Watching the movie “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” as a child inspired Greg Shraiman to study martial arts at the Shaolin Temple in China. While becoming a monk was not in the cards, Greg certainly fulfilled his dream of studying at the temple. Now he teaches the Shaolin Kempo style of martial arts at the United Studios of Self Defense dojo he owns in Burlingame. His style of teaching builds his students up one step at a time and includes plenty of physical as well as mental fitness. In addition to his roster of students, he also donates his expertise to shelters for abused women. By building their confidence with martial arts and teaching them self-defense strategies, Greg helps the women believe in themselves again. When he’s not teaching, Greg gets his exercise running after his four-year-old daughter, who is surely already a martial arts aficionado!
How has practicing martial arts helped and influenced your physical and mental growth?
As a kid, I didn’t get into lots of fights. I was always trying to avoid confrontations and martial arts helped me to learn how to deal with and solve problems and how to avoid getting into trouble. Knowing I could do something about it gave me confidence. Martial arts helped me not only in my business but certainly in my personal life as well. I’ve learned how to be more patient and how to really listen to others.
Why did watching Bruce Lee movies inspire you to study martial arts? Bruce Lee opened a whole new world for everyone, especially those who were born in the former Soviet Union since any type of martial arts was illegal in the USSR. His skill, his way of showing justice can be done even though all feels hopeless, and as a human being, actor, and definitely as a martial artist, Bruce Lee is an inspiration!
What is the Shaolin Kempo style of martial arts, and why did you decide to study it?
What I love about Shaolin Kempo is that this system adapts to you, and if you have certain physical restrictions, you can still learn it. Shaolin Kempo is a beautifully combined system of different Japanese and Chinese martial arts. It has everything in it: defense on the ground, low and high kicks, lots of fast hand strikes, and defense against various weapons. It focuses on modern self-defense as much as the traditional parts of the ancient art. All martial arts should teach the same principles, like effort, etiquette, self-control, sincerity, and discipline. After I’ve searched around for a decent school, I found USSD Burlingame dojo, and after meeting and talking to my “future” teacher Karen Mahoney, I knew I found the right place, right system, and right teacher.
Are you proficient in other martial arts styles, and which ones?
The beautiful thing about martial arts, just like in life, you never stop learning and getting better. Saying I am proficient at some other styles probably would be wrong. I’ve done Tae Kwon Do for almost ten years, Shotokan for three, a little Judo and Aikido, but the only arts I’ve achieved high ranks in are Kempo and Tae Kwon Do. Am I proficient in those arts? I hope I am moving in that direction.
Do you have a favorite martial arts competition milestone that you can share with us?
Each competition has taught me something. If I had to choose one, I would say my first tournament when I competed in the instructor’s division. It was nerve-racking and exciting at the same time! Going against high ranking competitors, I placed second and I was pretty proud of it.
Have you ever had to use your martial arts skills in a public setting? The longer I’ve studied and the better I’ve become at martial arts, the less I find myself in situations where I have to use my fighting skills. Although I did work at a San Francisco night club as a bouncer, so yes, there I had to use it a few times.
How long have you owned your studio?
I’ve been teaching at this school for the last eleven years and officially became an owner four years ago.
What business challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Challenges never stop. Keeping the doors open means finding a good balance between being a martial arts teacher and a business person. I think this is the biggest challenge. I do what I love, and I love what I do! I just give my best every day and I think that is what students appreciate.
What was it like to have your dream of visiting and training with monks at the Shaolin Temple come true? In which country is the temple located?
Shaolin Temple is located in Dengfeng County, Henan Province in China. When I first saw the movie “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” sometime in the ’80s, I told my mom that I wanted to become a monk and go study at the Shaolin Temple. It’s been my dream since then, which I thought would never come true. United Studios of Self Defense helped me make this dream come true. We had a company trip for all students and instructors to China and Japan and learned from the monks. Stepping into the temple, on grounds where martial arts history was made, was like time travel to the past. This summer we are traveling there again. I’m super excited about it!
