Patience, respect and self-control

Kung Fu classes help kids learn to use their energy in a positive way

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Lil' Dragons is a class for children 4 and 5 years old. Students learn coordination, balance skills, safety skills and confidence.

Kung Fu is for children ages 5 to 12 and focuses on self-control, discipline, patience and respect. A teen and adult class is also available.

To sign up, visit https://register.cityofcamas.us.

"I was really scared and embarrassed when I first started. It feels pretty cool to be in front of the class now.

-- Zach Ager

Lil’ Dragons is a class for children 4 and 5 years old. Students learn coordination, balance skills, safety skills and confidence.

Kung Fu is for children ages 5 to 12 and focuses on self-control, discipline, patience and respect. A teen and adult class is also available.

To sign up, visit https://register.cityofcamas.us.

As a young man, Sifu Paco’s temper got him into a lot of trouble.

“I was a hothead,” he said. “I needed to learn to control my temper and how to fight correctly, and when to do it.”

Paco, who had been a boxer, began studying taekwondo and then became interested in Tai Chi and Kung Fu, particularly “kajukenbo” style.

The training incorporates a blend of striking, kicking, throwing, take downs, joint locks and weapon disarmament.

“It is a street fighting style,” Paco said. “It is very eclectic. I learned how to do it correctly and needed that for my own self-discipline.”

“I was really scared and embarrassed when I first started. It feels pretty cool to be in front of the class now.

— Zach Ager

Paco has come a long way from the angry young man who needed to reign in his temper. Nowadays, he spends his free time teaching young people the self-control, discipline, patience and respect that comes with learning the martial art of Kung Fu.

“The emphasis is on using martial arts as a last resort,” he said. “I’m really seeking to help them build confidence and the main thing is to have fun.”

Paco has been teaching Kung Fu through Camas Parks and Recreation since 1998. He works with ages 4 to adult.

“Teaching the preschoolers is kind of like herding cats,” he joked. “I try to keep them focused on what we are doing and learn to block, punch and kick.”

The Skamania County resident also teaches women’s self defense classes. The next one will likely be in the spring.

“We focus on prevention first,” he said. “The best thing you can do is avoid the situation to begin with.”

In addition to teaching classes two days a week, Paco works full-time in a manufacturing job at H.B. Fuller in Vancouver.

“It is gratifying to me to see a really shy little child come out of their shell, and learn self discipline and gain self confidence,” Paco said. “Zach (Ager) has been here for several years.

“He started out crying in the corner and now he is up in front of the class, helping to train. That is where I get my gratification. When the kids come out of their shell like that, it really makes me happy.”

Ager, 11, is a junior black belt. He is a fifth-grader at Gause Elementary School in Washougal.

“I really like the staff here and the sparring,” he said. “I was really scared and embarrassed when I first started. It feels pretty cool to be in front of the class now.”

Ayla Crowell, 9, is a blue belt who has been taking classes for two years.

“I really like the kicking and punching,” she said. “I also like how Mr. Paco gives us a bunch of chances to do stuff. I want to get a black belt.”

Chelsey Crocker is mom to Caleb, 4.

“He really liked knocking over the bag and it helps get a lot of his energy out,” she said.

Danacia Jones is mom to Colton, 5.

“He wanted to try a martial art and this was really close by,” she said. “He likes the ‘sword’ fighting at the beginning of class the best. I like the instructor because he is teaching them discipline, but he has fun doing it.”

Maddie Vrtiska, 4, has been enrolled in the Lil’ Dragons class for a few months.

“I really like the socialization and that she is getting to use her body and be more aware,” said her mom, Jenny. “She really likes the class and enjoys leading. The instructor is incredibly patient with this age group and we plan on signing our other daughter up when she is old enough.”

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