Sequoia Kung Fu and Yoga teaches ageless practice

(Rigo Moran)

Local practice in Visalia brings unique approach to health and wellness through traditional Chinese kung fu and yoga, focuses on individual growth, sustainability

VISALIA – After spending years studying martial arts in China, a couple decided to open up their own studio in Visalia, and did so with the intention of making room for students to grow by “loosening the belts” on martial arts and leaving behind the competitive rank system.

Sonny Mannon and Maya Rodriguez, the owners of Sequoia Kung Fu and Yoga located at 1911 E. Main St.​, have been sharing their unique approach to practicing Kung Fu and Yoga since they moved back to the Valley in 2016.

“There’s not many people who teach kung fu traditionally like this, there’s not many people who teach yoga in this way,” Mannon said. “You go to places and it’s a lot more common to focus on getting to the next stage.”

Mannon and Rodriguez teach the art of Kung Fu, Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Yoga differently than many studios. Both of them have a background in working with people with physical and mental disabilities, so they understand the importance of teaching each student at their own pace.

Mannon also explained that Americans typically have to start practicing differently than people in China do, because culturally, they don’t squat as much in their daily lives, which impacts their physical ability.

Through their practice, Rodriguez and Mannon focus their teaching efforts on getting their clients to learn and grow at a pace that is right for them as opposed to earning their next belt.

“There’s no ranks, there’s no belts, there’s no testing as if you’re there to learn kung fu,” Mannon said. “We try to focus on teaching people so they can feel confident within their practice. In martial arts there’s an implicit learning involved, so we really focus on that aspect of it rather than external motivation.”

The duo’s studio focuses more on maintaining and growing whatever practice is sustainable for the individual. This helps clients of all ages grow without putting too much stress on their mind and body.

“I think our youngest student right now is eight… he used to be younger (when he started), he was five,” Mannon said.

Rodriguez continued, “Our oldest student is my mom, she’s 83 at the moment.”

VALLEY, CHINA CONNECTION

This approach to martial arts is one the couple learned while pursuing their own practices in China. Mannon and Rodriguez explained that a few months after they first started dating, Mannon decided he was moving to China to pursue kung fu.

“A lot of the styles I had been studying back here in the states all had their roots in Beijing, where we later moved,” Mannon said. “I said ‘I’m moving to China and I really hope you come too’.”

sequoia-kung-fu-equipment-four-17-24-rm
(Rigo Moran)

Rodriguez, who was at a crossroads at the time, chose to leave grad school and join him. Despite having some background in the practice, she didn’t officially start pursuing yoga until after she was in China. She said consistent migraines, as well as culture shock and the difficulty that comes with learning to navigate another country, is what pushed her to get back into it.

“It was hard living in Beijing, and there’s all the stress that comes with trying to figure out the language,” Rodriguez said. “I just needed something and Sonny said ‘Why don’t you try Yoga again?’”

Rodriguez was able to find a teacher who had classes in English, and both she and Mannon started practicing their craft more frequently.

The couple spent years learning under Chinese masters until their teacher told them they were ready to start teaching themselves. They eventually ended up opening classes in their own home at the time and continued to teach in China for a number of years before moving back to the Valley and opening up their own school in 2016.

“People just know (what is already available in the area) and it’s the same thing with yoga. But here in the Valley, there’s nothing like this,” Mannon said.

A couple of years after opening their school, Mannon and Rodriguez chose to move studio locations since their previous studio was right next to a CrossFit studio, which created noise that made it difficult for clients to focus on their practice.

They said the new studio is more calming and conducive to their needs, as well as specialized to house all the various equipment the couple uses to provide each client with the type of exercise that is appropriate to them. However, just when they were settling into their new location, the pandemic hit and the couple had to move their classes all online.

“We’ve been slowly starting to push some of our programs out there because during the pandemic people really got into health and wellness,” Mannon said.

Now Mannon and Rodriguez are back to doing classes in person and helping pursue martial arts in whatever way is right and sustainable for them. This summer the couple plans on offering a fundamentals yoga course for people of all backgrounds, whether they are new to the craft or looking to refresh their knowledge.

In other upcoming news for the studio, Sequoia Kung Fu and Yoga will be giving a free lesson at the Mountain Views Reggae Festival in Orosi on April 27 to share their philosophy on health, wellness and martial arts.

For those interested in classes, the Sequoia Kung Fu and Yoga studio class schedule and contact information is available online at www.sequoiakungfuandyoga.com.

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