On the Record
by Daniel Bush
May 05, 2009 | 18777 views | 0 0 comments | 635 635 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don't mess with Ben Gonzales, because the 48-year-old, six-degree black belt from Brownsville knows his stuff. Each day he ensures others do, too, at The Rock Fitness Center in Ridgewood where a new boxing and martial arts program is slowly gaining popularity.

Though Gonzales teaches youth how to box, he said the program's true goal is to provide them with a safe and positive learning environment.

"We're trying to reach out to the community and keep kids off the streets," said Gonzales, who helped found the gym with a business partner, Mark Ortiz, in 2008.

The gym, which operates out of the basement of the United Presbyterian Church of Ridgewood on 60th Place, currently has a growing list of roughly 250 members, some of them area youth interested in picking up martial arts skills from the veteran Gonzales.

He said he turned to the sport after graduating from high school in the 1970's after growing up in a tough neighborhood as a child.

"It was tough in Brownsville" back then, said Gonzales. He took up martial arts along with his brother "to keep me and my brother out of trouble."

The sport became more than a passing interest, however. Over the years Gonzales developed a true passion for martial arts, and a desire to teach others.

Gonzales said he had been running a martial arts center out of his Howard Beach home when Ortiz suggested they open a combined martial arts-fitness center at United Presbyterian in Ridgewood. (The Rock Fitness is a faith-based organization, Gonzales said).

At The Rock, Gonzales now teaches several forms of martial arts, among them jujitsu and taekwondo, as well as boxing. The modestly priced boxing program, run from between 5 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, already has 25 recruits, said Gonzales. Most are from Ridgewood and Queens but word has spread and some come from Brooklyn and even the Bronx. He said most participants are just there for a good workout, but end up learning valuable life lessons in the process.

"The kids are interested in boxing fitness, they're not looking to be pro fighters," said Gonzales, but "the kids who box here are doing better in school and their behavior is better at home."

For Gonzales, this means mission accomplished, though he and Ortiz hope to one day expand the gym to a larger facility. In the meantime, Gonzales said, he'll continue working with kids. In each one, he said, he sees a little of himself.

"The reason I'm here is to give back to kids the same opportunities I had growing up to stay off the street," Gonzales said.

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