The Ekata team represents combined decades of training and experience in fitness and martial arts, and each member is passionate about helping you achieve total, lasting fitness.

Ekata Founders


Head Instructor, Co-Founder

Sifu Ed has studied a variety of martial arts for over 40 years, holding a black belt or equivalent rank and instructor’s certification in Jeet Kune Do, Savate, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, Karate and Kung Fu. He has competed in numerous full-contact competitions, including full-contact karate, kickboxing, Savate, Muay Thai and “no rules” tournaments.

As a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, he studies the effects of movement-based awareness training on children and adults to improve their ability to focus and learn more effectively. As a professor, he teaches mind/body connectivity through the study of movement in the Department of Theater, Film, and Television, as well as applied exercise science and Eastern philosophy. He is responsible for the physical conditioning of students on a department-wide basis.

He has studied with many world-renowned Martial Arts Masters including Bruce Lee’s students Sifu Jerry Poteet and Guru Dan Inosanto.  He was personally trained in Jeet Kune Do by Sifu Poteet, named by Inside Kung Fu magazine as “unquestionably the greatest Jeet Kune Do Instructor in the world.”  He has also studied with many great Lamas, Gurus and teachers of Eastern philosophy and religion.

Ed has also assisted instructing courses in defensive tactics for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Force Training Unit and has trained in Special Weapons and Tactics with DEA Mobile Enforcement Team II.

He has privately trained many celebrities including Val Kilmer, John Malkovich, Alicia Silverstone, and Julianne Moore.

Certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as an athletic trainer, Ed was chosen one of America’s Top 100 Trainers in 2005 by Men’s Journal magazine, and one of the top 5 in Los Angeles. In 2010 Ed was inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame and voted “Martial Arts Leader of the Year.”



Sifu JoAnn has made a habit of breaking with convention. A British Columbia native, she moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s to work in Hollywood as a makeup, hair, massage, and design specialist. After a successful career working with many A-list stars on top productions, she changed direction to pursue her love of physical expression through the study of martial arts.

She was one of the first women in the United States to receive the coveted rank of “Silver Glove” (Black Belt Equivalent) in Boxe Francaise Savate, after just a few years of training. Shortly afterward, she was voted the first female president of the American Federation of Boxe Francaise Savate.

JoAnn continued training, earning instructor’s certification in Muay Thai (under Kru Surapuk Jamjuntr and Kru Saekson Janjira) and Jeet Kune Do (under Sifu Jerry Poteet and Sifu Fran Joseph). Even after suffering a debilitating knee injury that led to a complete ACL replacement, in 2003 she won the U.S. Championship in Boxe Francaise Savate Assaut, which later led to competition in the World Cup of Boxe Francaise Savate in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, where she claimed the title of World Vice-Champion (No. 2 in the world) after fighting five times in less than 24 hours!

After winning her world title at age 45, JoAnn turned her attention to figure competition, athletic competition that entails showcasing the body’s aesthetic lines. The criteria are similar to bodybuilding, but women are judged on symmetry of the body as related to athleticism and not the size of musculature. JoAnn won two regional championships plus the California State Championship Open Division against women half her age.

JoAnn has an uncanny ability to teach and communicate information so that others can enjoy success in reaching their own personal goals.




Staff Instructors

Sifu Casey Monaghan

Sifu Casey Monaghan
Kids and teen classes, adult kickboxing

Having grown up around martial arts, Casey, son of Sifu Ed, has been a longtime student, beginning serious training at age 11, and having since earned his instructor black belt.

He has competed in numerous Savate assault competitions, and placed 4th/5th in the world at the 2014 Savate World Championship in Rome. In addition to Savate, he focuses on Jeet Kune Do, has competed in Muay Thai, and has studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“I believe Ekata’s success lies in the fundamental drive to positively affect every person who steps through the door. Martial arts becomes a vehicle by which one realizes their true potential and teaches us immense amounts about who we are,” Casey says.

Greg Wengert

Greg Wengert
Little Pandas, Dragon Program, BJJ

Greg has a natural ability to connect with kids, and is an instructor for the Little Pandas Program, in addition to instructing the JKD Dragons Program, and the teen and adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Dragons Program. He holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

He focuses on training both kids and adults with a goal of growing as students and increasing their skills.

“Being part of Ekata has changed my life for the better. It has given me positive goals to focus on, and I’m constantly improving my mind and body,” Greg says.

Alexandra Bender

Alexandra Bender

Alexandra began dancing at the age of three and competitively at the age of eight. She is a graduate from the Orange County School of the Arts in the Commercial Dance Conservatory. Currently she is a BFA-3 dance major/student at the California Institute of the Arts and the assistant to the Operations Manager & Producer of Special Projects for the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance. Her dance background is in ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, lyrical, ribbon, hip hop, and ballroom. She used to dance competitively in all styles and taught 3-4 year old company members their competition routines. She also performed with Francisco Gella's pre-professional company Colabo Youth Dance Collective and currently performs annually at the REDCAT Concert Hall in guest artist works such as Michelle Dorrance, Rosanna Gamson, and Elisa Monte.

Kristen DeBenedetto

Kristen DeBenedetto

Kristen DeBenedetto has been a longtime student of dance, and specializes in ballet, jazz, and modern dance. She heads up Ekata’s ballet program, and teaches Panda Ballet, Youth ballet, and Adult Classical Ballet, in addition to Sunday’s Cardio Ballet class.

