A Monterey Park self-defense class brings Brandon Tsay’s message to a receptive senior community

California

Alhambra resident Alice Lin is still mourning the death of friends and dance classmates from the Jan. 21 mass shooting at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park.

The shooting, amid the city’s Lunar New Year celebration, left 11 dead, many injured and a community shaken for much of the year since.

“Often, I would think what we could do to prevent that tragedy from happening,” Lin said. “We could not prevent the killer from coming… but I believe that there is something we can do to help ourselves.”

  • A woman practices a clench hold on Seniors Fight Back...

    A woman practices a clench hold on Seniors Fight Back volunteer at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Seniors Fight Back is a nonprofit that hosted a senior-focused...

    Seniors Fight Back is a nonprofit that hosted a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Alice Lin practices a knee hit at a senior-focused self-defense...

    Alice Lin practices a knee hit at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Warren Ong poses for a photo at a senior-focused self-defense...

    Warren Ong poses for a photo at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Free pepper spray and hand-held alarms were provided for seniors...

    Free pepper spray and hand-held alarms were provided for seniors at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Professional MMA fighter Ron Scolesdang, an Irvine resident, teaches a...

    Professional MMA fighter Ron Scolesdang, an Irvine resident, teaches a self-defense class to seniors at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. Scolesdang is also co-founder of Seniors Fight Back. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Hometown hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park Star...

    Hometown hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park Star Dance Studio shooter, spoke at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Attendees listen to a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista...

    Attendees listen to a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. Over 50 Asian seniors attended the lesson. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Fonda Quan speaks at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra...

    Fonda Quan speaks at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. Quan is the niece of Monterey Park shooting victim My My Nhan. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Robin Kim, co-founder of Seniors Fight Back, demonstrating a clench...

    Robin Kim, co-founder of Seniors Fight Back, demonstrating a clench defense move at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. Kim is the director of external relations. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Community organizations like Seniors Fight Back, MPK Hope Resiliency Center...

    Community organizations like Seniors Fight Back, MPK Hope Resiliency Center and Chinatown Service Center pass out self-defense items to Asian seniors after a senior-focused class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Participants pose for a photo before a senior-focused self-defense class...

    Participants pose for a photo before a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. Over 50 Asian seniors attended. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Hometown hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park Star...

    Hometown hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park Star Dance Studio shooter, spoke at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023 (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Safety equipment used for a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra...

    Safety equipment used for a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Alice Lin practices a knee hit at a senior-focused self-defense...

    Alice Lin practices a knee hit at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

  • Hometown hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park Star...

    Hometown hero Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park Star Dance Studio shooter, spoke at a senior-focused self-defense class at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park on December 2, 2023. Many community members there spoke and took photos with him. (Photo by Victoria Ivie, SGV Tribune/SCNG.)

On Saturday, Dec. 2, more than 50 Asian seniors — including Lin — gathered at Sierra Vista Park in Monterey Park to participate in a free senior-focused self-defense class.

They had a special guest – someone who amid the tragedy of that day saved lives, and brought an empowering message on Saturday.

Brandon Tsay, the man who stopped the Star Dance Studio shooter in the front of his family’s Lai Lai Dance Studio in Alhambra, was the featured speaker at the lesson.

“I hold senior citizens in high regard,” Tsay told the group. “I think that uplifting and empowering them to fight back and breaking the stigma of being vulnerable is important.”

In a story now known from Alhambra to the White House, it was the then 26-year-old, soft-spoken man who wrested a semi-automatic weapon from the intruder who just minutes earlier had gunned down 11 people at the Monterey Park ballroom dance floor.

The black-and-white security camera images still remain in collective memory: Tsay, acting on a split-second life-or-death decision, confronted the gunman, who moments before pointed the weapon directly at him. Tsay lunged toward him. Arms outstretched. The struggle ensued in the Lai Lai lobby: Tsay, who’d never held a gun in his life, was determined to stop him.

And he did.

Nearly a year after the Star Dance Studio Shooting, the events of that night were still fresh in many attendees’ minds, and Tsay found a receptive audience.

Lin, over 70-years-old, said she came to honor her friends and to learn self-defense moves.

“Defense skills that we learn will become muscle memory, like dancing,” she said. “Once it is in our muscle memory, we will automatically be able to defend ourselves and less tragedy will occur.”

Lin has gone back to dance classes and said she practices Tai Chi early in the morning to keep her calm and “release stress.”

Tsay, who said he recently went back to school at Pasadena City College, started a program called Heroes for Change, which focuses on senior health and safety. He is continuing to work on organizing events, public speaking, and providing more resources to nearby communities.

Self defense is part of the message, he said.

“I plan on expanding my program Heroes for Change to further ensure mental wellness, bystander training, safety and defense courses,” he said.

With the one-year anniversary of the shooting just a month away, Tsay was able to reflect on what the last year has stood out to him.

“I think the positivity of the community to come back out has been encouraging,” Tsay said. “Everybody could have just stayed home, be a recluse and not go out anymore but it’s really inspiring to see the community strengthening themselves to make it a more inclusive, more equitable society.”

Tsay said his family and their dance studio in Alhambra plan to have a remembrance event for the victims of the shooting during the upcoming anniversary.

The self-defense class was sponsored by Seniors Fight Back, the My My Nhan Legacy Fund, MPK Hope Resiliency Center, and Chinatown Service Center, with the self-defense portion being held by Seniors Fight Back co-founder and professional MMA fighter Ron Scolesdang, an Irvine resident.

In recent years, anti-Asian hate was on the rise, only recently dropping by 25%, according to a recent report. Even still, 61 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported —  the second-highest number of Anti-Asian hate crimes.

Hate crimes in general are at a 21-year high, with the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations’ annual report stating that hate crimes in L.A. County increased by 18% in 2022 alone.

Asian elders were also the target of attacks around the country.

Victims of the shooting were honored before the lesson, with a moment of silence. Community members were provided safety gear, such as pepper spray and hand-held alarms after their lesson.

This is the first event that the My My Nhan Legacy Fund — which was started to honor shooting victim My My Nhan — participated. Nhan’s niece, Fonda Quan, was at the lesson in her honor.

Quan grew up in Rosemead for most of her life and now lives in Texas.

“We’re hoping to invest in the community more, testing programs for youth and seniors,” Quan, 32, said. “This is the community that was just hit a year ago, so it felt good to have the first event here.”

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