Ron Wheeler, a former martial arts national champion with training in taekwondo, kung fu and tai chi, now teaches college girls how to uppercut, right hook and roundhouse kick.
Wheeler’s cardio-kickboxing class has become famous among GW students. Trained in martial arts, Wheeler is responsible for pushing students to their max while educating them about their bodies and how to exercise safely and appropriately.
Wheeler, an exercise science professor, has taught the one-credit cardio-kickboxing class twice a week for several semesters.
Wheeler’s interest in martial arts began at age 12 while growing up in the D.C. area. But when his friends went off to take formal classes, he had to rely on what he calls “back-alley kung fu.”
“I had a lot of friends who went to martial arts classes, but I couldn’t afford it, so instead, I learned from them,” Wheeler said.
At 14, Wheeler attended a summer camp where he learned kempo karate, and by 15 he was receiving instruction in kung fu. After advanced study in martial arts at the Jow Ga Kung Fu Association, Wheeler became a certified martial arts instructor in 1990.
Though Wheeler has been trained in a variety of martial arts disciplines, he does not merely use his skills to teach. He also uses them to compete. As he put it, “asking if I have ever competed is like asking if the world is round.”
Wheeler’s list of martial arts accomplishments includes the title of National Champion in 1997 and 1999 and four gold and two silver medals at the USA Wu Shu Kung Fu Federation 2007 National Competition. In 2003, the U.S. China Kuoshu Federation named Wheeler the Male Competitor of the Year. He also achieved two gold medals at the First World Traditional Wushu Festival in Zhengzhou, China.
“I compete in everything: forms, weapons and fighting,” he said.
His list of accomplishments leaves one as winded as his 50-minute classes in the K Gym. But how does a martial arts champion suddenly come to teach college girls cardio-kickboxing?
While working at a gym in Cleveland Park called City Fitness, the owners requested that Wheeler take a cardio-kickboxing class.
He first taught a class at the World Bank, a class he still teaches today. He also teaches at LA Boxing, a popular chain in the area.
“I get a lot of elements from traditional Chinese martial arts,” Wheeler said. “Unless you have my background and knowledge of martial arts, you will not be able to explain the purpose behind every move like I do.”
Students know Wheeler as fun, energetic and humorous. He attributes this to his active lifestyle and the fact that he wakes up each morning and lives his passion – something most people aspire to but rarely achieve.
“Ron has so much energy and passion for what he does. He makes kickboxing fun and educational,” said Maria Cheung, one of Wheeler’s students.
Wheeler educates students on their bodies, quizzing them throughout their workout on their different muscles. He also has his students record various exercises they can do outside of class to stay in shape.
“He wants us to get the most out of our workouts and pushes us hard, but he always looks out for us,” Cheung said.
Wheeler is also writing his first book about his experiences in martial arts. He plans to submit a copy to his publisher this week.