From Columbia County to China and Back


By Brian Radewitz
Published: The Register Star

HILLSDALE — The saying goes, “If you love your job you will never work a day in your life.” It’s safe to say that Taconic Hills graduate Lucas Geller won't be punching the clock and dreading a day at the office anytime soon. Geller realized his passion for martial arts at an early age and by opening the Chinese Martial Arts Academy — in conjunction with Pil-Sung Martial Arts — on Wolf Road in Albany, he is now hoping to pass on to others the knowledge he’s accrued.The full-time instructor may be young at just 28 years old, but he’s acquired a vast wealth of knowledge of various forms of Kungfu. His journey in martial arts began when he was just 5 years old, studying in Kyukoshin Karate.

“It’s actually an art that I still study technique from and have great admiration for,” Geller said. “I trained for several years before giving the practice up for more traditional sports.”

After trying ice hockey and soccer, martial arts pulled Geller back in around the age of 13 — and this time its grasp was firm.

He began studying Kungfu in Albany under the watchful eyes of Jiang Jianye and his wife, Lu Yuzhi.

“I think, at the time, fantasy is what drew me to Kungfu,” Geller explained. “Watching those old Kungfu movies, I felt like a 5-year-old again watching the Ninja Turtles. I watched 36 Chambers of Shaolin and all the old Shaw Brothers films. I was inspired by the martial artists’ resolve, their discipline, their flying kicks that saved the day and their ability to do it all and still get the girl.”

From that point on, Geller dedicated himself and became fully immersed in the sport. By the time he was 16 he was waking up at 3:30 a.m. to do morning stretches and get in two hours of practice before heading to school.

When it came time to leave Taconic Hills and choose a college, Geller decided to attend Towson University in Maryland.

“I went there because I had been to a (martial arts) competition there when I was 14,” he said. “Also, I wanted to go there because the president of the USA Wushu-Kungfu Federation has a school there.”

Geller performed in a solo training session for the president and was asked to be a coach at the school.

With an eagerness to continue learning, the Hillsdale native decided to defer his enrollment at Towson for one year to attend the Beijing Sports University in China.

“It’s pretty intense. In America, you can wrestle at Iowa State, but in China, you major in martial arts,” Geller said. “While in China, I linked up with some high-level U.S. Wushu athletes and learned the most reputable school back in the U.S. was located just outside of Washington, D.C.”

That bit of information led Geller on his next journey and he immediately began the process of transferring to George Mason University, which was a 15-minute drive from the D.C. school. Geller received a B.A. in International Studies with a minor in Chinese — a language in which he is now fluent — from George Mason.

Over the course of the next four years, Geller returned to China, enrolling in two summer sessions. One summer he trained at the Beijing Capital College of Physical Education and during the other he attended the Shandong Provincial Wushu Institute.

Geller was honored with the Chinese Government Scholarship, which enabled him to attend a Chinese University of his choice for one year. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, he chose Sichuan University where he was able to train with a professional team at the Chengdu Sports University.

Education on all fronts continued as Geller headed to Ohio State University, where he earned an M.A. in Advanced Chinese Language and Culture, focusing his research on U.S.-China relations. During his second year of graduate school, Geller once again traveled abroad, spending time at the Nanjing University, where he was able to participate on the Nanjing City Youth Team.

He eventually competed on the USA Wushu Team and won a silver medal at the Pan-American Wushu Games in Brazil in 2008.

“It sounds confusing, but everything just worked out,” he said. “Every school I went to seemed eager to help me on my path, not only in getting to China to study and train there, but even helping me make sure I got lots of college credit for my time there through ‘independent,’ self-designed courses — such as photo essays, journals and other papers I wrote about Chinese culture.”

Although Geller has trained in numerous forms of martial arts, including Kungfu, Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he is most confident in teaching his students Wushu Taolu (forms), Wushu Sanshou (fighting), Tai chi and Qigong.

Wushu Taolu, as Geller explains it, refers to all Chinese martial arts — much like the American word Kungfu.

“Wushu trains martial-art patterns and maneuvers comprised of basic movements inherent in traditional ‘Kungfu’ routines (stances, kicks, punches, balances, jumps, sweeps and throws),” he said. “However, while basic-techniques training remains central to our practice, as a modern exhibition sport, Wushu competitors are increasingly training more acrobatic jump kicks to add more difficulty and style to their forms.”

Part of that increased difficulty includes incorporating staffs and swords into the routines — something at which Geller excels.

Sanshou is essentially China’s version of mixed martial arts. It includes kickboxing, traditional Chinese boxing and Chinese wrestling and grappling techniques.

For many who have Geller’s experience, teaching is a natural progression, but it took him awhile to realize his desire to teach.

“I had talked about having a school one day, but it had always been in the abstract,” he said. “I never saw myself teaching. I thought that it would take away from my training. I wanted to pursue the martial arts a bit more selfishly and focus on my own practice first and foremost.”

After graduate school, that mindset began to change as Geller saw his personal training time dwindle to as little as one or two hours a day after work and on weekends.

“I want to devote my life to the martial arts. In addition to running the business side of things, I am teaching about 20 hours a week and still making time to get my own training in,” he said. “Honestly, it’s exhausting, physically, but emotionally, I am supercharged.

“Now, while I remain as focused on my own growth as a martial artist, I have really become excited about teaching, as well,” he added. “It wasn’t until I began teaching that I realized how much I have to offer. So many years of dedicated practice has given me a lot of insight into the arts.”

Once teaching full time became a viable option, the question became, “where?”

“I had been considering other places, but something about coming back to Albany kept sticking out in my mind,” he said.

Geller sought the advice of his former teacher and made a call to Jianye.

“I asked what he thought if I wanted to come to Albany — he said it was a great idea and that he’d support me if that’s what I chose,” Geller explained. “Between that and knowing that my family — my support system — would be close by, it was an easy decision.”

Geller, a Shifu (Master), realizes he has much more to learn — and then, in turn, teach — and is continuing to train in as many different art forms as he can.

“Martial arts isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “There is no offseason. To be a martial artist you have to be persistent, train hard and strive for continual self-improvement. Being a martial artist is part of your identity, something you carry with you each and every day.”