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Kewanee Graduate Jake Pinnick on Life in Wudan China and Dedicating His Life to the Martial Arts
Several years ago, WKEI profiled a Kewanee graduate and Black Hawk College East Campus graduate, Jake Pinnick, who had left Kewanee to travel to the far East to learn more about Martial Arts. Since then, Jake Pinnick has spent most of the past 10 years in Wudan China, learning and teaching martial arts. Jake has been on quite a journey including in the last year when COVID-19 affected the lives of everyone around the globe. WKEI spoke with Jake Pinnick for the Monday, April 26th edition of People to People to reflect on his journey, his dedication to the martial arts and what the last year has been like from the perspective of an American living in China.

Eleven years after he started martial arts training in central China, American Jake Pinnick has returned to the Wudang Mountains in Hubei province to teach others. Pinnick was a fan of Chinese kung fu since his childhood days in the US state of Illinois, and obsessed over films starring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. In 2021, he became a kung fu master at the Wudang Daoist Traditional Kungfu Academy.

The kung fu way: Jake Pinnick’s journey from small-town America to China’s Wudang Mountains
Jake Pinnick left Illinois to find himself, and ended up in China’s Wudang Mountains practising kung fu and Daoism. The 30-year-old left Kewanee in Illinois on a whim in 2010 to immerse himself in Chinese culture. He now lives in the Wudang Mountains in Hubei province, with his wife and daughter, and hopes one day to bring Wudang martial arts to America.

American Jake Pinnick hails from a small town in the state of Illinois called Kewanee. It’s a perfect slice of Middle America, with fewer than 13,000 residents in a farming community about two and a half-hour’s drive west from Chicago. Pinnick said when he told friends and family he wanted to go to the Wudang Daoist Traditional Kungfu Academy in China to train martial arts, the response was typical. “I don’t think anyone really believed me,” said the 30-year-old.

Pinnick had found the academy’s website, which was offering a five-year programme for foreigners, and after saving up money working two jobs, he got his visa, passport and booked a one-way ticket in May of 2010. He said the reason he wanted to go was simple – a love for kung fu of course – but he was also searching for deeper meaning when it came to life and philosophy. “When I first thought about it, it was daydreaming for myself,” he said. “I was like ‘I’ll just send [the academy] an email just for fun’ and I didn’t really believe it myself either. I could travel, learn something new, challenge myself, get some discipline, find a way to be healthy, lots of different answers to questions I had.”

However, Pinnick’s trip to China was anything but smooth as a young 20-year-old who had never travelled outside the US. He ended up taking four flights, missing two of them, lost his luggage and ended up in Wuhan tired and dehydrated. From there he made his way to the Wudang Mountains via train, bus and taxi. “It was intense. I didn’t speak any Chinese. It was quite the adventure just getting there.”

Once he found himself at the academy, Pinnick said acclimatising was softened by other foreigners who were in the area and a part of the school. They started teaching him Mandarin, showed him where to get groceries and all the best noodle shops. Pinnick said getting used to the way of life was surprisingly easy given the peaceful and serene nature to it.

The Wudang Mountains are a famous geographical range in the northwest part of Hubei province known for Taoist temples, monasteries and as the birthplace of tai chi. The area also has a deep history with traditional martial arts, and kung fu in particular, the most famous being the Shaolin kung fu, which is still regularly referenced in popular culture.

“The culture shock wasn’t that bad. Surprisingly, I find I have more of that going back to America now … learning the language did take some time, but everyone around the school was familiar with foreigners so we had a lot of fun speaking broken English and Chinese back and forth at the start.”

After he settled into a routine, Pinnick set about immersing himself in Chinese culture, including martial arts training. He also gravitated towards Daoism, a philosophical tradition most well known for the yin-yang symbol and the idea of living in harmony with the universe.

Now he has a wife, whom he met in China, and a daughter, and said his life now revolves around training, teaching and studying. He graduated officially from the academy in 2014 and still helps teach there, a practitioner of the Wudang Wushu of the San Feng lineage, while also holding his own classes as well.

Pinnick said the goal is to one day return to the US and teach what he has learned, opening a school of his own. Looking back on his amazing journey, Pinnick said he has grown leaps and bounds from a small-town American kid who had a daydream he could not shake.

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Image courtesy Illinois News Now and The Global Herald / SCMP

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