She has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in dance education from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and has been teaching dance since age 14.

“Dance allows the dancer to express themselves in an organic way that cannot be replicated. It frees the spirit and heals the soul,” Kristen says.

Heather Evans

Heather Evans

Heather grew up dancing and teaching ballet, jazz, and hip-hop, and has been teaching Zumba for five years. She is AFAA Group Fitness Certified, and has certifications in Zumba, Zumba Kids, Zumba Gold, Zumba in the Circuit, and Toning.

She danced professionally for the Los Angeles Clippers and Seattle Sonics, in addition to international resorts, dance teams in Seattle and Los Angeles. She has also choreographed and taught at multiple dance studios.

Heather is a firm believer in the power of Zumba, as she has seen its effects in her life, helping her bounce back after three pregnancies (with 40-50 pound weight gains) and post-partum depression.

“Ekata is all about mind, body, and spirit – an important trinity I follow in my own life as a way of taking charge of one’s health and life,” says Heather.

Tammy Alvarez

Tammy Alvarez

For Tammy yoga isn’t just an exercise, it is a way of life. Tammy fell in love with the philosophy of this ancient practice. When she started volunteering at her son’s school, she taught yoga to 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade students. After seeing the children grow and becoming more confident in what they were doing was when she realized EVERYONE would benefit from practicing yoga! Having been AFAA and Mad Dogg Certified, she decided to add a new element of wellness to her resume and become certified to teach yoga through YogaWorks. Tammy is continuing her education in yoga because she believes it is a LIFELONG journey.

“I love sharing the transformative process of yoga. Practicing yoga led me down the path of self-acceptance and awareness. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to hold a safe space for students to evolve into the best part of themselves on the mat — and eventually into the world. Namaste.” — Tammy Alvarez


Mike Hassan

Mike Hassan
Kettlebell and Combat Jiu Jitsu

A martial artist for more than 15 years, Mike Hassan’s disciplines include Walt Bayless Combat Jiu Jitsu (he is a black belt), Shito-Ryu Karate, Savate, JKD, Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Tae Kwon Do. He focuses on helping people find their physical strength and mental power.

In 2013-2015 he won multiple bronze, silver and gold medals in Jiu Jitsu competitions, and was a bronze medalist in the 2013 IKLF Championships for kettlebell.

“Since I started training with kettlebells in 2010, I’ve been able to hit numerous personal records, and this style of training has opened my eyes to how versatile one tool can be in boosting strength and athletic performance,” Mike says.

Michael Ha

Michael Ha
Adult Jeet Kune Do, Kids Gung-Fu, Kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

The study and practice of martial arts has been a passion for Michael for more than 30 years, starting at age 6 with his training in Tae Kwon Do.

He has studied a wide range of martial arts disciplines, including Kali/Escrima, Pencak Silat, Tang Soo Do, Hwa Rang Do, Boxe Francaise Savate, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Jeet Kune Do (both original and JKD Concepts), and Xuan Tong Gung-Fu.

He currently instructs adults Jeet Kune Do levels 1 and 2, kids Gung-Fu level 3, and kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Other classes he has taught at Ekata include Kali/Escrima, Savate, and Muay Thai.

“Something I love about Ekata is getting to work with the students and help them develop their disciplines,” Michael says.

Derek Velia

Derek Velia
Private Training, Kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do

Derek is a certified JKD instructor and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer. He specializes in fitness training and martial arts. He is certified in Functional Movement Systems (FMS) and holds a brown belt in Xuan Tong gung fu, a purple belt in combat Jiu Jitsu, and a silver glove in Savate.

Derek has competed in kickboxing competitions, and has won gold, silver, and bronze medals in BJJ competitions, as well as bronze medals in kettlebell competitions.

“I love Ekata because every time I walk in greeted by my students and friends, this truly feels like a home away from home,” he says.

Beka Jackson

Beka Jackson

Director, After School Program

Education: Master’s University,  Liberal Studies with emphasis in early childhood development. In January, She will be starting her teaching credential and masters in elementary education through Western Governors University. Afterward she plans to become a licensed behavioral analysist.

Employment: She has worked Legacy Christian Academy since 2012. She worked for 2 years as an afterschool counselor with students from kindergarten-junior high. In the summer of 2013, she worked as a summer camp counselor for Sunshine. In 2014, She was a science assistant at Legacy Christian Academy until being hired as a teacher’s aid in Kindergarten. She currently works as a Kindergarten Assistant at Legacy Christian Academy. She also has been privately teaching piano for 5 years.

Personal: I grew up in Northern California. I moved to Southern California in 2012 to attend the Master’s University. Working with children is a true joy and passion of mine. Helping students reach their educational goals, challenging them to learn something new, helping them build character and become better individuals and of course having fun is what I love doing every single day. I am absolutely ecstatic to get to know your amazing children through the afterschool program at Ekata.

Guest Instructors

Sifu Fran Poteet-Joseph
Master Jeet Kune Do Instructor

Professor Nicolas Saignac
Boxe Francaise Savate Professor

Kru Surapuk Jamjuntr
Expert Muay Thai Instructor

Professor Luiz Baek
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Professor

Grand Master Ting-Jue Zhou
Master Martial Artist/Healer

Mestre Amen Santo
Master Capoeirista

Milo Levell
Hip Hop Dance Instructor