Printed on: November 27, 2012

Kung Fu maestro

Martial Arts Academy in Idaho Falls teaches self-defense, discipline

By Zach Kyle

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest installment of the Post Register's ongoing Small Business Success Stories series. The series spotlights some of the area's homegrown businesses and companies. To suggest a business to highlight, send an email with a brief description of the company to

"Master Ken" has a nice ring to it, as far as business titles go.

That's what students call Kenneth Hensley, owner and head instructor of the Martial Arts Academy in Idaho Falls.

Hensley and his staff teach a variety of martial arts styles to about 150 students.

Among those students is Amy Cushman, who is training for her black belt in Kung Fu San Soo. Her son, Mitch Cushman, 17, already is a Kung Fu San Soo black belt. Her 14-year old son, James, is a green belt.

Cushman said she started taking classes three years ago after watching Mitch develop his skills.

"It gives me a real sense of confidence," she said "In today's society, you never know who you will encounter or where. I feel very confident that in any situation I could take care of myself, and my kids could take care of themselves. We'd be OK, and that's important."

Hensley found his calling in martial arts at 14. One of seven siblings in a poor family, he said he grew up in a rough California community, where street smarts and a few martial arts belts only helped.

"It was a real tough time in my life," Hensley said. "All my friends were getting in trouble. From the very first class I took, I fell in love with it."

After becoming an expert fighter, Hensley taught for 15 years before starting his own academy in California in 2001. Wanting to get his kids away from the fast pace and crime of Riverside, Calif., he moved his family to Salmon in 2004. He started a new studio, Salmon Idaho Kung Fu San Soo.

In 2008, he started the Martial Arts Academy Idaho Falls. The Salmon studio is operated by two of Hensley's former students.

Hensley teaches many styles, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, kick boxing and mixed martial arts.

But the heart of Hensley's training is Kung Fu San Soo, which he described as a street-fighting style designed to minimize threats as quickly as possible -- and by any means necessary.

Hensley doesn't teach eye-gouging, groin kicks and other suppressive techniques of the pure style that would be inappropriate for children, he said.

His goal is to teach discipline and self-defense in a family friendly environment.

Hensley encourages his students to be well-rounded athletes and participate in sports outside of martial arts.

"Here, you work on your legs, cardio, hands, hand-eye coordination," he said. "Everything we do in our style intertwines with all kinds of sports. The way soccer players move their feet, or a baseball player swings a bat, is similar to what we teach in our style."

Cushman said she'll stick with the training after her sons head off to college.

"It's something that, no matter what your (body) build, you can either do everything or just do certain aspects," she said. "It's about getting out and staying active both physically and mentally. I think it's a really great activity."

Zach Kyle can be reached at 542-6746.

Martial Arts Academy

740 West Broadway in Idaho Falls. Call 542-4425.