Assistant principal Michael Martinez’s journey into combat sports stemmed from familial ties. Martinez’s grandfather had a black belt in judo, and because of him, Martinez started the sport at the age of five. At that young age, Martinez started competing in tournaments all over the country as well as internationally.
“Judo, when I was younger, was not a mainstream sport, even though it really isn’t now either, but it was kind of a mom and pop sport since my grandfather was really the one that got me into it,” Martinez said. “It was a sport that your family passed along to you back then and it was more close-knit and family oriented and in fact it was like families against families.”
To complement his skills in judo, Martinez quickly added wrestling to his arsenal. Wrestling allowed Martinez to represent his school through the sparring tactics he learned form judo. However, at the peak of his high school career, Martinez broke his neck during a judo tournament, forcing him to step away from all martial arts for the rest of high school. Martinez explains that the injury was a much needed awakening that made him reconsider his career plans and aspirations for the future. Martinez chose to look at the positive sides of the injury, considering that he was not paralyzed or permanently handicapped.
“At 16 years old my thought process was very focused on being in the Olympics and I thought I was going to go to San Jose State on a scholarship for judo,” Martinez said. “I was a judo guy - that’s who I was. I didn’t know what to do since I couldn’t do that anymore. I think that’s where I realized the other things I was passionate about. Since I liked to help people, I was able to get into speech therapy and things like that [which lead me to where I am today].”
However, the urge for combat sports never left Martinez and at the age of 28, he took up Brazilian jiu jitsu at Ralph Gracie’s dojo, one of the first jiu jitsu establishments in the Bay Area. According to Martinez in the early 2000’s, dojos were not a common site in the Bay Area. However, since Martinez rejoined combat sports, he has seen tremendous growth in the popularity of the culture, something he attributes to the increased number of classes for children.
“In the bay area you see a lot of krav maga, taekwondo, karate those have always been kind of big,” Martinez said. “I think that those are great activities for kids because it provides them with structure. Martial arts of any kind I think are a great outfit for kids from any background since it teaches them about structure and routine. It’s not really about the combat its more about learning skills like patience, respect and loyalty, some of those non-tangible things.”
However, even though Martinez believes combat sports can be helpful for children, he does acknowledge that the sport is violent, and not meant for everybody. Rather, Martinez says a certain type of mentality is needed in order to succeed in the sport.
“Combat sports are violent and aggressive. The point of it is not to go out and hurt somebody though we talk about jiu jitsu as a sort of human chess match, it’s a thinking sport. It’s not really about the physical nature of it, it’s about the the human nature, team aspect there’s so many components. But it’s a combat sport you have to be okay with being injured you have to be okay with that. I’ve blown out my knees I’ve broken every single toe or finger yet I still go out and keeping doing these things since I love them and it’s my passion. If it’s something you love doing you go along with it since you can deal with the risk of getting injured and it’s just part of the sport.”
When science teacher Kyle Jones stepped on to the mat during a jiu jitsu tournament, he wanted to play it safe because he knew his right ACL was torn. However, what Jones did not know at the time was that 15 seconds later, as he would try and lunge forward for a takedown, his other knee would give out, resulting in a second ACL tear.
For members of MVHS faculty, many try to find different hobbies and activities to participate in outside of school in order to relax or health reasons. Members, like Martinez and Jones, are able to escape from their life in work through combat sports.
“I was getting kind of bored and I wanted to try and combine something that was going to keep me in shape but was also a challenge,” Jones said. “I like the idea that [jiu jitsu] was a good way to learn self-defense at the same time. There’s a lot of things about it that really appealed to me at that point in my life of what I was looking for. The more I did it, the more I really liked it and fell deeper and deeper into it until I started realizing that I wanted to compete and I started competing.”
Jones started jiu jitsu almost two years ago; at the moment he is a blue belt, the second rank someone can achieve in the sport after a white belt. In order to progress in the ranking systems, members must compete in competitions around the area against people in their belt or other belt levels. Unlike Martinez, Jones experience with combat sports has been filled with injuries.
“The first injury I got was really interesting,” Jones said. “The bottom of my foot got gashed open from someone’s toenail and I had to get six stitches in the bottom of my foot. It’s like their toenails cut in between my toes in a really weird way. I had blood all over the mat. It was weird. That was my first injury and then I broke my pinky finger. I broke my pinky toe. I dislocated my ring finger. There’s a video on my Instagram where it’s like sticking out that way. That was rough.”
