The Long Beach Khmer Kickboxing Center in the Washington neighborhood near Downtown caught fire over the weekend, leaving thousands of dollars in damages at a gym that has already been struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are “barely” surviving, said Ron Smith, 61, the co-owner and trainer at the gym, which is located on Anaheim Street near Park Court.
At around 9:10 p.m. Saturday night firefighters responded to a trash blaze in an adjacent alley that spread to the kickboxing center, said Long Beach Fire Department spokesperson Brian Fisk. Upon arrival, they were able to douse the fire in three minutes.
The cause of the trash fire is still unclear as the incident is still under investigation, he said.
While there was speculation on social media that fire was racially targeted, especially after seeing nationwide trends of hate crimes against Asian Americans, both Fisk and Smith, however, do not believe the fire was racially motivated.
Meas Ban, daughter of one of the owners, wrote in a GoFundMe page she organized for her father that the kickboxing gym carries historical weight in the city as her father, Oum Ry, opened his doors in 1987. They say the business is the first Khmer kickboxing gym in the nation.
Ry trained in Pradal Serey, a mixed martial arts style native to Cambodia, in his homeland and became an international champion in 1972, Ban said. But his days as a champion in his Cambodia were cut short when the Khmer Rouge genocide forced him to flee to the United States, she wrote.
After Ry established his gym, another fighter, Ron Smith, became a co-owner after having been a member of the gym. Together they’ve provided a safe space for the community, especially for youth. International mixed martial artist Sovannahry Em also trained there.
The gym focuses on teaching Pradal Serey and Muay Thai. Ry, 76, is now retired, Smith said.
Ban told the Post in a social media message that her father declined to be interviewed.
“The gym is an escape for many people, most of whom want a place away from the harsh realities of everyday life,” Ban wrote.
Smith, who lives in Compton, said that they once trained students on probation in the 1990s as means to provide intervention from delinquency.
Now, Smith waits to see how much insurance will cover in damages and estimates to reopen the gym in the next month or two, he said. So far, the community has donated more than $5,000.
“Feel like we did something right to get all this love,” Smith said.