Fighting for a cause

When Andrew Le joined Valor Martial Arts, head coach Marcio Navarro described him as “a very shy kid with low confidence.” Now as an amateur MMA fighter who has competed in several spectated events, Le is ready to use his newfound fighting skills, confidence and self-control to tackle even greater challenges, like providing free training to impoverished children and financially assisting mentally and physically disabled youths, all while being the “same humble kid that stepped in the gym for the very first time.”

Le, a Wichita native who is graduating this spring with a social work degree, faced years of torment during his early life because of his Asian heritage and accent. As a result, Le was involved in countless fights at the several elementary and middle schools he attended. 

While bullying made school a nightmare, he found solace with his family. Le was heavily influenced by his favorite cousin who was a boxer at the time. The cousin would take “little Andrew” on training runs and teach him basic fighting moves, many of which Le would use for self defense from his classmates.

While surrounded by loved ones, Le could not always be protected by them. The schoolyard was foreign territory, and Le had no one but himself. After being involved in multiple fights, Le finally decided that enough was enough.

“I got sick of getting talked down on,” Le said. “I was like ‘You know what, I’m gonna stand up for myself.’”

Naturally, fighting back got Le into plenty of trouble, and as a result, his grades began to slip. It was only during his senior year of high school that Le began to seriously pursue martial arts training. Le began attending classes at Valor Martial Arts in 2018, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“I met some amazing people down there (at Valor) and they ignited my passion,” Le said. “The gym has such a great environment too. I have a great community behind me as well. They always push me to my limits. They’re always encouraging me. And they are always there for me when I need them the most. Anyone who walks in there, they treat you like family.”

Since 2018, Le has taken part in countless jiu jitsu matches and several official kickboxing fights. He stands at one win, one loss and one draw, much to the joy of his coaches. Now employed by Valor as a kids kickboxing coach, receptionist and substitute instructor, Le credits much of his success and skill to his selfless mentors, including instructor Marcio Navarro.

Navarro, whom Le sees as a father figure, is the head coach and leader of Valor. Not only is Navarro a BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and kickboxing black belt, but he is also the 2012 Boxing world champion. Two other instructors and prominent figures in Le’s life are Chris and Jennifer, or more affectionately known as ‘Mama Jen’, Hubener. Jennifer is the facility’s Women’s BJJ instructor but also serves as the matriarch of the gym. 

“Andrew is the same age as my son, so I have always been protective of him,” Jen Hubener said. “I actually am very honored that he thinks of me as his gym mom.”

As Le continues to train and hone his skills, he has begun shifting his focus to the bigger picture for his MMA career. Le hopes to one day fight professionally and donate large portions of his winnings to charities that support children with mental and/or physical disabilities. He aims to give back to the community that gave him so much — a purpose, passion and, above all, family.

In several of the matches that Valor students participate in, it is common for the winner of a fight to dedicate their win and prize money to a child with a serious disability, giving them the opportunity to stand on stage besides a professional fighter and feel the warmth of an adoring audience. 

One of Le’s very first spectated events, hosted in November of 2019, was a smoker match where the proceeds went toward suicide prevention. With Valor Martial Arts, Le was exposed early to compassion and kindness in the realm of pursuing professional fighting. Now, the social work major aims to use his degree and martial arts training to support communities in need.

“I want to make a college fund for kids in impoverished neighborhoods and donate a lot of my proceeds,” Le said. “Everything and anything to help the community out.”

Until then, Le will continue improving his martial arts skills in Wichita until he is provided the opportunity to go professional. While he knows he may have to travel out of state to accomplish his goals, he will never forget the city and its people that raised him. But until that day comes, you’ll likely be finding Le training at Valor Martial Arts alongside his “family.”

Support your local fighters. Support your local events. Support your local businesses,” Le said. “And come to Valor Martial Arts. They gave me a home, maybe they can give you a home.”