At the moment, Jones is nursing two severe injuries, tears in his right and left ACL. To recover from these injuries, Jones needed surgery on his left knee, which he received at the beginning of the year, and he will need to get surgery on his right knee after rehabbing from the first surgery. However, even after these extensive injuries, Jones faces no regrets about initially partaking in the sport.
Jones explains that the positive benefits from the sport, such as the relationship and extreme fitness, is the reason why he is still training for competitions. According to Jones, jiu jitsu is a type of ego check for him since there is always someone better that he can compete against or train to beat.
“It’s a really good self-defense it’s effective in a lot of situations,” Jones said. “You can learn to overpower someone who’s larger than you by using technique and like leverage and things like that. It also develops a lot of mental discipline because it’s not easy to show up and you’re going to get beat up. You get smashed your first two years. There are always people better than you that are going to smash you, right. So you’re always going to get smashed. What happens is as you do it longer, the number of people you can smash gets higher, but there’s always people that smash you.”
MVHS students reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of combat sports
As he watched the match on the screen in front of him, junior Aryan Kashyap, who was in sixth grade at the time, was mesmerized by the combat skills of the fighters. At that moment, Kashyap promised himself that he would try out that sport someday, which he later found out to be krav maga — a type of martial art developed by the Israeli army in the 1950’s.
According to Kashyap, there are a significant number of people who try some form of martial arts during their childhood in the Bay Area. Since Kashyap’s classmates were also getting involved in this craze, Kashyap decided to take up Krav Maga.
For junior Dan Sachs, martial arts was the first sport he discovered that was worth pursuing. Contrary to Kashyap, Sachs got involved with judo which is a Japanese form of grappling where one tries to get their opponent off balance and make them fall. Since judo was less dangerous than other forms of fighting, such as boxing or karate, Sachs’s parents encouraged him to try it out. Sachs has now been doing judo for 10 years and the reason he has continued pursuing is because of aspects off the mat.
“I mostly enjoy just the community and the group of people that are my age,” Sachs said. “We’ve practiced really hard together and gone to different places together for competitions. Having that camaraderie is very nice and it’s what keeps me connected.”
Similar to Sachs, junior Divya Suresh had a seven-year stint with the Korean martial art known as Taekwondo. After learning that one of her friends in the third grade had started taking karate classes, Suresh decided to get involved in a combat sport of her own and she explains that respect is a valuable skill.
“When you’re at the dojo, there’s this respect that you have for higher ranks and people who are older than you,” Suresh said. “You always call the teachers or instructors, sir and ma’am. You always bow when you go on to the mat and you always line up in rank order and then by age. It’s not something that I’ve done anywhere else. It’s just a different part of that culture, and an amazement of that continuous process that some people keep pursuing. You see how passionate [ the owner ] is about every student, whether they’re five or whether they’re 50.”
Kashyap believes that if one wishes to pursue anything in life, they must have passion for it no matter what. After being thrown to the ground multiple times by someone half his size during sparring exercises, he realized after a year that krav maga was not meant for him.
“I didn’t really care; it was something I didn’t really like at all,” Kashyap said. “I was just doing it just for the sake of it. I wasn’t really interested. I don’t think it’s something I can explain, it’s just something you feel.”
Suresh explains that even though all forms of martial arts embrace skills like respect and self discipline, each martial art is different. Grouping all combat sports together is inaccurate since each of them focus on different techniques or skills.
“For Taekwondo specifically, there’s more natural movements where they don’t want you to twist, or move your body in a way that’s unnatural and isn’t supposed to happen,” Suresh said. “It’s trying to generate power from your core in the most natural way possible.”
Similar to taekwondo, judo is unique in its own way when compared to other martial arts. According to Sachs, judo is more similar to wrestling compared to any other forms since both involve throwing and more contact than karate or taekwondo.
Despite the numerous differences between the types of martial arts, however, Suresh explains that all of them are helpful in certain situations when self defense is needed.
“Not a lot of people learn martial arts, but there’s always that danger of when you’re walking on the street you never know what could happen,” Suresh said. “It’s knowing that some things come natural to you. Even when you’re a little bit out of practice, those things are still with you. You can’t really lose it, and it’s good, especially in terms of self defense no matter where you are.”
