person he is,” said Beck. “He is like an encyclopedia and is truly one of a kind. We wanted to pull our resources together and do everything we can to help him.”

It was this concern for others and the local community that drew Beck and his business partners to SHOSEN.

“I read what SHOSEN had on the web site (, *see mission statement below), and it’s different from every other MMA clothing line,” said Beck. “SHOSEN is not trying to put on a super macho persona. It’s more about the philosophy of fighting. Then when I found out that SHOSEN was local –I have a soft spot for local companies. We have a lot of local interactions with other businesses.”

SHOSEN t-shirts are currently available for purchase at the Dragon Gym fight store.

Those interested in pursuing martial arts programs, strength training and conditioning, or seeking a health club should check out Dragon Gym at

* Work is not drudgery when you relish what you do. This mindset encapsulates the mission of the SHOSEN team. We aspire to be the foremost mixed martial arts merchandiser in the world. However, above all else, SHOSEN is passionate about our commitment to you. Our aim, therefore, is to provide the world with distinctive and incomparable products. Our staff is comprised of knowledgeable people of uncompromising resolve, who are first and foremost MMA fans just like you. We sponsor fighters who live by the supreme standards of the SHOSEN way. We require of our members a community-centered focus because possessing the readiness and means to reach out to others is our most remarkable capacity.

So remember, when the trials of life spring up, and when all of your senses pique, do not shrink away. Adrenaline pumps and knuckles crack. You know what you have to do; you must be first to act. “Quit” and “stop” are execrable words that have no place in your vernacular. You must leave it all in the cage. You will prevail. And when the battle commences, find within you what it takes to revel in the greatest feeling of all –the satisfaction of victory achieved. This is SHOSEN, first to attack.

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