Longtime black belt offers free classes in York City, West York

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
From right, Mi'Kel Kelly assists his father, Grandmaster Wallace Kelly as he teaches students Brittany Wolf, Wilmer Febus, 8, both of York City, Chuck Zienkiewicz, of Manchester Township, and sister, Kelce Kelly, 10, during a free martial arts class offered by Kelly's Universal Martial Arts at Yorktown Center in York City, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

By day, U.S. Navy veteran and 10th-degree black belt Wallace Kelly is a fugitive recovery agent or, in colloquial terms, a bounty hunter.

But by night, Kelly — known in the martial arts world as Grandmaster Wallace Kelly — teaches free martial arts classes in York City. Beginning Sept. 4, he will add classes in West York thanks to an agreement with the borough to provide teaching space.

Grandmaster Wallace Kelly teaches Kelly's Universal Martial Arts at Yorktown Center in York City, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Kelly, 50, has practiced martial arts for 40 years, he said. He got started as a 10-year-old when his first teacher, Grandmaster Gary Hopkins Sr., offered free tae kwon do classes in the York City.

"He took me when I was nobody and he taught me for free," Kelly said. "He instilled in all of his instructors to give back to the community to teach for free. He was very adamant about that."

Wilmer Febus, 8, left, looks on as his mother, Brittany Wolf, 27, right, both of York City, raises her hand to answer a question asked by Grandmaster Wallace Kelly as he teaches a free martial arts class offered by Kelly's Universal Martial Arts at Yorktown Center in York City, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The studio, Kelly's Universal Martial Arts, incorporates elements of Chinese, Japanese and Korean martial arts styles.

At a West York Borough Council meeting Aug. 5, Borough Manager Shawn Mauck invited Kelly to give a presentation so the council could decide whether to offer the use of the borough hall free of charge for classes.

"I think it's a fabulous opportunity for us to do something that will impact our kids and our neighborhood," Mauck said.

The council unanimously approved the request.

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Lasting impact: Kelly said that Hopkins, who died in 2018, was the single most influential person in his life, and that without Hopkins, K.U.M.A. wouldn't exist.

"If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I'd be," Kelly said.

At a class Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Yorktown Center in York City, one of Kelly's former students rejoined the class, this time bringing his son.

Chuck Zienkiewicz, 37, of Manchester Township, attended his first K.U.M.A. class when he was 16 years old, shortly after his father died.

"It was a pretty hard time for me," he said, adding that he needed an outlet for his anger and aggression.

So Zienkiewicz channeled it into martial arts and stuck with it for years, becoming a green belt in the process.

Now, Zienkiewicz is a career firefighter in West York. When he heard about the new classes being offered and remembered his former teacher, Kelly, he decided to return to the dojo with his 11-year-old son, Carter, so they could train together.

"It’s neat because with martial arts, it’s different from any other sport," Zienkiewicz said. "You can take it with your son."

A number of parents take classes with their children, Kelly said, and adults are welcome to join on their own.

He has about 40 students overall, and around a dozen attended the Aug. 21 class.

Kelly drilled them on front kicks and side kicks, explaining the importance of keeping their stances in a forward position so as not to reveal their next move to their sparring partner.

He used the Korean term for a front kick, ap chagi, and quizzed the students on the language.

Challenges: Teaching free classes isn't always easy, Kelly said.

"You get frustrated," he said. "Especially when no one shows up, or when you get used as a personal babysitting service. I know the parents that drop their kids off and they leave, and they’re not really involved in the class."

But Kelly is committed to his students and to Hopkins' admonition to pay it forward to the next generation.

"My ultimate goal for all of this is to have him smile down, just smile on me and say, 'good job,'" Kelly said. "I often feel like he's smiling now."

If you go: Kelly's Universal Martial Arts classes in West York will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the West York Borough Hall, 1381 W. Poplar St., beginning Sept. 3.

York City classes are held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Voni Grimes Gym, 125 E. College Ave., and from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays at Yorktown Center, 1059 Kelly Drive.

Kelly's associate instructors will help teach the Wednesday classes that overlap.

Space is limited, so anyone interested in registering should call Grandmaster Wallace Kelly at 717-779-9253.