Like many people around the world, Manuel Muratalla’s introduction to Chinese culture was through kung fu. Growing up, he loved watching Bruce Lee movies with his dad. By the time he was in high school, his fascination with the ancient martial arts form began to get serious.
“I began to take classes from my sifu (master), John San Agustin,” explained Muratalla. “He taught me a southern style of kung fu called Wing Chun. Once I began studying with him, I knew someday I would travel to China.”
But even as he learned to triumph over opponents using Wing Chun, Muratalla struggled to overcome the obstacles on his educational path. By his own admission, Muratalla was not very studious in high school. He failed many classes, and at one point had less than a 1.00 GPA. He fell so far behind that he was eventually sent to Somerset Continuation High School in Bellflower. Luckily, it marked a turning point.
“With the proper guidance and encouragement from the amazing teachers there, I was able to graduate and later continue my path to college,” said Muratalla. “I was even awarded student role model of the school.”
His next step was to start classes at Cerritos College in 2013, where he began to pursue his interest in Chinese culture even further. He took his first Mandarin Chinese language course, and with the help of his professor, was able to travel on his first of many trips to China in 2013. Upon returning to the U.S., he transferred to California State University, Long Beach to work towards a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. While at CSULB, he was introduced to the Confucius Institute’s Chinese Bridge competition, a prestigious annual language proficiency competition.
In April 2017, Muratalla entered the competition, which gave him the opportunity to display his knowledge of China while giving a speech in Mandarin and demonstrating his prowess in kung fu. With years of experience in both language and martial arts, Muratalla secured second place in the intermediate level and earned the attention of the competition organizers.
They encouraged him to apply for a scholarship to study abroad in China, which involved another proficiency test. Muratalla was the first CSULB student to take Level 4 of the international HSK Chinese language exam, and of course, he aced it on his first attempt. With a full scholarship in hand, Muratalla shared the news with his father, and started planning to embark for Tsinghua University in Beijing in September 2018.
Unfortunately, a month before he was set to leave, tragedy struck his family. While on vacation in Mexico, Muratalla’s father became ill and died very suddenly. The heartbreaking grief stopped everything, but only temporarily, as Muratalla meditated on the lessons his father had provided over the years.
“My father taught me many things in life, one of which was to keep moving forward and strive to better myself,” said Muratalla. “So I decided to continue with my dreams and come to China, just as he wanted me to.”
Despite the sadness, Muratalla remains committed to the educational path that he has worked so hard to maintain. Upon his return to CSULB, he plans to acquire his BA in Linguistics, and then return to China once again to teach English after graduation.
“I have traveled to more than 20 different cities in China, all thanks to three people: my father for his love and support, my kung fu teacher for sharing his knowledge and passion of martial arts, and my first Chinese professor for his guidance and encouragement,” said Muratalla.