Chinese martial arts center in Madison has stayed active since 1995

The Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association's competitive kickboxing team has gotten back together for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of the month.
Ferreria and his whole team giving the camera a thumbs up.
Photo courtesy of ZYKFA.
Nelson Ferreira has been teaching martial arts in Madison for over 25 years.

The Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association (ZYKFA) has been thriving since Shifu Nelson Ferreira first opened its doors in 1995, and it continues to be active to this day.

Ferreira was born in New York City, but grew up in Rio De Janeiro where he learned martial arts from Dr. Wu Chao-hsiang, a Taiwanese master of Northern Shaolin, Kuo Shu and Chinese styles.

He moved to Madison in 1989 after his brother was accepted into the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and began teaching at the Tai Chi Center of Madison — which is still open on Fairway Drive — before deciding to start his own school in ‘95.

The curriculum at ZYKFA is based on the three pillars of Chinese martial arts — health, aesthetic beauty and applicability. Northern Shaolin kung fu emphasizes health, lion dances are taught for aesthetic beauty and Chinese kickboxing is taught as an applicable skill.

“They all intertwine together a little bit, no one [pillar] stands out above the rest,” Ferreira says. “Chinese kickboxing is more for combat, but it also has forms and weapons training from Northern Shaolin. And of course the entire culture [like lion dances] are very rich and important to martial arts.”

Ferreira says ZYKFA is actually an old-school martial arts gym. The Chinese name for the school includes the phrase Guo Shu, a term with roots to martial arts schools in the 1950’s. 

Part of being a more traditional school means becoming part of the community ZYKFA resides in. The school puts on lion dances each year for Chinese New Year, plus events like weddings, festivals and birthday parties.

“The team can be anywhere from 15-30 people [for lion dances], so wherever we go gets turned into an instant party,” Ferreira says. “We want that to be a positive part of our community, because the lion is kind of the heart that puts positivity into the world.”

The ZYKFA Lion Dance team competing at an international competition.

The ZYKFA Lion Dance team (Photo courtesy of ZYKFA)

Part of the uniqueness of ZYKFA comes from their students as well. Ferreira says that in most gyms you would find about 80% kids and 20% adults learning, but at his gym the ratio is more like 20% kids and 80% adults.

That allows Ferreira and ZYKFA to attend and speak at national and international seminars, along with going to tournaments and competitions around the U.S. and abroad. 

“The thing that I really enjoy seeing is the growth of the student — not just in terms of being technically efficient — but the personal growth when they get to participate in [tournaments and seminars],” Ferreira says. “We get to meet our brothers and sisters and see them doing the same thing as us halfway around the world.”

When it comes to tournaments, ZYKFA’s competitive kickboxing team has gotten back together for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of the month.

The team has started training for a national event in Baltimore in late July, and hopes to make it further into international competition. Ferreira himself competed in the event in 1993, before his school was even open, and has had a ZYKFA representative at the competition in some form every year since.


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In 2018 and 2019 the ZYKFA Lion Dance Team received the runner up and third place awards respectively in the MGM International Lion Dance Championships, where as many as 18 countries have teams competing. It was the first time an American team won a top three spot at an international event of that scale.

“For the sake of the school, and the good people at the school, meeting others and letting them know that, you know what? The United States has some great people, and Wisconsin has some great people,” he says.

While the gym could be a little bigger, and the ceilings a little taller, Ferreira says he wants the next 27 years of ZYKFA to look a lot like the first 27.

“For us, we want to continue doing the right thing, and continue to grow and be progressive,” he says. “And [for me to] always give my best to the students who are members of the community as well.”

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