Martial arts is a weapon
I can always distinctly remember the one trip I took to my sister’s karate dojo at the age of four. After coming home from work, my mom asked me if I wanted to pick up my sister, and grudgingly, I accompanied her to the dojo. However, as I walked through the glass door and sat in the waiting room looking through the window, I was immediately intrigued.
Everyone on the mat dawned bright white attire. They would simultaneously punch bags and do routines without missing a single step. Each of them would take turns trying to smash a wooden board in half, succeeding every time. I wanted to be on that mat.
When we got home, I immediately asked my sister to show me some of the moves that she had learned and I was especially amazed by a certain move called a roundhouse kick. Balancing on one foot, my sister was able to hold her other foot parallel from the ground and maneuver without ever tipping over. My parents saw my fascination in the sport and decided to let me try karate. By the next week, I was in my first class.
I went to my first white belt class, and I was then finally in the bright white attire I had previously only been able to admire. But, just as fast I got on the mat, I was off it.
Years later I asked my mom why I was never allowed to pursue karate; she told me that she worried that the sport would make me too violent. Hearing that made me furious because I believed karate would have helped me with my athletic endeavors by giving me more body control and strength.
However, my mom was right.
While dojos can teach self-discipline to their students — self-discipline is a skill that everyone cannot learn. In order to restrain from using self defense in unreasonable/irrational ways, the person has to realize that with power comes responsibility. Just because someone can beat up the person in front of them, it doesn’t mean they should. There were times in my life where I have wanted to fight back against bullies or beat my friends during play fights, but I never knew how to actually fight. While martial arts would have helped me succeed in those scenarios, ultimately, I wouldn’t be using the skills with the right intentions. Some people, like professional boxers for example, possess a switch which distinguishes between a fighting verses peaceful mentality. Right when these boxers enter the ring they are ready to attack the person in front of them, but as they step out of those ropes, they are peaceful again. That mentality where people can switch off right when they get off the mat is something that I don’t think I could have acquired because martial arts would have given me an aggressive personality.
Martial arts is helpful, but it depends on who uses it, and how they do it. Without that switch, being skilled in martial arts can pose dangers to society. Martial arts dojos promote peace and self defense, but knowing how to fight is a weapon that must be used wisely.
Martial arts helps you survive
Anger. That’s what I felt every time I was picked on and teased as a child by my older brother, friends and the occasional playground bully. It wasn’t until I was introduced to martial arts that anger finally subsided and turned into something much more powerful — a strong, everlasting self confidence that would carry me through the rest of my childhood and beyond.
Combat sports often have a negative stigma for the uninitiated. Misconceptions about violence and injuries lead parents to believe their child should not pursue combat sports, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Yes, martial arts involves contact and injuries do occur. However, injuries occur in every other contact sport as well. Basketball, football, soccer – the list goes on. Accidents happen, muscles get tweaked and people get hurt.
However, not once have I come across a martial arts instructor who encouraged the use of techniques taught in class to intentionally injure another student. By the same token, not once have I had an instructor who promoted the use of violence to intimidate, threaten or hurt others. Lessons taught in class are meant for self-defense purposes only. On paper though, people still only talk about a few things when it comes to combat sports. Injuries. Violence. Bruce Lee. And it’s unfortunate because martial arts is so much more.
Martial arts teaches self-discipline, awareness and a firm belief in yourself that sticks with you throughout your life. That’s why I believe that every single person should learn some form of martial arts, regardless of age, gender or background.
One of the most common objections I hear from parents against martial arts is, “Oh, my child is excitable and he will get too violent.” And I laugh, because that child they describe was me at one point. An angry, excitable little kid who would most definitely use the super cool techniques taught in class to beat someone up.
It didn’t turn out to be that way, however. The structure and discipline enforced in most martial arts schools ensures that children are taught to handle situations the right way. In fact, one of the primary and most fundamental lessons taught was the concept of de-escalation and how to diffuse situations that could potentially lead to physical confrontation.
We are taught that mindset is everything – it makes or breaks who you are as an individual. Specifically, we are taught that a discipline-oriented mindset is the key to maintaining peace with yourself and with those around you.
And that’s the beautiful and paradoxical nature of martial arts — leveraging your knowledge of self defense to maintain peace.
Of course, things can happen and reach the point where de-escalation is no longer possible. If you ever come to face a situation where your life is in danger, there is no better sport than martial arts to equip you with the skills necessary to survive. As my instructor often quotes, “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”