All images from Master Russian Martial Arts & Fitness Academy’s Facebook

Liberia has more than 250 black belts in taekwondo. Martial arts master Junior Pewee Russian shared this number and other facts with Go Team Liberia. Meet the master and read how his academy grooms young martial artists.

The Master

Alias: Master Russian

Sport: Taekwondo and Wushu (Chinese martial arts)

Level: Ninth Degree Black Belt (5 in taekwondo, 4 in wushu)

Accolades: 2007 African Taekwondo Championship (bronze); 11th Zhengzhou International Shaolin Wushu Festival (gold)

Positions: Liberia National Wushu Association, Technical Director

The Academy

Master Russian owns a popular martial arts center called Master Russian Martial Arts & Fitness Academy. Over 200 students attend the school, located in the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex (SKD Complex), in Monrovia, Liberia. At the academy, students study taekwondo (a Korean martial art) and wushu (Chinese martial arts). On weekends, white uniforms line up in rows throwing synchronized kicks and punches. As a result, loud chants ranging from 3 to almost 60 years old fill the yard. Each student comes to the academy for different reasons. Perhaps the most impressive reason is because Master Russian trains the young martial artists for free. At the same time, he admits offering free classes is a struggle.

“At 3 am, I leave home to start my day as a private personal trainer,” he says. His clients pay ten US dollars a month. He uses much of this money for the academy. Of course, these funds alone cannot sustain the center. Master Russian also uses donations from kind colleagues. For instance, Liberia’s chief commercial court  judge, honorable Eva Mappy Morgan, has donated uniforms and equipment. In a 2018 Facebook post, Master Russian thanks her.

Students pose with donated items.

Young Liberian students practicing martial arts at Master Russian’s academy.

Former Minister of Education, madame Etmonia David Tarpeh has also helped the academy. Tarpeh gave Master Russian space at the SKD Complex, in 2007.  Back then, she was Minister of Youth and Sports and Master Russian did not have a facility. He taught on beaches, in unfinished buildings, and at the American Cooperative School (ACS) compound. When Master Russian moved to the SKD Complex he turned his late master’s Scorpion Taekwondo Club into the academy.

After almost ten years in the SKD Complex yard, the Chinese government constructed a gym behind the stadium. Then the academy expanded into that gym.

Liberia’s Next Generation

Over time, Master Russian’s academy has become a valuable space for young martial artists. There, they learn basic principles that can help them in life. Principles such as discipline, humility, patience, consistency, hard work, integrity, service to others and more.

“You cannot be a martial artist and be a cheater,” he says.

Master Russian applies his personal life and over 30 years experience to his training. For this, parents bring their children to learn from him. When he recruits Liberian children in the streets, he relates to their less fortunate backgrounds. He can reel them in because he grew up without a father and lost his mother at a young age. He even slept on Bernard’s Beach when he didn’t have a home. However, he credits two factors for his success. “God first. Martial arts second.”

Thus far, the academy has graduated 50 black belts in taekwondo alone. With assistance from the Chinese government, Master Russian has carried four top students to China. There, the students have either studied or competed in wushu events. He wants young martial artists to succeed, the same way his masters wanted his success. “My masters were like fathers to me,” he shares. His late Masters Tarmah, Hong Jo Kim and Prinston Anderson each played an important part in Russian’s development. Now, it’s his turn to impact others. With the right support he wants to continue doing such.

“I want young students to stay focused and pursue their dreams. It’s only God who can determine their success,” he concludes.