Oakland martial arts gym praised for free kids training, now expanding

A martial arts gym in Oakland, that was once begging kids on the streets to join, is now so successful they’re having to turn families away. 

Now, the need is so great, they’re more than quadrupling their space in size so they can continue giving back to the community. 

Guardian, a fitting name for a boxing and jiu jitsu gym is valued for much more than it's combat training.

“I feel like doing martial arts here helps me relieve some anger,” said Oakland student, Leoul Aman. 

When asked, what he leaves at the door before coming into the gym, Aman said mostly bullying. At just 12-years-old Aman has had to overcome serious physical and emotional obstacles.

“Because I'm bald, I have alopecia and a bunch of kids at school are always making fun me. They'll say I have cancer and whenever I have to work in a group at school it's very hard to find a group because everyone says if they touch me or they touch anything I touch they'll get cancer,” said Aman. 

All of that changes at Guardian.

Co-Founder, Ben Kovacs opened this non-profit gym in Oakland back in 2016 to offer underprivileged youth, free training.

“It’s just my mom and I and it’s hard for her to pay for extracurriculars outside of school,” said Oakland student, Raquel Richardson.

Two years in, they're meeting more families, who feel Guardian would be an outlet for their younger children, but they've already outgrown their small, 1600 square foot space.

“We’ve probably turned away 200 families that called or emailed and say they wanted to have their kids training from (ages) 5 to 9 and we've said hey you have to wait until 10,” said Kovacs.

That was until Kovacs found a large 8,800 square foot space on Brush street. The plan is to transform the blank canvas into much more than just mats.

“We'll have the kids classroom right here, that will be the first major thing that you see other than the actual gym, it will be the entrance to the classroom,” said Kovacs. 

Kovacs showed KTVU the layout, excited about this comfortable, safe haven where kids will feed their minds and their bodies.

Local restaurants like Burma Bear and the Gastro Pig are helping to achieve that, with plans to deliver free food daily, so no child goes hungry.

It's always been a community effort, Kovacs says and is hoping that rings true when it comes time for the final push:
a fundraising campaign called A Dollar for Oakland.

“There's 420,000 residents in Oakland roughly. We need 420,000 more to build out our new space the way that we want to. If we can just get one dollar from every person in Oakland that will be enough to raise the money for the new space,” said Kovacs.

It’s a dream, inching closer to reality, one that looks to transcend community into a movement.

The fundraising campaign is set to launch in November. The completion of the new location is set for the start of the next school year.