Niche Market | Martial Arts Supplies

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Zaakyaa Young at Kinji San (Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market takes a peek inside a different specialty store and showcases the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Kinji San
3010 Avenue M
Brooklyn, NY 11210

In the good old days, Kinji San vended nunchucks, butterfly knives and Chinese throwing stars. "Those were considered toys back then, they were dangerous toys but they were toys," recalled Doug Lee, who grew up surrounded by such wares in his father's martial arts supply shop in Midwood, Brooklyn. Now such goods are illegal in New York City, and Kinji San sticks to tamer jujitsu and judo gis (uniforms) and belts, specialized sparring gear like bo staffs and fighting fans, protective gear and martial arts videos.

Lee, who filled his father's shoes as owner eight years ago, is a local boy. Even though much of his business is conducted online and the majority of his customers — dojos, or martial arts schools who sell to their students — buy wholesale, he says he'll never move from the original location. Kinji San is now one of the oldest businesses on the block and has lasted through the neighborhood's demographic shifts, from predominantly Irish Catholic to heavily Orthodox Jewish. (Though the local dojo went out of business, there is "Fit-Yid" a kosher children's fitness center a block away from Kinji San.)

Lee’s parents melded their first names, Ken and Jean, into Kinji and added San — or "mountain" in Japanese — to name their upstart endeavor in 1974. Like old-school New York diners decorated with the black and white headshots of actor who frequent the joint, Kinji San's walls are a gallery of 20th century martial arts sub-culture heroes and instructors who supported the shop. Customer business cards dating back to the early 1990s are taped to the counter, mostly dojos in the New York area and private instructors.

The couple, who are Chinese-American, started the business as an "Oriental gift shop" but Ken was a martial arts fan and started selling the supplies a few years in. The first uniforms sold like wildfire, and ultimately the gear replaced all the other merchandise. The entrepreneurial Lees eventually launched their own brand, called Ronin. "A Ronin is a masterless Samurai, a warrior. A warrior or samurai that basically was not accepted among the karate dojos throughout feudal Japan and was a self-taught, self-made martial artist," Lee said.

New York City's peak as a mecca for martial arts was in the Bruce Lee era, the 1970s, but Lee said the growing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, which has a major television presence is reinvigorating the sport, particularly Brazilian jujitsu. Lee called MMA the "chop suey" of martial arts — all of them combined.

Most of Lee's customers may be schools, but Kinji San's retail stop is a lifesaver for those who need to suit-up for a match — be it Tae Kwon Do, Judo or Kendo — last minute. On Saturday, Zakaa Young rushed over in a cab with his daughter Zaakyaa, 8, and son Zubee, 4, to purchase a brand-new gi for his daughter's karate tournament the next day. Martial arts is a "confidence builder" said Zakaa, who was excited to see his daughter, who started studying martial arts at the age of three, compete. Between trying on gis and demonstrating katas (karate forms) on the store floor, Zaakyaa said she had a disciplined regimen to prepare for the tournament. "I'm going to study, fight my dad and I think I'm going to stretch." 

Interview with Douglas Lee, owner of Kinji San Martial Arts Supplies

A lot of your business is done online and to a lot of wholesalers, so why do you bother keeping this Midwood store?

It's within ten minutes of where I live, number one. Number two, the rent is very low, we negotiated a very good lease with the landlord. Number three, the size of the building meets our needs...Another reason is we're well established here, we've been here for over 30 years now and there's a lot of customers that know us, whether they leave, they close their school, they always come back. We'll have people from the neighborhood here — the neighborhood's really changed over the last 15-20 years. We'll have people who used to live here and they'll drive by and say, 'Oh my god, Kinji San is still there, I remember coming in and buying the Chinese stars and nunchucks' — that was all legal, now that stuff's illegal. We don't have that stuff anymore. Those were considered toys back then, they were dangerous toys but they were toys. 

