BETA Academy Martial Arts by Jimmy


The following is a guest post written by Columbia Heights resident, Jimmy.

Walking west on Columbia Rd, between 14th and 15th streets, I followed the modest sign tucked behind a chain link fence that read “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing [this way]” to the basement level of Casa del Pueblo. Here I met Nakapan Phungephorn. If ever there was a guy I did not want to meet in a dark alley, Nakapan (or “Nak” for short) was him – and here I was, walking down that dark alley to meet him.

Nak holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a brown belt in Judo, is one of the DC area’s few certified Muay Thai instructors, and has fought successfully at the national and international levels in both Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts as an amateur and professional. Fortunately for me, Nak is as nice and welcoming as he is decorated.

Nakapan is the founder and one of several highly trained instructors at the BETA Academy Martial Arts studio. Tired of trekking out to Virginia for training, Nak and his wife, Melanie (both DC residents), chose to open their own studio in Columbia Heights for its proximity to metro and bus lines as well as its high level of foot traffic. Their primary vision is for BETA Academy to become the “go to” center for Thai Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts training in the District. The move is paying off, as business is clearly booming.

Additionally, Nak recognizes the public concern regarding at-risk youth in the neighborhood. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Nak says, “Our ultimate goal is to develop a government funded youth program targeting local at-risk youth. The hope is to get kids off the street and channel their energy into a constructive activity while at the same time instilling character building values such as self-discipline, respect, and self confidence. These values are the core of our growing kids program which we currently offer to the general public at a discounted rate.” Continues after the jump.

Like every newcomer, I got a free week of training to decide whether this program would be right for me. For the sake of boasting my own toughness credentials I would like to say this stuff is not for everyone. But looking around the 5000 sq ft studio one recent evening I saw both men and women; young and old; athletic and not; big and small; black, white and everything in between – just about every walk of life imaginable – training together. Some want to compete, some are interested in learning the arts for self-defense, while others, like myself, just want something that will motivate them to stay in shape.

It’s a mixed lot; appropriately situated in the most diverse neighborhood in the District. Just another great part of the Beautiful Life.

Check them out at
BETA Martial Arts
1459 Columbia Road, N.W.
(Basement level of Casa del Pueblo/Calvary Methodist Church)

27 Comment

  • Acedemy or Academy?! Spell check is a lost art form…

  • Another good place for this kind of training is Krav Maga DC, in Chinatown.

  • now if only Thai/Brazilian asskicking would have allowed little Oscar Fuentes to not get shot.

  • interesting, andy – the place is immediately next door to the building that he (oscar) was murdered in…only separated by a small playground.

    i can see some of what’s going on in there from my place – love it. too bad i have to witness everything else behind it.

  • I train here, and I’ve never had any problems in the area, although what happened to Oscar Fuentes is tragic. We all saw the police vehicles outside and had no idea what was going on. I live near Meridian Hill Park and was extremely happy to have such high level instruction in DC proper as opposed to having to commute out to LLoyd Irvin’s or Leo Dalla’s schools (although Nak trains and has a partnership with both of those schools). The training space is large, there are good muay thai heavy bags and speed bags available, as well as gloves, shin guards, kettle bells, jump ropes, thai pads, focus mitts, etc. They use high quality mats as opposed to puzzle or wrestling mats (which are killer and painful to grapple on). I love this place. Would recommend it to nearly anyone.

  • to Kalorini:

    Spell check is not an art form. It’s clicking a button.
    Knowing how to spell + paying attention to what you write + proofreading before you hit ‘send’ (or mail the letter – remember that?); that’s an art form.

  • also, anybody else get a little nervous about teaching youth who are leaning towards a thug life how to kick the piss out of everybody else?

  • Why does Nak’s envisioned program have to be gov’t-funded? I think he’d be way better off with concerned, compassionate private donors, of which I’m sure he’d could find many nearby.

  • Not everybody is Cobra Kai, TSM…

  • Rudy, how much do they charge per month for the training?

  • “Not everybody is Cobra Kai, TSM…”

    Please pardon my ignorance. I’m not sure what this refers to.

  • Karate Kid?

  • oh yeah. now I remember. Damn, where’d you pull THAT one out of?

  • @Rusty, they have different prices depending on what you choose to take classes in (muay thai, brazilian jiu jitsu, or both). I have an unlimited plan since I train everything, so it’s a bit pricier than what I’d pay for one or the other, but comparable to other high level schools. It’s not cheap, but very few things in the city are. I don’t know what the updated prices are, so you’d have to call in and find out.

    @TSM. I used to work with “underprivilaged” youth that had had run-ins with the law back in the Southwest, teaching them boxing/kickboxing/judo. There’s an extreme amount of discipline/ humility involved when taking part in any grappling based martial art, since you’re pretty much being controlled and dominated by people of all sizes until you begin to focus and become more serious about training. The punks never last, because their egos are too big to handle the difficulty of the training. This isn’t karate kid stuff, bjj is much more difficult because you’re actually in there actively grappling with somebody else. There’s also a lot to be said for being able to exercise the aggression out in a calm, organized manner in a setting where you’re surrounded by other intense, focused, positive individuals. It is for everybody? Of course not. But I’ve seen some kids turn it around.

