Gym of the Month: House of Champions

By Joe Wilhelm
Photos by Stephanie Drews, Meghan Wonder, and courtesy of House of Champions

If you want to learn a little bit about Sensei Mark Parra, his office isn’t a bad place to start. On one wall you’ll find images of Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali, Parra’s martial arts idols. On another lies a framed copy of “A Gladiator’s Prayer,” along with a katana. The room is plastered with numerous awards and certifications, including the one giving him the honored title of Shihan.

But most important to Parra are the assorted pictures and letters from the sensei’s family.

In Parra’s case, his family is much, much larger than most.

Sensei Mark Parra (top middle) believes in keeping a "family spirit" at House of Champions.

Sensei Mark Parra (top middle) believes in keeping a “family spirit” at House of Champions. (Photo courtesy of House of Champions)

“If you could say anything about House of Champions you’d say it’s a family affair,” Parra said. “Everybody gets connected. It’s an emotional journey. That’s where I get my payday at the end of the day; being able to help somebody shape their life.”

For the past eighteen years, Parra has been the owner, operator and chief instructor of the House of Champions, a Van Nuys-based gym that has developed a respected status in the greater martial arts community.

Though the gym continues to produce great fighting talent, Parra believes that his school’s familial atmosphere is its most unique trait.

“It is an amazing feeling. At the end of the day, you can’t buy that,” Parra said. “That sense of family, that sense of loyalty, that sense of undying love that the parents and the kids have. And not just with me, but with the other instructors who have been around a long time as well.”

Over the years, Parra has built a loyal and dedicated group of both instructors and students, attracting people who share his passion for martial arts. Parra’s family has grown so much, in fact, that the gym has seen a generational dynamic take hold.

U of MMA fighter Dean Bo Moskowitz (left), and his longtime coach, Red. (Photo by Mitch Viquez)

U of MMA fighter Dean Bo Moskowitz (left), and his longtime coach, Red. (Photo by Mitch Viquez)

Fighters like Dean Bo Moskowitz (four-time U of MMA veteran), who has been training with House of Champions since the age of four, are now contributing to the tutelage of the next generation of fighters, giving back to a community that first introduced them to martial arts.

“What is it worth if I take all of this knowledge and don’t share it? These are people who want to learn. They’re good people. I love it,” Moskowitz said. “I love making an impression, making the kids happy, seeing a student execute the right technique. Any kind of champion should give back; it doesn’t have to be money. It’s your duty to give back.”

Sixteen years of exposure to Parra and his martial arts philosophy have rubbed off on Moskowitz, whose sensei takes this exact approach to the opportunity to make a positive impact on young lives.

“Working with the kids and being involved in the community here is something that’s really important to me,” Parra said. “I’ve always been taught that martial arts is about giving back, thinking of ways to help out others. Shaping hearts and minds gets me going more than having a world champion UFC fighter. I feel very blessed to be involved in something I have a passion for.”

But for all the warmth and familial culture of the gym, House of Champions is a school dedicated to validating its name. Fighters of all ages and skill levels are expected to walk into Parra’s palace and immerse themselves in their craft.

“I think I come across like salt and sugar,” Parra said. “I have a very gentle side, but the guys never mistake kindness for weakness with me, because I’m also very tough. Not just in and around the ring myself, but just in terms of my expectations for the guys.”

After eighteen years of owning and operating a gym, Parra has established a keen eye for fighters who have the mental composition to succeed in the cage. Opportunities to represent the House of Champions are not simply offered to anyone who claims a desire to fight.

Derion 'DC' Chapman finally got his first amateur MMA match, winning by TKO in round two. (Photo by ??)

Derion ‘DC’ Chapman finally got his first amateur MMA match, winning by TKO in round two. (Photo by ??)

“When I first came here, I really tried to get Sensei Mark’s attention, saying ‘Hey, I want to fight, I want to fight,’ fighter Derion Chapman said, “But then I realized that a lot of guys probably try to talk to him like that. So I decided to stop talking and start working. House of Champions made me realize you can’t just ask for everything, sometimes you have to make people want to give it to you.”

As of late, this approach has been working for the House of Champions fight team. Both Moskowitz and Chapman have enjoyed early success in their amateur careers. Chapman boasts an undefeated record of 3-0-0, while Moskowitz is 2-2-0 as an amateur.

Regardless of the blemishes on Moskowitz’s record, Sensei Cecil Peoples, a respected referee and coach in the martial arts community, sees immense potential in both Moskowitz and Chapman.

“The future for them is wide open. I’m not around DC (Chapman) as much, but I have no doubt that Dean is going to become a UFC fighter,” Peoples said. “I think he has the potential to be another Georges St-Pierre. I’ve never actually gotten a chance to see DC fight, because every time I get to his fight, the fight is already over. I’m sure he’s going to extremely well.”

The pair have recently become sparring partners, working together in the pursuit of a shared dream. And with the opportunity to begin professional careers fast approaching, a new sense of urgency has developed between the young fighters.

“I honestly feel as though they are training me not just to be a good competitor, but to be a world-class competitor,” Chapman said, “When I’m in here, I treat it like work. I’m being pushed every day.”

But for now, the both must focus on their amateur careers, continuing to grow and develop within the support system of Parra’s ever-growing martial arts family.

“Sensei Mark is a big reason why I’m still here and so motivated,” Moskowitz said. “You’d think that after so many years a kid would get burned-out. But he continues to make a big impact on me and all of the other kids. It’s never all about martial arts, it’s more about life and how this will help you persevere. I will always represent House of Champions. I could never forget what Sensei Mark and everyone has done for me.”

House of Champions is located at 17228 Saticoy Street in Van Nuys. For more info, visit www.HouseofChampions.com or call 818-996-7180.

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