Editor’s Note: This story appeared as the cover feature of the March 2021 Centerville-Washington Neighbors Magazine, which is mailed to 3,661 homes in the community. Photos are by Ashley Mauro Photography.
By Jeff Louderback
The martial arts are beloved in the Meng family, and the passion extends far beyond athletic feats. To Grand Master Benny Meng, his wife Sunmi Park-Meng and their three children—Vincent, Spencer and Derikson—martial arts represent life balance and harmony with the body and spirit. Simply put, they represent a way of life.
Benny founded Meng’s Martial Arts in 1987; and among the multiple locations nationwide, the Centerville school is one of the oldest. In the living room of the family’s Washington Township home, glass display boxes adorn the walls, showcasing medals, awards, mementos and newspaper articles detailing the accomplishments of Vincent, 23, who has captured three world titles; Spencer,16; and Derikson, 15.
“Martial arts are an instrumental part of our family heritage,” Benny said. “As parents, we require our children to remain active through the age of 18, because martial arts teach self-control and discipline, and instill self-confidence. They contribute to physical and emotional development.”
The only adult son, Vincent continues to compete and is the lead instructor at Meng’s Martial Arts’ school in Huber Heights. Spencer is a Junior World Bronze Medalist, and Derikson is a United States National Champion. All three would like to prominently contribute long term to the family business.
Long before Benny and Sunmi met, they were trained in martial arts.
Benny was born in Hong Kong and started his training in judo in 1970. Four years later his family arrived in Centerville, where he studied tae kwon do under Grand Master Y.C. Kim. Benny’s uncle was the head of pathology at a Kettering hospital, and his dad and uncle introduced the first Chinese restaurant in the Dayton area: the Peking Inn, where Las Piramides is currently located. Benny attended Watts Middle School and then Centerville High School (CHS)—where he wrestled and played football, while expanding his martial arts acumen—graduating in 1981.
After high school Benny embarked on an extended study of martial arts that took him to Hong Kong, Mainland China, Korea and Taiwan. He began his Wing Chun kung fu training in Hong Kong in 1982, under the movie star Sifu Lee Hoi Sang.
Sunmi was born into a martial arts family in Seoul, South Korea, beginning tae kwon do at 5 years old, training five days a week under Grand Master Kyung Jun Park, her father. At the time Grand Master Park was one of the few judges who conducted black belt promotional tests at the Kukkiwon, the world headquarters of tae kwon do. He was also in the first generation of official tae kwon do international referees.
At age 8 Sunmi earned a first degree junior black belt, and her family moved to Cincinnati. She met Benny through mutual friends at an Asian American Association dance at Wright State University in 1990.
They married in 1993, the same year that Sunmi earned a degree in psychology from the University of Cincinnati. She serves as the business manager for Meng’s Martial Arts.
What differentiates Meng’s Martial Arts from many schools is that it teaches Shaolin Wing Chun.
“Many martial arts schools suggest that you cross-train in a variety of styles; however, when it comes to defending your life or the lives of your loved ones, you shouldn’t rely on hundreds of techniques coming from multiple styles and doing what you prefer, rather than what reality demands at the moment,” Benny explained. “Instead it is best to use a seamless, uniform system that is in harmony with reality. To be effective—in martial arts, in personal safety, in life itself—you must use the right tools at the right place and the right time.”
Shaolin Wing Chun was born in the Shaolin Temple and was later made popular on an international level by the late Bruce Lee, Benny said. To the public a term like “kung fu” is a generic term for martial arts originating in China. Technically the term means “skill and ability developed through hard work over time.” The martial arts systems that originated in the Shaolin Temple gave rise to and heavily influenced all Asian martial arts, such as karate, Kenpo/Kempo, tae kwon do and others.
“Our system teaches proper body mechanics and then follows with tactics and strategies, rather than fixed patterns and forms most often seen in various martial arts styles,” Benny said. “Once you know how to use your body’s full potential, including your thoughts, feelings and actions, you can more effectively overcome any challenge, whether that’s a daily life struggle or an assailant.”
Vincent began martial arts when he was 3, inspired by his father and, he said jokingly, the TV show Power Rangers. He earned his first degree black belt at age 6, around the time he started competing. He currently holds a fourth degree black belt in the art of tae kwon do and a fifth degree black sash in Shaolin Wing Chun.
Shaolin Wing Chun has given Vincent the ability to compete in multiple disciplines. He qualified for four national teams in four separate combat sports in a single year when he was 21 and now holds three world titles, the only person to achieve that in the world of martial arts.
At CHS Vincent wrestled for three years and earned First Team All-Conference honors. Spencer and Derikson currently wrestle at CHS, along with continuing their martial arts competition.
Last spring Vincent earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship at the University of Dayton and was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma (The International Business Honor Society). The 2021 world championships are in Dallas. Vincent will compete in the U.S. team trials, defending his spot on the national team. He will compete in the world championships for a fourth title if he qualifies.
“Martial arts develop a person as a whole,” Vincent said. “The fights in the ring prepare me for real battles. The challenges that we face in martial arts prepare us for life challenges.”
Proficiency in martial arts requires commitment and effort over time, Benny explained. “When people start, they want to learn fighting techniques; but it is important to first learn the philosophy and life skills and build a basic foundation,” he said. “Our students range in age from 4 to 80. We have students who have been with us for decades, and now their children are students.”