  • I’ll be checking this place out and signing up for instruction as soon as my broken, mangled index finger heals. I got fed up with krav maga DC, waaaay too rigid and waaaay too expensive. I enjoyed it, and have certainly used a few methods learned there, but I’m wanting something more full-contact.
    As for the kids, get them into this. Having that ability to fight and defend yourself, and knowing you could do it, makes one far less inclined to actually do it (in my opinion). How goes the saying…”real gangsta ass n****’s don’t flex nuts, cause real gangsta ass n****’s know they gottem.”
    And i’m so tired of these bastards just flexin’ nuts, and killing people as a result.

  • Sorry about the typo folks. PoP, feel free to dock my pay for that one. You’ll notice I got it right the second time around, so there is hope still.

    TSM, snark aside, taking an interest in at risk youth – even teaching them martial arts – surely beats the alternative of letting the streets remain their primary influence. Community and personal involvement work wonders when given a chance.

    NAB, I’d imagine Nak would be open to any source of funding for his program. Of course, in these economic times private funds are a little more difficult to come by. But, hey, money is money.

    Definitely stop by to check it out if you all get the opportunity. Lots of good things going on in this place; good people and a real sense of community to boot.

  • I was interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu until I learned they make you wear a thong. Is this true, or are my friends messing with me

  • I second absolutely everything Rudy’s saying. I would also add that BETA is very beginner-friendly, and add that you get to train with a really stellar group of folks, both in terms of skill-level and personalities. I really have to get back in here, but kickboxing is not yet helping me against these crazy law firm hours. Maybe next time my boss comes into my office…

  • Vince, your friends must attend the JR’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy, LOL!

  • Rudy, thanks for your very thoughtful post on the benefits of a disciplined martial arts program for “troubled youth.” I was sort of half-joking about training street thugs to be kiss-ass street thugs, but only half. The way you describe it, I can see the benefit.

    I guess I’m a little too jaded these days.

  • Cool. That looks like a large space. I wonder how much revenue they generate — I imagine that martial arts spaces aren’t exactly ‘money makers’ unless they carry a lot of after-school type classes.

    Cool to see real lifestyle stuff going into the neighborhood. 14th street seems to love bars and restaurants (and funeral homes.. what’s up, North of Kenyon?..) Unless you’re buying or dying, there isn’t much reason to spend time in the strip.

    Jimmy — if you know some prices, please post em. The website doesn’t list any.

  • I’m offended at the notion that martial arts are only for a certain class of people.

    Should we take high-school wrestling away from “at-risk” youth? That’s one of the oldest and most effective fighting systems in the world. What about football, where we teach kids how to tackle, as well as the importance of tactics and team-work… For years boxing gyms have served as a community based programs that have offered “at-risk” kids a positive athletic outlet. Why should we treat BJJ and Muay Thai any different? Sure there are failures but anecdotes don’t make good policy and the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

    Politics aside, BETA is an outstanding academy. I’ve trained elsewhere, and it’s a great place to be. Nakapan emphasizes very solid and technical BJJ fundamentals, and of course knows some of the flashier competition focused stuff. Classes usually start with a warm-ups, body movement drills and conditioning, then we move on to learning and drilling a technique. After that we usually do some goal-oriented sparring, and then open-sparring where you’re putting it all together.

    For the more advanced students, I can’t say enough good things about this place. There’s an average of 5-6 blue belts (many more if everyone shows up) and a purple belt or two every evening… The advanced/mixed and competition team classes cover more complicated techniques (recently: DLR sweeps/back takes, deep half guard, advanced guard passing, triangle details, etc). Nakapan actually wants to roll with you and help you develop a well-rounded game. There’s an insane amount of mat space with another room being set up now.

    I can’t speak first-hand about the Muay Thai program as I have stuck to being a stubborn BJJ purist, but I can tell you that Nakapan is one of the few instructors in this area who is as legit with his stand up as he is with his ground game. He has some really advanced MT students/assistant instructors, and it’s pretty intimidating to watch them work the pads or spar.

    Prices–I think that most martial arts places refrain from putting their prices on the web, and depending on how much you want to train in what system the cost will vary. You’re going to be spending more than you would on a WSC membership, but stop in for a free week of training, discuss the cost with Melanie and Nakapan, and see what it’s all about.

  • All I have to say is…OOUUUUSSSSSS!!!!!!!

  • To Vince: The thong is a part of traditional Jiujitsu and is completely optional.

  • Taylor Street Man says:

    also, anybody else get a little nervous about teaching youth who are leaning towards a thug life how to kick the piss out of everybody else?

    ^ ^ my inner cynic said this immediately, but I think the discipline that this training would bring to wayward youth would hopefully move them into a better direction. this is similar to the idea of putting wayward youth into boot camp style environments. sure, a physically fit criminal is more dangerous than an out-of-shape one, but one would hope that the discipline being taught leads one to control their worst impulses and could turn around some lives.


  • how is the parking there?

    if you can’t talk price, is it more than $150/month for unlimited?

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