“This is a story I always tell,” Meng said one recent afternoon, less than 24 hours after returning from Chengdu, China, where he had represented the United States in the Wushu Sanda (martial arts) competition at the 31st World University Games. “When I was three years old, I wanted to be a Power Ranger. That was my motivation back then. I loved the Power Rangers.”
Stars of a TV series and multiple movies, the Power Rangers were teenagers who morphed into superheroes who possessed a variety of extraordinary powers.
Rather than the Power Rangers’ trademark, color-coded, tight, spandex suits and those helmets with opaque visors, Meng competes in a uniform with “USA” across the chest. And though he might not be able to turn invisible or manipulate thunder and lightning, he has shown some impressive powers of his own.
The 26-year-old charismatic eldest son of the local martial arts power couple, Benny Meng and Sunmi Park-Meng, Vincent is one of the most accomplished athletes in the Miami Valley:
»He began martial arts at age three and won his first black belt at 6. At Centerville High, he lettered three years as a wrestler and won All-Greater Western Ohio Conference (GWOC) first team honors.
»By the time he was a junior at the University of Dayton — where he was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, the international business honors society, and was well on his way to a degree in entrepreneurship — he was on four different U.S. national teams (Taekwondo, Wing Chun, Wushu Sanda, Kuo Shu Lei Tai ) and had won three different world titles.
»He’s now the head instructor at Meng Martial Arts in Huber Heights, the school his dad started in 1987 and which, Vincent noted, has now grown to 30 schools in 20 different countries.
»His fourth world championship was his most impressive feat. In the late fall of 2021, he discovered the pain in his left shoulder that he’d been trying to push through for several months, actually was a complete tear of his labrum and the biceps tendon was torn, as well.
It could have been a career-ending injury.
After talking to a few doctors, he said he felt a special confidence and rapport with Dr. Blake Daney, an orthopedic surgeon with Kettering Health’s Far Hills Orthopedists. Daney did the surgical repair and Justin Seekins guided the physical therapy that came after.
“Vincent was the perfect patient,” Daney said. “He was focused. He showed the discipline and attention to detail he’s learned from a very young age while honing his craft. That’s paramount to getting results in the ring ... and in recovery.”
When Daney said it made for “the perfect patient story,” he wasn’t exaggerating.
Seven months after his surgery, Meng went to Italy — the Kuo Shu World Championships in Rome — and won his fourth world title and his second in Kuo Shu Lei Tai (traditional Chinese kick boxing).
»He’s competed around the world: Korea, Japan, Macaw, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Italy. Earlier this month — while he enjoyed the Olympics-like spectacle of the recent University Games in China (which drew 6,500 athletes from 113 nations) — he found himself in tough in his opening bout.
Fighting at 70 kilograms — which is above his normal weight class — and now dealing with a fractured right wrist that he mostly had kept to himself, he lost a decision to the accomplished Iranian, Hamidreza Sahabdi, who would go on to win the silver medal.
Vincent’s younger brother Spencer was also on the U.S. team, but had to drop out of the competition after he suffered a concussion while training in China just before the event.
While Spencer and Derickson, the youngest of the three Meng brothers and an accomplished martial artist himself, will be attending the University of Cincinnati this fall (their mother’s alma mater), Vincent will be back teaching and focused on healing his wrist so he can compete in the 2023 World Wushu Championships at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Texas, Nov. 16-20.
Just the other day he finally informed Daney about his wrist problem and they set up a time to meet.
“We’ll make sure he’s doing well before (the championships),” Daney said.
And after that, Vincent said he hopes to begin MMA competition.
All in the family
Asked whether there were pressures, as well as advantages, growing up the eldest son in a well-known martial arts family, Vincent thought a moment, then offered:
“Well, I remember when I was five years old, people would ask me, ‘Are you going to be as great as your dad someday?’
“First off, you’re asking a five-year-old what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. For me, it was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m just here to enjoy it.’
“Moreso, though, I put pressure on myself. I set expectations. I wanted to set a good example for my little brothers. But it never became a negative thing for me.”
It’s understandable that people figured he would be a gifted martial artist.
His mother, Sunmi, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and began Taekwondo at age five under the tutelage of her father, Grandmaster Kyung Jun Park. Three years later she’d earned her first-degree junior black belt. Eventually her family moved to Cincinnati.
