If he wanted to, Jeff Macalolooy could break your bones with his bare hands.
Instead, the 36-year-old mixed martial arts expert instills the students at his martial arts studio with spirituality and strong family values…as well as the skills to seriously hurt you, if necessary.
“What we stress here is spirit, mind, body,” said Jeff during his Monday night "Little Dragons" class for 6 to 9 year olds. “It’s a good spiritual training. It’s very good for the mind. For the kids, especially, I can see their confidence grow.”
Currently located on 2843 Whipple Road, Dragons Den has been a Union City institution long before it became an official business.
Jeff, a high school wrestling coach at the time, began teaching martial arts to a group of four friends out of his parents’ garage in 1997. Word spread through the community about a unique self-defense discipline that Jeff was teaching called kajukenbo, a mixed martial art founded in Hawaii in the 40s that combines boxing, kenpo karate, judo, jiu-jitsu and other fighting techniques.
Today, Dragons Den serves more than 100 kids and adults in a variety of programs, including wrestling, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, eskrima (Filipino stick-fighting) and kickboxing.
“We’re sort of a one-stop shop for fitness and martial arts,” said Liza Macalolooy, Jeff’s wife.
Among the few dojos in the area specializing in kajukenbo, Dragons Den was featured in a 2009 episode of Fight Quest, a Discovery Channel program about martial arts, for a segment on kajukenbo.
Through kajukenbo, Jeff and his instructors stress the importance of confidence and self-defense. He teaches his students how to walk with their heads high and how to fend themselves against attackers, not promote violence, Jeff said.
“We want to keep the kids busy and give them something to do in a positive environment,” said Jeff, who also coaches wrestling at various schools in the community. He tries to reach out to middle school aged children because they're more impressionable, he said. "They’re trying to figure things out and you can steer them in the right direction."
But it’s not just the kids who learn and grow through the experience.
“When you know how much damage you can do, you become more humble,” said George Moore-Siegmann, 33, a student a Dragons Den. He sported a fading bruise around his left eye Monday night.
Moore-Siegmann, a ninth grade English teacher at , is one of several Dragons Den students to compete, and win, in recent martial arts competitions.
Last weekend, members of the Dragons Den girls wrestling club, which is comprised of students from Alvarado and Cesar Chavez Middle Schools, placed third at the Girls Wrestling State Championship in Vallejo. Moore-Siegmann came first in his division in the Golden Gate Internationals held April 8 and 9 in Santa Clara. Jacob Macalolooy, Jeff’s 15-year-old son, also brought home a first place title after beating an opponent who was 20 pounds heavier than him.
Jonathan Macalolooy, Jeff’s younger brother, on April 16 at Rebel Fighter Explosive, held in Plymouth, Calif. It was his first fight since sustaining a leg injury last May.
While you’re likely to find everyone in the immediate Macalolooy family somewhere inside of Dragons Den at any given moment, the Macalolooys treat everyone who walks through their door as kin.
Because of its Hawaiian roots, kajukenbo is a family-oriented discipline, Macalolooy said.
During classes, parents and children can be found inside the family room while their siblings or parents train. This is where the Macalolooys’ youngest fireball, 3-year-old Trinity, can be found playing with blocks or drawing pictures. That is, when she isn’t ripping across the dojo floor in chase of her 6-year-old sister Marly, or play fighting with the students.
“This is their other home,” Jeff said. “What I really like is seeing people forming relationships. Everyone becomes intertwined. A lot of relationships have been built from this area.”
Much of Dragons Den’s reputation as one of Union City’s premier martial arts studios is because of the Macololooys’ relationship with the community. They understand parents’ needs and concerns and keep classes affordable, Liza said.
But beyond the dojo, Dragos Den strives to be a community cornerstone. The business hosts and participates in a number of local events, including leading self-defense demonstrations and holding food and charity drives.
“We really want to create something not in here, but out in the community,” Jeff said.