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A Martial Arts Journey to Health and Fitness

Written By Jessica Militello

When Chris Shea first joined New York Martial Arts Academy in 2017, he had just embarked on a serious commitment to revamp his health and fitness habits. Two years later, his determination and discipline to making positive changes led to a 75-pound weight loss in addition to adapting new principles into his life from Jeet Kune Do’s philosophy. 

Life as a Chef

Shea has built his professional career as a chef, traveling the world, and working with top industry professionals such as David Burke, whom he appeared with on Top Chef Masters in 2013. While Shea has dedicated his life to his craft, he managed to neglect his own well-being. 

“A lot of chefs think they’re in better shape than they are because they’re on their feet all day but you’re not,” said Shea. “I’m 42 years old, so I figured at this rate when I’m 52 or 62, I’m not going to be able to move, and it was very depressing. I started looking online, and I found New York Martial Arts Academy. When I came for the trial class, I knew it was what I needed.”

Martial Arts for Fitness as a New Habit

In Shea’s life at home, he didn’t always have the energy to keep up with his three kids, ages 4, 8, and 22. At the time, Shea wasn’t feeling his best, and with a history of heart disease in his family, he knew it was time to get serious about making major life changes to his diet and exercise habits. Shea wasn’t interested in a gym because he struggles to be self-motivated in that environment. However, after doing some online research, he stumbled upon New York Martial Arts Academy. At the time, he didn't even realize his trial class was scheduled for the Queens location, a borough Shea rarely frequents since he has always lived and worked in Manhattan. But Shea found the art so compelling that it wasn’t a deal breaker for him. In the trial class, he found himself struggling from the workout, but the instructors helped him through. For Shea, the workout, along with the teachings of the art, and his first impressions of the instructors made the decision to join easy for him to make. 

 Martial Arts for Weight Loss

As Shea immersed himself in the art’s training and philosophy, he noticed that JKD paralleled in many ways to life in the kitchen. The constant refinement of one’s tools and training can certainly apply to the fast-paced environment of being a chef. In the first few months his main goal was adjusting to the sudden onslaught of physical activity and being able to make it through the class. As he got used to his training and maintaining a healthy diet, he began making major strides in weight loss, and ultimately lost about 75 pounds.

“I had no weight loss goal,” said Shea. “I just knew I needed to lose weight and get in shape. Now that I’ve done more research, I feel like I’m at a healthy weight. Now I’m thinking about muscle; imagine that, that’s crazy. I would say regularly coming into class and trying to participate in the lifestyle keeps it in the forefront of your mind.”

Philosophy for Daily Life

For Shea the philosophy of the art has been influential in affecting his outlook on life. Since he started training, he has often implemented aspects of the philosophy in his every day conversations. When he noticed himself seamlessly applying these ideas, he realized that much of what is taught is not only a guide for the training floor, but throughout the journey of one’s life.

“I find myself subconsciously preaching some of the philosophy to other people,” said Shea. “When I first started doing it, I would catch myself and say, “stop that you don’t know what you’re saying,” and then I realized, you know what, a lot of it’s true. A lot of the things we learn in class really does flow out into the rest of your life in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined had I not come here. People think you’re going to a martial arts class to fight, but I don’t walk around thinking that, and I think the most important lessons that I learned here are more about the philosophy.”

A Fun and Positive Environment

Aside from his accomplishments in health and weight loss, Shea has also enjoyed the environment of the instructors and fellow students who train at New York Martial Arts Academy. For a man who already has his schedule full with a successful career and taking care of his family, the chance to learn JKD and train with others who are just as passionate about the art is a pleasant break from the routine of day-to-day life.

“There’s a really good community in this school and there’s all sorts of people who are really friendly,” said Shea. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a people person; I work with a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people, but my life is usually work and home. Sifu Jon [Astoria’s director] has his platitudes and he has a method of teaching that speaks to me. I’ve got a long way to go, but I take my time, and it does come together.”

Brand New Horizons

In the two years since Shea joined the school, he has enjoyed the many benefits that JKD can provide. His journey began from an honest look at his health, and a desire to improve his physical and mental well-being. 

For Shea, his training at the school has opened up the opportunity to be introduced to new perspectives that he had not discovered prior to his time at New York Martial Arts Academy.

“I never considered that I had shortened my own horizons,” said Shea. “Two and a half years ago I would have said that’s ridiculous. I’ve cooked in other countries, I’ve been doing what I want to do and then I come here and I [realized], I’m missing out on all of this stuff in the rest of the world. Because I come here, I walk around with a much more open mind, I have a much better idea of what I can do and I feel more confident about my potential.”