Vincent’s father, Benny Meng, was born in Hong Kong and began his training in judo at age 10. When his family moved to the Centerville area, he learned Taekwondo under Grandmaster Y.C. Kim and later Grandmaster Park.
A 1981 graduate of Centerville High School, he wrestled and played football for the Elks. After studying various martial arts disciples in Hong Kong, mainland China, Korea and Taiwan, he opened Meng Martial Arts.
He and Sunmi met at an Asian American Association dance at Wright State in 1990 and married three years later.
While the couple’s efforts with the school have blossomed into a worldwide operation, Benny has had a special affinity for Wing Chun, a form of southern Chinese kung fu, which focuses on close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat and was popularized by Bruce Lee. In the early 1980s, Benny studied Wing Chun under the movie star Lee Hoi-sang.
When he started his own school, he taught Shaolin Wing Chun.
In 1998, Benny’s passion with Wing Chun — which he’d studied worldwide for some three decades — reached the zenith when he opened the Ving Tsun (pronounced Wing Chun) Museum in Huber Heights. Today, it’s open by appointment only.
“We always joke around that there are two famous museums in Dayton,” Vincent said with a smile, “One’s the Air Force’s and the other is the Ving Tsun Museum.”
Like his father Vincent embraced Wing Chun.
“During middle school, I was like ‘I want to go to the Olympics!’ And that’s still a goal of mine,” he said. “As an athlete or a coach, my goal is to bring Wing Chun to the Olympics. It might not happen in my time as an athlete, but if it should make the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, I’ll come out of retirement.
“Otherwise, the opportunity might be there for one of my students or possibly my two younger brothers. ... But right now, I’m still focused on being an athlete myself and being the very best I can be.”
‘Life through the lens of martial arts’
Vincent believes the current problem with his right wrist likely is related to a previous wrist injury that required surgery in early 2021 in Cincinnati. Although the trouble arose before that, COVID rules at the time had prevented non-essential surgeries and he had to wait until those restrictions were lifted.
He said he “didn’t have a great experience” with that first wrist surgery and his relationship with the surgeon, which, he said, “is what makes me appreciate my experience with the Kettering Health Network and Dr. Daney so much now.
“From start to finish, they were there to support me. Dr. Daney and Justin took time to understand just what I do. Justin, specifically, watched videos when he went home. We worked together on this, and they explained everything. That really stood out and has made a difference to me.”
Daney talked about Vincent’s situation:
“The way I explain it to patients, the labrum is like an O-ring gasket that surrounds the socket. If you simplify the shoulder to a golf ball on a golf tee (set) sideways, the labrum deepens that golf tee and helps hold the ball on better.
“Vincent had a very large tear that essentially went all the way around the golf tee. My suspicion is that the tear started small and then kept propagating and extending all the way around until entire labrum structure was peeled off and a biceps tendon that attaches into the labrum also had a tear in it.
“It very easily could have been a career-ending injury for him.”
After the surgery, Daney said, Vincent’s physical therapist (Seekins) stayed in constant contact with him: “We talked back and forth, and he constantly gave me updates.
“And each step we set for Vincent in his recovery, he knocked it out. It’s a testament to who he is and his commitment to doing everything he had to do.”
While Vincent wanted to return to competition and his pursuit of another world title, he stressed one point:
“I see life through the lens of martial arts, but competition — even though I want to be the best and take it as far as I can — is not the end goal.
“For me and for other people, it’s about the other benefits you take into life. It’s the mental, emotional and spiritual things you learn through martial arts.
“I teach martial arts for overall, self-improvement and reaching one’s full potential. To me martial arts is just the vehicle for becoming a healthier person, a better person.
“Along with everything else it’s brought me, martial arts, I can say, even saved my life. Growing up I had all kinds of problems. I had all these allergies. I had bad asthma and was in and out of the hospital. I was a sickly little kid. Through my training, I was able to overcome a lot of that and monitor it.
“I know a lot of times we say acting and athletics are two selfish industries. I can see that there’s some truth in that, but I don’t see it as being selfish if I build myself up to help others.
“I want other people to experience how martial arts can give them a better life. I want help people as best I can.”
Now, more than ever, Vincent Meng sounds like a Power Ranger.