Martial Arts, Self Defense, Community
Naga is a rare find for a martial arts and self defense school in Oregon. The art we train, Poekoelan, comes from Indonesia and is traditional and authentic. (“Naga” means “dragon” in Indonesian.) Around since 2003, our community is like none other, where you’ll find equal parts focus, compassion and grit.
Step through the doorway and onto the mats at Naga and the first thing you notice is the “vibe”.
Our training room is chock-full of sweaty faces, sparkling eyes and wide smiles. You’ll meet people of all ages, body shapes and ability levels inspired to step beyond self-imposed limits. From the resounding kiais of students finding the power of their voices to the calm hushed stillness of our quiet meditations, you’ll quickly discover that you feel right at home here regardless of your desired outcome. But that’s not all, you’ll be gifted with instructors who are compassionate, caring and rely upon positive reinforcement in their guidance. In this rich container, everyone can flourish – and that includes you.
The energy when I walked in was exactly what I was hoping for. Everyone was happy, having fun, learning and getting a good workout.Stefanie Carulli
Curious about where this journey might lead you?
Frequently Asked Questions
Who trains at Naga?
Our students come from all walks of life and range in age from 4-60+. They are moms, dads & grandparents, elementary, middle, high school & college students as well as young adults. We have musicians, baristas, professionals, cooks, artists, IT & development experts, law enforcement personnel, librarians, retailers, teachers, you name it.
Some people start training with us to get in shape, while others want something new and different in their workout. Naga is a safe and loving place where students are included and accepted.
We come together to challenge and support one another to be our best and highest selves.
What's the history of the art you teach and how did Naga come to be?
Imagine yourself in the jungles of Indonesia. As you walk along a path, feel the dappled sunlight filtering through the trees, the damp leaves crunching underfoot. Overhead in the trees, hear the monkeys, playful, devious, watching out for one another, taking care of their group. See the snake gliding across your path as it coils and slithers, with its fast whip-like strikes staying low or rising up to towering heights. Feel the woosh against your cheek as the air is gently moved by the crane flying by, elegant, graceful, peaceful and calm. And hear the growls and snarls of the tiger family teaching its cubs to stalk, leap and hunt. “Nothing you can do is wrong” is a saying in our art. Do your best, be present, bring your highest self to the training, and all your efforts come back to you in myriad and unexpected ways. That’s a promise.
From the centuries old traditions leading to the Shaolin Temple and beyond, the martial arts made its way across Asia. The people, the landscape and the culture of each country influenced the style that has come to be associated with it. For example, Karate is from Japan, Kung Fu is from China, Tae Kwan Do is from Korea and Penjat Silat is from Indonesia.
Poekoelan is an Indonesian art brought to this country by Willem (Willy) Johannes Christoffel Wetzel in 1956. It draws on the most effective elements of Kung Fu, Judo and Kendo. Poekoelan is a complete marital art in that it is much more than just kicking and punching. Students find well-being and empowerment of body, discipline of mind and strength of spirit. And so much more!
Throughout history, people studied the movements of animals and trained together across Asia. The Shaolin Monks formalized the martial arts as we know them today. Each region, country and people adapted the arts to suit their terrain, stature, strengths and weaknesses. In this way, martial arts continued to develop all across Asia. Indonesia was no different. Willy Wetzel, born in 1921, grew up in Indonesia, and by 10, began studying Poekoelan Tjimindie from a local master of the art. He attained the rank of 9th degree. In 1956, Wetzel, after a brief few years in the Netherlands, moved his family to the United States. Willy Wetzel’s life and times were tumultuous to say the least, and parts of it have become the fodder for books, movies and articles. The best we’ve read is a book written by Wim Wetzel, Willy’s eldest son. “Empty Open Hands” is an honest look at the life of this man whom many, to this day, revere, and at whose hands many have suffered as well. (Here is Wim Wetzel’s book.)
Wetzel opened a school in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and that is where Barbara Niggel began her training back in the 60’s when she was about 12. Under him, she competed in tournaments around the country and by 16, with his help, she opened a school and had students of her own. After Wetzel died, in 1975, she made her way to Cape Cod, Massachusetts where, to this day, she runs a fitness gym called “Willy’s” and teaches Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen.
Scott Montgomery and Janesa Kruse trained directly under Niggle. Janesa Kruse still runs a school in SE Portland, and Scott Montgomery can be found teaching at the “Grange” in Northwest Portland from time to time. The two used to say they were like a brother and sister. We learned Poekoelan directly from them and trained regularly through the years with Barbara Niggel as well.