And there's a lot of history in the store. When it comes to martial arts I would say karate, in the 1960s and 1970s, New York City was known as the mecca of karate. Like the real serious karate guys in the tournament scene nationally were from New York. All the top guys, the heavy hitters were from New York. And when we opened up in the 1970s a lot of the instructors were coming here, so now, a lot of these instructors have passed on, they're not around anymore, certain instructors such as Peter Urban, Thomas LaPuppet, Moses Powell, Professor Vee, the list goes on, they have instructors that they've groomed who were so passionate about the martial arts that they decided to open their own schools up. They have their students now and it keeps going on.

What's the most important thing in this business?

The most important thing in this business, I would say, is to show up, make sure you're here on time, be nice to the customers and make sure you pay your bills to your vendors (laughs).

Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Zaakyaa Young at Kinji San
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Douglas Lee, owner of Kinji San
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Zaakyaa Young at Kinji San
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Customers at Kinji San: Zakaa, Zaakyaa, and Zubee
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC


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Comments [18]

muhammad ishaq from sialkot

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May. 25 2013 03:42 AM
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Mar. 12 2013 10:26 AM
suleman from pakistan

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Jan. 31 2013 05:18 AM
Arslan Tahir from sialkot Pakistan

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Dec. 11 2012 08:36 AM
khizran sheikh

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Nov. 08 2012 03:42 AM
Usman BAig from Sialkok

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Aug. 11 2012 09:18 AM
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Jun. 11 2012 03:21 AM
Shakil Bhatti from Sialkot Pakistan


we are real producer of Martial Arts Gear, for more information visit us and let us know your feedback and future buying plan.Thanks.

Best Regards
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Apr. 27 2012 02:45 PM
Tehreem B Corporation from Sialkot


We hope you are fine,

We are introduce our selves as Manufacturers and Exporters all kind of Martial Arts Uniforms,T Shirts,Boxing MMA & Fitness Equipments ,since last many years in Sialkot Pakistan. We invite you please welcome to visit our web site. If you have any question about any products or required any products than please inform us by E mail.

Quality control and quick service is our MOTTO. Please give us one chance to provide a good quality.

(we can supply the products with your Logo.)

We are looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

Thanks and best regards

Mazhar Hussain
Chief Executive

Tehreem B Corporation
P.O.BOX # 1116 Nishat Park Paris Road
Sialkot 51310 Pakistan.
E mail.
Tell: 0092- 52- 459 3229
Mobile. 0092-300-618 3229

Mar. 15 2012 06:50 AM
Los Angeles MMA from Los Angeles

Great example of how to hang in there and run a business. Good luck to him.

Los Angeles MMA

Feb. 09 2012 02:39 PM
Ismael Aguilar from Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Kinji San is a great store and Doug and his darling mom Jean are just great people. The store is literally part of the history of New York Martial arts for the last 30 years or so. So many places that I use to visit in my youth are gone and are but faded memories. It's wonderful that Kinji San is still here and that it still provides the very best in martial arts products and services.

Jan. 13 2012 12:04 PM
Yasir Rashid Ghuman from brooklyn

Dear Sir/Madam
Have a Good Day
We are one of the leading suppliers of all kinds of Martial Arts
Uniforms & Equipment. If you are looking for a Professional, Reliable
supplier for long term business relationship, you can try us.we with
the best workmenship convert the imagination of our customer into
real products .We Guarrantee highest level of Functionality ,Quality
& Performance. You must check our Quality and give us one chance for
providing you Something real & best Quality We are specialized in
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(1)Martial arts uniforms
(2)Boxing Gloves
(3)Boxing Equipment
(4)sports wears
our aim is to provide the best quality products to our customers at
very reasonable prices because we beleive in 'Quality more than
Quantity. if you have further inquiries please feel free and contact
with us in this regard

Web Site
E_Mail Address:
ph:office +92-52-3574840
Toor Abad Daska Road
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Dec. 04 2011 12:46 PM
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Nov. 25 2011 05:02 AM

I remember outfitting my now grown girls with their karate gi outfits from Kinji San. We live in Virginia and it was well worth the trip to Brooklyn. Some institutions remain a part of childhood memories. Thanks Lee family for keeping the lights on!

Nov. 17 2011 09:10 AM

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