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The Calm Warrior


Martial arts leads to a life filled with fitness, strength and peace of mind.


Sam Killpack, senior instructor at Shaolin-Do New Orleans Martial Arts, was born and raised in southeast Alabama. He later moved to Birmingham and then to New Orleans in 2010 after starting a computer programming job where he could work from home. It was during his time in Birmingham that he first became interested in meditation and yoga — interests that would later lead him to martial arts.

“Around this time, I also started watching tons of kung fu movies,” he says. “I was inspired by how the protagonists would work extremely hard to increase their own physical abilities and willpower so that they could increase their capacity to help others. I moved to Bywater in 2010 and was very excited to find a kung fu studio in the neighborhood. I started taking classes there and never looked back. I knew what the practice had done for my life, and I was very grateful, and I was honored when given the opportunity to [teach others] what I had learned.”

Shaolin-Do has been at its current location on St. Claude Avenue in Bywater for more than 15 years. When Killpack moved here in 2010, he immediately began training with head instructor Sifu Joseph Meissner. Over the years, he has worked his way up to be a senior instructor and studio manager.

“I love being able to share my passion for meditative-based martial arts with others by teaching kung fu and tai chi classes geared toward increasing health and mental fortitude,” Killpack says. “For a lot of people, our bodies can be a source of pain and suffering, and Chinese martial arts are a time-tested way of not only becoming stronger, but being able to find and release tension from your body that would ultimately lead to discomfort and disease. The better people feel, the more they are able to help others, which creates a feedback loop that lends itself to a more peaceful and just world.”

While most physical exercise is about building strength, increasing flexibility and efficiency, and cardiovascular fitness, kung fu combines all of these aspects with the added benefits of self-defense and meditative skills. “So while you’re getting in shape, you’re also learning to calm your mind in tense situations and use your body forcefully if needed,” Killpack says. “At Shaolin-Do, you don’t just work out, you learn very practical life skills.”

In addition to offering kung fu programs for both kids and adults throughout the week (complete with belt-ranks to reward dedicated practice), Shaolin-Do also offers an all-levels Self-Defense Fitness class on Saturdays and tai chi classes that start by focusing on gentle, efficient movement; coordination; balance; breath; and meditative focus.

As for Killpack’s personal fitness routine, he is currently focusing mostly on tai chi. That means that his home practice consists mostly of what could be called standing meditation. “[This is] where I stand and try to strengthen my connection with the ground by finding tension or holding in my body and releasing it to gravity,” Killpack says. “Other than that, I take yoga classes from Stephen Lang at Reyn Studios and do kung fu and integrated strength training with Sifu Brian Adams of Cypress Fitness.” 4210 St. Claude Ave., (504) 944-1880, nolashaolin.com


“In the long term, I believe you have to determine what you see as your purpose in life, and then connect your physical abilities to that purpose,” Killpack says. “If your purpose is to be a good parent, to help others or to become successful in some pursuit, you need to ask yourself, ‘What is the optimum body type that would allow me to excel in this pursuit?’ Then you shape your fitness goals to accommodate that. This gives you big-picture inspiration to fall back on when you’re feeling worn out or unmotivated. In the short term, I find that apps that track your daily consistency are an easy way to stay motivated on the day-to-day level.”

“It’s all about proteins and greens at every meal,” Killpack says. “I’m a pescatarian so, to get protein, I eat a lot of eggs, greek yogurt, pea protein powder, nuts and sardines. I try to eat at regular intervals before I get really hungry so that I can make smart decisions. This consistency allows me to not feel guilty about treating myself every now and then like when I sit down to a big plate of nachos, my favorite food.”

“I like to think that Shaolin-Do is more about giving people tools to achieve any goals in life, rather than just fitness goals,” Killpack says. “By focusing on building will-power, and releasing tension, we set people up with the self-confidence for personal accomplishment in all aspects of life. I get most excited when I hear people say they were able to walk out of a theater for the first time without pain, or that they have noticed they can quell anger more easily, or that they used the accommodation principles of tai chi in the courtroom. These are success stories beyond losing weight or gaining muscle mass.”

“First, I suggest taking classes,” Killpack says. “Classes will allow you to learn from someone who has already gone down the path that you’re beginning, and you’ll connect with a community of people who are on the same path. And more importantly, achieving any goal requires long-term consistency. It’s the same for fitness. You have to find something that keeps you interested and engaged mentally, as well as physically. A fitness program can’t be boring or you won’t stick with it. You have to find something that you want to do multiple times a week, possibly for the rest of your life. Once you find this and make it part of your routine, the results will come.”