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Indonesian Martial Arts Find Home in Utah

Martial arts imported from East Asia have long been part of the U.S. sports landscape. For decades, it has been common to see American students take self-defense classes in Taekwondo from Korea and Judo from Japan. One school in the western U.S. state of Utah is teaching something a bit different from Indonesia - Merpati Putih.

The founders are brothers, Nate and Mike Zeleznick. The movements and instructions are in native Indonesian. Unique to this class, the students use Javanese words as they learn Merpati Putih.

Located in Ogden, Utah and established in 1999, it is the only such school in the U.S.

Mike Zeleznick said they try to teach the students more than just self-defense.

"So we teach all the movements, all the techniques for fighting, for everything, in Bahasa Indonesia," he said. "I really want to share the culture of Indonesia, the beauty, the people, and the aspect, you know, comes from a very long lineage of royalty in Indonesia. So we would like to share that with everybody and really get them to think outside the box and willing to step up and travel and explore and have fun in the world, because you know, it is a big playground out there, and Indonesia is an amazing treasure."

They have more than 150 students and none of them are from Indonesia.

Nate Zeleznick said breathing techniques are at the core of the training for adult students. Strength gained is tested by breaking stones, iron and more based on the level of the student.

Advanced student Scotty Newton says the class is always challenging.

"I feel good, I feel calm," he said. "I have been doing Merpati Putih for 11 years now, so I have broken a lot of things, and I have had many struggles and many fails, failed attempts, and many successes, too."

But breaking things is not the main appeal for students like Tammy Anderson.

"I am a physical therapist and I do a lot of healing, it worked. So I actually got into this more for the healing side," she said. "I spent a lot of time fighting when I was growing up, and I really do not like to hit things. I spent ten years trying not to hit things, so I really did not really want to break that."

Teachers and students say Merpati Putih, which means "white dove," is not so much about fighting as it is about reaching one’s true potential.