How do the mysticism and ancient traditions of the Shaolin martial arts style enhance your life?
I am a big fan of Eastern culture including traditions, symbolism, and philosophy. I truly believe that keeping and understanding traditions are a huge part of who we are and part of our future. We are always looking for something we can’t understand even though we don’t admit to it. Mysticism and ancient traditions make me appreciate our past and our history more. And as they say, the person who doesn’t know their past won’t have a future.
What does a typical one on one training with a student look like?
Our personalized lessons focus on the student’s needs, whether it is physical conditioning or certain details in their curriculum. One on one training is the time when students gain knowledge, and a group class is when students practice the skill.
What common struggles do your students have while learning Shaolin Kempo, and how do you help them develop?
Surprisingly, most of the students struggle with physical education. Proper push-ups, sit-ups and basic physical development. The mind and body should live in harmony. We used to have a saying, “inside of a healthy body, you will have a healthy soul.” I would probably change “soul” for “mind,” but the idea is the same. I think Shaolin Kempo teaches us that there are no shortcuts to success. We have to put in the time and hard work to achieve something that we want. We like to say, “The elevator to success is broken, you have to take the stairs one at a time.” I try to help my students by keeping them honest about their effort.
When you donate your expertise to shelters for abused women, what martial arts techniques or training most help women to regain confidence?
First and most importantly, those women need to know they are not alone. There are people out there who want to help. Learning martial arts helps the women to believe in themselves again, to take action and steps toward their happiness and to start changing their lives for good. Teaching them some self-defense techniques just helps with building their confidence. What I teach depends on what they want to learn. Every group is different and I always customize the meeting according to the group and their requests.
What should new adult students at your studio expect from their first lessons?
All I ask from a new student is to come in with a good attitude, be ready to work hard, sweat, learn and have fun doing it!
How does martial arts help students to believe in themselves and harness their inner strength?
I always believed that knowledge is power! Knowledge of academics makes you confident and smarter. When you go to a college or job interview, you have confidence in all the hard work you put into your study. With martial arts, it’s the same. Knowing that you can take care of yourself and others makes you look proud in the way you handle yourself, the way you walk, the way you talk. All of it points to self-confidence, which shows others that you are not a weak person and won’t be pushed around.
How does the ability to focus improve through martial arts practice? Learning moves, defensive techniques and sequences make you really concentrate on the task at hand. If you want to achieve results, you must repeat those motions over and over. It is impossible to do so if you are not focused. Also, meditation before and after class helps you clear your mind and be ready to focus. When you get used to it, you start using the same skills toward everything you do in your life.
How does martial arts practice improve physical fitness and promote stress release?
If you’ve ever hit a heavy punching bag for a few minutes, you know how exhausting this is physically and how freeing it is mentally. Martial arts helps with stress relief in a more focused way; you put all the stress, anger, whatever it was you gathered after a long day of work or school into a physical outlet instead of taking it out on your friends and family.
Tell us about how martial arts integrates the mind, body and spirit.
The beauty of martial arts is that in order to integrate all of it together, it requires you to not only learn the physical part (martial) but also the theory, history, and the philosophy behind it (the art). You train your mind the same way as you train your body.
How have you influenced the lives of your students, and in return how have they changed you?
I would like to think that by sharing my knowledge and experience with students, I help them to understand the values of life, hard work, honesty, and kindness. I believe I help them build confidence in everyday life and help students relieve stress in a healthy way. Teaching helps me be better at understanding people and being creative in the way I adapt my teaching for each person. I became a better teacher, father, and husband because of my students.
When you’re not in the studio, what other types of exercise do you enjoy?
I get plenty of exercise while I’m teaching, plus I get my own lessons on a weekly basis. I have to keep learning if I want to keep teaching. Plus my four-year-old daughter exercises me every chance she gets. Keeping up with her energy is a pretty good workout.