You walk in and are struck by the color blue.
It’s a sea of blue mats, but it’s not yet underneath your feet. You must first pass through a lobby section, replete with glimmering trophies, belts, and plaques, covering walls and shelves.
You are at Blue Dragon Taekwondo Academy (1485 N. Milpitas Blvd.), one of the most prestigious martial arts academies in Milpitas.
The owner, Grandmaster Thac Nguyen, speaks with a clean blend of pride and modesty. At 45 years of age, he’s been in the martial arts business for 30 years, ever since his father, Grandmaster Chinh Nguyen, opened up a program in Santa Clara in 1989.
“He always loved the sport,” Thac said of his father. At 12 or 13 years of age, Chinh was into boxing. But when the Korean military came into Vietnam between 1959 and 1964, they introduced Taekwondo to the Vietnamese military. When Chinh turned 18, he enlisted, had his first encounter with Taekwondo, and fell in love.
Later on, after Thac came along, he saw his father practicing Taekwondo on a daily basis. At 5 years of age, he said to his dad: “I like what you’re doing. Can you teach me?”
Asked what he likes most about the sport, Thac said, “A lot of kicking.” With a smile, he added, “I love kicking!”
Taekwondo’s emphasis on kicking allows its practitioners more reach, along with the use of their leg strength, which exists in great excess of arm strength.
Blue Dragon has been at the same location since 2006. Thac’s family has lived here in town since ‘05. But Blue Dragon itself has operated in Milpitas since 1996. When deciding initially where to launch, Thac took a long look at San Jose, which has a bigger Vietnamese community than Milpitas. But then he looked around here and said, “Milpitas is a very, very young city…It’s gonna grow…”
He was right, of course. For a long time, his business was operating in 2 locations. However, Thac became aware of an ongoing demand for his onsite presence — and he couldn’t be in 2 places at once. As a result, Blue Dragon’s current homebase on Milpitas Blvd. came to be.
A father of 3 and a husband to an accomplished software engineer, Thac moved to the U.S. at the age of 12. Before then, Thac trained formally under his father’s best friend, Lam Nguyen, who happens to share their family’s last name, at his father’s Vietnam martial arts school. Eventually, Lam moved from Vietnam to Houston, yet to this day, Thac keeps in touch with him, exchanging Taekwondo methods and teachings on a regular basis. The older man is now in his 70s.
Blue Dragon currently teaches 180 students, which is close to its cap of 200. The students’ ages range from 3 to 58. Family classes are available, wherein kids can train alongside their mothers and fathers.
“I look at the number of black-belts that I produce,” Thac said. “Not much.”
Black-belts are far from the Academy’s main driver. Quite the contrary, Thac refers to schools with that mentality as “belt factories.” In other words, they often place their students on a fast-track to earning belts, without providing more well-rounded training.
Blue Dragon is different, and more philosophical. As Thac explained, “We have to provide a quality service, provide a family-oriented program, to the students…We do our best to develop these young minds so that they can think quick on their feet, make right decisions, know the differences between right and wrong…”
To these ends, Grandmaster Nguyen cited the 5 core tenets of Taekwondo: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control, and Indomitable Spirit.
From that list, it’s Integrity that stands out the most to him. He sees integrity as more than just being honest to yourself and others, for it also includes an aspect of taking pride in what you do, and thus doing what you do well. Praising Blue Dragon’s students as quality young people, Grandmaster Nguyen said, “We don’t want kids coming in here just testing for belts…Integrity, it means everything. You have to be self-disciplined. You have to be self-taught. You have to correct your mistakes. You have to admit that you are wrong.”
“We don’t want the kids to have pressure about testing for the belt. When they are ready, they test. We don’t want the parents to force their kids to take the test, when they’re not ready…”
He also pointed out that most parents bring their kids to the Academy in search of discipline: “They’re not the type that are looking to send their kids to these MMA-style [schools]…They want more on the discipline side. I think my program fits that.”
Summarizing the mindset that he works to instill within his students, Thac said, “I’ll listen to my parents, I’ll listen to my teachers, I’ll pay attention in class, I’ll follow rules and orders, I will not interrupt people’s conversations; I’m kind, honest, motivated, dedicated, and I want to be the best.”
But he was quick to add that the objective is “not to brainwash them.” He wants his students to think independently, yet do so after having shed all their bad habits.
At every Blue Dragon class’s beginning, the students bow to their instructors. At the end, they bow to their instructors again, then turn and bow to their parents and grandparents, in a show of gratitude for their guidance and support, and for bringing them to the school.
In his own observance of Taekwondo’s core tenets, Thac himself is constantly reevaluating his own performance as a teacher, the better to correct errors and instill required upgrades. Most recently, he established new class groups dividing the faster-excelling students from those in need of greater time. Mixing them all together was counter-productive, as it slowed the faster ones down while putting too much pressure on the rest. Moreover, Thac didn’t care to see the inherent risks that came about when more highly skilled students practiced against those with lesser skill; it wasn’t worth it.
Summing up the Academy in a nutshell, Nguyen said this: “A lot has to do with philosophy, [rather] than kicking and punching.”
Learn more about Blue Dragon Taekwondo Academy here: https://www.bluedragonacademy.com/