The large Poekoelan community that had grown from Barbara Niggle’s lineage fell apart in 2013 after questions surfaced about various financial shenanigans. Teammates and schools fearfully picked sides and eyed one another with suspicion. When no leadership emerged during this troubling time, we chose to detach with love.
This was a heart-and gut-wrenching time, but from this shattered place, we have learned to first and foremost, honor this beautiful art. We have a new understanding and acceptance of what it means to be human. Each of us gets to choose how we live and how we respond to others. We now stand on our own two feet, trust ourselves fully, embrace healthy relationships and the future as we create it for ourselves. Coming through this time with our sweet martial arts school intact and healthy, we feel we have passed through a trial by fire. Everyone is welcome at our school as long as they understand we do not tolerate gossip or mean-spiritedness. We have seen first hand how egos and power can corrupt and cause pain, and we work hard to make sure Naga and our students stay safe.
Our journey has continued and taken us down unexpected paths. Most recently, we have been very pleased to make the accquaintance of Wim and Jim Wetzel, sons of Willy Wetzel, the founder of this art. Their support, encouragement and knowledge has been a serendipitous blessing and they have brought a whole new depth and understanding to our practice. Future plans include bringing Penjat Silat masters to our school to teach ground fighting, and going to Indonesia to continue our training there. One thing is for sure, we will never stop learning or striving to know more and be better teachers. We’re in this together for the rest of our lives, and invite you along with us for as much of the journey as you’d like!
How do the ranks work?
We are lucky in this art to have something that many people in our culture don’t get to have: authentic and meaningful rites of passage.
Cultures and religions around the world have a variety and depth of experiences and rituals to mark important transitional periods in a person’s life. From the Maasai Warrior-Shaving Ceremony in East Africa to the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah of Jewish tradition and the Vision Quest of Native American custom, these passages serve to challenge and support the individual in developing their unique gifts and strengths for the benefit of the entire community. In effect, they celebrate the life transitions that make us who we are.
Here in the US we have proms and graduations, we have quinceañeras and the big day kids get their driver’s licenses. We have weddings, baby showers and confirmations. However, I’d say we don’t have a lot of authentic and meaningful ways to celebrate our lives as we grow, develop and transition from one stage of life through to the next.
This Poekoelan journey offers unbelievable rites of passage. It’s one of the many unique benefits we get when we train this art. The brown sash and black belt tests, to name just two, are milestones that are achieved through a great deal of effort, commitment and hard work. They are also attended and celebrated by the entire community.
Testing is one of the things that sets our art apart. I have heard of five- and six-hour black belt tests in other arts, for example, but that is what we expect from a gold sash test, a student’s first “big” test. Poekoelan brown sash tests last for 24 hours (12 hours of continuous physical challenges including 20 fights, 200 fingertip push ups and a 5 mile run, and 12 hours of quiet meditation with the flame of a candle as your guide.) Black Belt tests are twice as long, with 24 hours of fighting, demonstrating forms & standards and a 10 mile run to list but a few requirements, along with 24 hours of quiet meditation in which to discover myriad internal lessons and inspirations.) More advanced tests, 3rd degree and above, last 72 hours. There is a one year probationary period which follows each of these tests as the practitioner settles into their new rank.
It’s important to know that we don’t begin the journey with these big tests in mind. That is what your instructors are for. We meet you right where you are and lead you along a path that will prepare you in body, mind and spirit to have a successful and life changing experience each and every time you test. That’s a promise.
Take a look at what your training path looks like click here.
Who made the films on your site?
The films on our various pages were created by three wonderful people: Divonna Ratliff, Emilia Smart-Denson and Dominique Chen. We are grateful to them for their support.
What does "Naga" mean?
Naga means “dragon” in Indonesian.
What a fantastic workshop and teacher! I experienced the feeling of confidence that if a threatening situation ever develops, I would not be a hapless victim, but would take some hopefully effective action. I might decide to flee to avoid the situation, but if that doesn’t look feasible, I know I have some knowledge to act directly. The instructor is obviously very knowledgable and experienced. She was very clear and interesting in the way she presented the material, and offered many pertinent real-life examples, effectively involving the class in practicing each new technique. I highly recommend this workshop and Silvia Smart!Herm Guichelaar
Martial Arts | Self Defense | Community