An Unusual One-Two Punch: Martial Arts and Math

Henry Nguyen, who teaches the seemingly unusual combination of math and martial arts. Photo by Kamala Kirk

Martial arts and math have a lot more in common than you might think.

So says Henry Nguyen, who back in 2018 founded Commando Combatives & Calculus, a South Pasadena business that teaches both.

“Both math and martial arts are skills that can be improved with practice and coaching,’’ said Nguyen. “They both require focus and discipline to master. Math is like martial arts. You need to apply yourself with focus and discipline.’’

While pursuing a rigorous academic path where he earned two Masters of Engineering degrees, an MBA and a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, Nguyen remained passionate about martial arts, and in his spare time studied tai-chi, karate and aikido.

In 2016, he began practicing self-defense based primarily on the fighting methods taught to allied commandos during World War II, and two years later decided to start his own business by offering private self-defense lessons and tutoring in math and electrical engineering.

To date, only one customer has studied both disciplines with Nguyen.

“I wanted to teach self-defense and I’ve tutored math in the past, so I combined both to offer a one-stop shop,” Nguyen explained.

“Of the different martial arts that I’ve studied, I’ve found that the military-grade fighting techniques for self-defense are the best solution. The moves are simple and it’s a system that is quick to learn, which makes for a fast learning curve so that students can save time and money on learning self-defense. I’ve also added some techniques that I’ve learned from other sources taught to U.S. Army Special Forces, CIA officers and U.S. Marines.”

For the self-defense portion of his business, Nguyen focuses on an adult clientele primarily, although he will offer instruction to students under the age of 18 who have gone through an application process, which consists of submitting a personal statement and two letters of recommendation.

“Before I take on a younger student, I want to know if he or she can be trusted with these skills that can be used to seriously injure another human being,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen offers tutoring to all ages in a variety of subjects, including math levels up to multi-variable calculus and electrical engineering.

For prospective martial-arts students, Nguyen offers a free 30-minute trial self-defense lesson. He also has a new student self-defense trial package that provides two hours of lessons for the price of a half-hour, in addition to pre-paid packages with multiple lessons.

“Most martial arts take years of learning before you can properly defend yourself, but for a sufficiently self-motivated student, one hour of my self-defense lessons per month combined with them practicing on their own for several hours each week may be enough for them to develop a fighting skill,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen also provides free tutoring services to individuals who are planning to join the military and need help passing the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Test.

“I do it for free because I’m a big supporter of the military,” Nguyen said. “I find it very rewarding to help people.”

Prospective, current and former military and law enforcement personnel are also eligible to receive a discount on self-defense lessons from Nguyen. He offers one free hour of self-defense lessons per month for anyone who plans to join the military or police.

“What I really enjoy is the fact that I’m helping people succeed and lead safer lives,” Nguyen said. “I think self-defense is a basic life skill that everyone should learn, like swimming or cooking. Even in a town as safe as South Pasadena, things do happen, so it’s important to be prepared.”

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