Saturday, November 24, 2007

Standing Engagement: Team Ryouko's XSD Program

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, Nov. 24, 2007]

Just like they do it in the movies!

From Shinobi to Kato to Leonardo and his crew, ninjas have long captured our imagination. They are notoriously shadowy figures, though. Uma Thurman had to travel to a remote Chinese village to learn her skills in Kill Bill. Fortunately, Torontonians only have to travel to Scarborough.

Nestled near Kennedy Road and the 401 is Sunny Tang Martial Arts School. Here, members of the Team Ryouko, a unique extreme entertainment company, put willing participants through their Xtreme Skills Development (XSD) program.

Chris and James Mark, brothers and co-founding Team Ryouko members, created XSD martial arts in 2001. "We developed our program because people came up to us after our shows, asking where they could learn this martial art," explains Chris.

Team Ryouko's style fuses traditional martial arts with capoeira, breakdancing and acrobatics. Individually, members have done stunt work on 300, Shoot 'em Up and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Collectively, the group has wowed local audiences at Massey Hall and international audiences via YouTube.

While traditional martial arts classes teach fighting and self-defence moves, XSD is all about performing movie stunt-like moves.

The program has four levels, including one on weapons training. Each class lasts an hour and its unique mixture of styles is perfect for a generation that embraces cultural fusion.

"We advertise XSD like a traditional martial arts program," says James. "The difference is that it's not combat, but fitness and performance."

"It's probably one of the most visually exciting martial arts you'll see," says Eric Daniel, an XSD instructor at Sunny Tang. "It's performance-based, so a lot of the moves that we do are flashier and more eye-catching, especially with the mix of acrobatics into it."

The emphasis on creativity and performing makes the class a big hit with students, who are encouraged to create heir own combinations of moves and aren't shy about their enthusiasm.

"I love it," says Sandra Ngo, a student at the school. "The reason I'm here is because any other martial arts class is boring. I'm a hyperactive person and I don't want to spend six months just doing basic drills."

XSD is helping Paul Karda, 49, get back in shape. "I knew that being on a treadmill would be too boring for me," he says. "This allows me to do something interesting while challenging myself."

Performing effortless flips may be enough for most students, but for some, there is another reward that keeps them working hard - a chance to be invited into Team Ryouko.

"Six of my students are now part of the Junior Ryouko team," says Chris Mark. "We train them once a week on stage performance and they have a big part in our live shows."

XSD is offered at Sunny Tang Martial Arts School (Unit B22-25, 2370 Midland Ave.), as well as at schools in Newmarket, Georgetown, Mississauga and Port Union. For details, call 416-321-5913 or vist

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