WKU alumnus creates warriors in Bowling Green

Kevin Taylor, 47, and Wendell Cherry, 35, spar at Kentucky Grapplers gym in Bowling Green, Ky on Aug. 30, 2016. Owner Kevin Taylor tries to teach the warriors fighting method. “A warriors mentality is training to protect the people behind me,” he explains. “Not just fighting the person in front of me.”

Emma Austin

An old Chinese proverb tells the story of a young martial arts student who asks his teacher why he must learn how to fight, if he must also learn to be calm and at peace. The teacher responds by saying it is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.

Kevin Taylor, owner and instructor of Kentucky Grapplers, a martial arts school in Bowling Green, said he bases his training around the idea offered by this story.

Taylor said he began training in karate as a 10-year-old, and was internationally ranked by the time he was 13. In the following years, he studied various other styles of martial arts and self-defense, including heavyweight fighting, boxing and Wing Chun Kung Fu.

In the 1980s, Taylor trained under Sifu Larry Hartsell, who studied under Bruce Lee. He then spent five years travelling to countries throughout the world as Hartsell’s assistant, teaching seminars for law enforcement teams and SEAL teams.

After returning to the United States, Taylor said he went back to college to earn a degree in theater and sociology at WKU. He then spent 10 years doing professional theater work while teaching karate and massage therapy in Louisville.

Taylor said he decided to move back to Bowling Green about two years ago after getting married.

“Since I grew up doing martial arts here, I figured it was a good time to open up a school instead of just teaching out of my garage,” Taylor said.

Following this decision, Taylor opened Kentucky Grapplers. He said the school offers 40 classes a week that focus on four different martial arts: Wing Chun, Kali-Silat, Jun Fan and Jeet Kune Do and Applied Eskrima.

Taylor said he trains his students to develop a warrior’s mentality, rather than a fighter’s mentality.

“If I’m preparing for a fight, I know there’s somebody I’m going to try to beat in a month,” Taylor said.

On the other hand, Taylor explained that a warrior constantly trains in case he has to defend himself or somebody else. Taylor said this mentality allows training to be a continuous process, as opposed to working towards a short-term goal like a fight.

Bowling Green resident Herb Travis said he has been a student at Kentucky Grapplers since it opened, when he began training in the martial arts to improve his health. In addition to losing 70 pounds and regulating his blood sugar levels, Travis said the exercise has helped decrease pain caused by his psoriatic arthritis.

Taylor explained the movement in different Cali training exercises helps stretch and strengthen the ligaments and tendons in the hands and wrists, reducing nerve pain.

Taylor said studies have shown when the hand crosses the centerline of the body, it helps reset the nervous system. Taylor said the Cali patterns have been used to help people with cerebral palsy or other nerve damage.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” Travis said. “It’s a great workout, and [Taylor] is a great teacher.”

While martial arts training offers many of the same physical benefits as other sports and exercises, Taylor said it goes a step further by teaching defense skills that could potentially save a life.

Taylor said he emphasizes this notion when teaching women’s self-defense classes.

“A lot of southern women are raised to be or feel like second-class citizens,” Taylor said. “If a male imposes, they’re trained to smile and be nice.”

Taylor said he often meets women who don’t think they could hurt someone even in an act of self-defense.

“But then you ask a mother, ‘what if someone attacked your child?’ and they say ‘well, I’d rip their eyes out,” Taylor said. He said he uses this example to show the women their ability to defend themselves, returning to the warrior mentality of defending not only yourself, but loved ones as well.

“We train for love,” Taylor said. “Protecting the people that we love, that’s why we do this.”

Taylor said simply displaying confidence and strength can save a person from becoming a victim of a predator, who purposely targets someone who appears weak or distracted.

“That’s part of our idea of trying to build each other up,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to fight.”

Taylor said the school currently has a dozen students. These students typically form a routine of training a little bit every day, coming into the facility after work or during free time.

“We’re not here to train top fighters,” Taylor said. “I think this is a good atmosphere for people who have an interest but might be scared to start. We take everybody from where they are; we raise everybody up.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emmacaustin.