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Martial arts center gets plenty of elbow room

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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As the Auburn Martial Arts Center has grown over the years, it has relocated to successively larger quarters. The latest move, to the former Auburn Nissan dealership on Highway 49, is a dream come true for gym owners Dan and Debbie Lovas. “We’ve been eyeing it for years,” Debbie Lovas said. “We’ve been looking at it saying some day we want to be in that building.” It gives them about 5,000 square feet of space, as compared to the 3,100 square feet they had on Harrison Street in Downtown. The Lovases have transformed the impressive structure with its columns into two large studios. “The front room was beautiful,” Dan Lovas said. “It has high ceilings, marble floors and everything (the Nissan dealership) could have done, they did.” The back of the building, which formerly housed business offices, now is one big room. The partitions are gone and the ceiling was raised from 9 feet to 25 feet. And there’s now an octagon fighting cage for the mixed martial arts program. “We’ve had it for two years,” Dan said. “But now we have an appropriate space for it. Mixed martial arts is one of our fastest growing programs.” The fighting cage will really get a workout with the center’s after-school-training program. “It’s a combination of mixed martial arts and Taekwondo,” he said. “We have from 9 years old and up in those classes.” The Lovases have added some new martial arts — Brazilian jiu jitsu and escrima — as well as zumba, a Brazilian exercise dance. Brazilian jiu jitsu is a grappling style, similar to wrestling, Lovas said. Escrima is a Philippine stick fighting system. Lovas established the center in Auburn in 1992. It currently employs eight and has a membership of about 350. “I fell in love with Auburn and the people, and decided this is where we would make our primary business,” he said. “We’ve been part of the community ever since.” A grand opening Saturday showcased the new facility and included martial arts demonstrations and free classes. It also featured artwork created by a couple of the martial arts center’s members. On Tuesday, Auburn artist Michelle Opferman had completed three of seven drawings she is creating for the building. “They’re different poses of martial arts like kickboxing and Taekwondo,” she said. Opferman has been involved in martial arts at the center for about seven years. “I do kickboxing and was doing some circuit training,” she said. “My daughter and I do the mixed martial arts.” She enjoys being part of the center because of the high level of Dan and Debbie Lovas’ expertise. “The owners are very nice people and very accommodating and they’re experts at what they do,” she said. “They’ll work with you on technique until you get it right. They’ve both got black belts or above.” In fact, Dan and Debbie met through their interest in Taekwondo. Dan started martial arts in 1974. “I was a skinny little guy with a learning disability and got picked on all the time,” he said. “A teacher recommended martial arts. (Since then) I’ve never stopped training. It was just a perfect fit. I’ve competed internationally and held the world title in Taekwondo.” At the studio, he teaches Taekwondo, mixed martial arts and Silat (Indonesian grappling). Debbie teaches fourth-degree black belt in Taekwondo and fitness kickboxing. “She was the state champion last year in Taekwondo,” Dan said. They’re both very proud of the impact they’ve had locally in martial arts. “We’ve had (students) go to great universities with full rides for Taekwondo,” he said. “We have about a dozen kids who are in line to get full-ride (sports scholarships) if they keep doing as well as they’re doing. They are internationally ranked.” The center also offers tai chi and the Tiny Tigers program for preschoolers. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com. -------------- Auburn Martial Arts Center Where: 536 Highway 49, Auburn Phone: (530) 887-0215 Website: auburnmartialartscenter.com