Martial Arts Wisdom For Everyday People

Honoring My Path...

My thirteen-year journey in the martial arts has been anything but a straight line. When I was seven, I saw The Karate Kid, (the original, even though I hear the remake is quite good) and I immediately made my parents sign me up for karate classes. I lasted a month, even though my folks prepaid for six months with money they really didn’t have at the time (I still feel bad about that). At the age of eleven, the movie Bloodsport got me thinking about martial arts again, and I ended up at a Tae Kwon Do school for three years. I went all the way to red belt (the belt before black), but at fourteen, high school drama would become my obsession, and I stopped my Tae Kwon Do training.

As a child, I always read martial arts magazines, even when I wasn’t enrolled in formal classes. I always read about Guro Dan Inosanto (best friend and training partner of Bruce Lee and the father of the Filipino Martial Arts on the west coast), and the Jeet Kune Do Concepts movement. I have a pretty photographic memory for names and faces, so I began to develop a decent understanding of the “usual suspects” of the Concepts movement. What I didn’t understand was how Guro Inosanto and his students could possibly study Jun Fan, Kali, Thai Boxing, Wing Chun, Silat, etc. at the same time!

As a freshman at the UCLA School of Theater, it was mandatory to take morning Tai Chi classes for the first two quarters of class from a visiting professor that also happened to be a national champion. My Tai Chi experience rekindled a desire to enroll in a martial arts school. In the spring of my freshman year of college, I ended up at a Shaolin Kempo school, which was part of a large chain. After two years, I was promoted to instructor, and I began teaching both private lessons and group classes to children and adults.

About a month after I was promoted to instructor, the head teacher at the school left the chain of dojos, and opened up his own academy. Along with another college-aged assistant instructor, I helped run the academy for about a year. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the school did not take off, and it closed down a few months before the end of my senior year at UCLA. I graduated with a degree in theater in 2000.

In 2003, I began working as a high school English teacher, while I took night classes to earn my teaching credential from Cal Poly Pomona. In May of 2004, with my credential about to be complete, I bought a condo in Chino Hills, California. With a new home, a teaching job in place for the following year, and the desire to continue my formal education to earn a master’s degree, I also started to look for a new martial arts school.

One day, when I was on the Internet (honestly, looking for an Aikido school) I stumbled upon the Website for Sifu/Guro Bud Thompson’s Kali Academy in Whittier, California. The high school at which I taught was in Rowland Heights, not all that far from Whittier. I visited the academy for the first time in May of 2004, and I signed up on that initial visit. I was just a few months away from turning 26 at the time. I started my training with Sifu Bud and his talented teaching staff. Bud Thompson, who is now in his early eighties, is Guro Inosanto’s oldest, active full instructor.

I quickly upped my training at the Kali Academy from three days a week to five, or six days a week. My girlfriend at the time had just moved in with me, and she was very supportive. I was teaching high school, going to Cal Poly Pomona one night a week to earn my master’s degree, and training at the Kali Academy. In June of 2005, after just having testing for my Phase I and Phase 2 certificates under Sifu Bud, I attended all forty hours of the Train With the Legends Camp at the Inosanto Academy. The Train with the Legends is an annual seminar that takes place over four days, consisting of ten hours of training a day. The seminar features Guro Inosanto, Ajarn Surichai Sirisute – head of the Thai Boxing Association of America, Sifu Francis Fong – head of the Wing Chun Association of America, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Legend Professor Jean Jacques Machado. At the conclusion of the camp, I immediately set another goal: I wanted to be a certified instructor under three of the four presenters at the seminar: Guro Inosanto, Ajarn Chai Sirisute, and Sifu Francis Fong. The mix of those three men, their individual teaching styles, their arts, and what each uniquely brought to their students had a powerful effect on me.

In the summer of 2005, I continued my training at Sifu Bud’s but I also began supplementing my training at OC Kickboxing, under Sifu/Guro Daniel Sullivan (also a full instructor under Guro Inosanto), and his great mix of instructors. I stayed at OC Kickboxing for just about a year, earning preliminary rank in Thai Boxing, Savate, and Jeet Kune Do, but as the demands for my graduate studies increased, I could not juggle the two schools, and my responsibilities at Cal Poly at the same time. I stopped my training at OC Kickboxing. My master’s thesis/project was an interactive DVD designed to help new classroom teachers become functional using the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do concepts. I shot and edited over ninety minutes of content. The first half of the disk explored the arts typical of the Jeet Kune Do Concepts movement, with a final segment detailing how the practitioner begins to become functional in all ranges of combat. The second half of the disk was filled with classroom management techniques, content delivery methodology, and teacher tactics to maintain order and health. The final segment of the DVD explained how JKD concepts mirrors the development of the novice K-12 teacher as he/she struggles to become functional in all of the skills and life areas necessary to maintain a teaching career. The written portion of my thesis cited several of Guro Inosanto’s books and articles.In June of 2006, I completed my Phase III test under Sifu Bud, and I earned my master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona. As a graduation present to myself, I attended the 2006 Legends camp, missing the afternoon sessions of the third day to attend my graduation at Cal Poly. At the 2006 Legends, I was talking with Guro Suzanne Spezzano (an instructor at the Inosanto academy, and a friend) about the desire to find another supplemental martial arts school. Guro Suzanne suggested that I enroll at the Inosanto Academy, and honestly, I just hadn’t really given the idea serious consideration until she suggested it.

In the summer of 2006, my girlfriend also received a promotion: she became my wife, and very shortly afterward she became pregnant. With her blessing, I cut back my training some at the Kali Academy, and in the fall of 2006, I began driving out to train at the Inosanto Academy one day a week.

My son was born in April, 2007. He was late, and bigger than anyone suspected. My wife’s thirty-two hours of labor are not filled with pleasant memories. My son spent a few weeks in intensive care due to the traumatic nature of his birth. My wife and I decided on the name Taiko, which literally means “big drum” in Japanese. The origin of that name is a long story. When my son finally came home from the hospital in May of 2007, my wife and I agreed that I would start training again once, or twice a week to see what that would look like with a child. I knew that the time of six days of training a week were over, but my family was well worth it. I managed to complete my Phase IV test under Sifu Bud in June of 2007, and my wife even made time to let me attend half of the Legends 2007 seminar.

The birth of my son really sparked a desire for me to figure out where I was at in terms of my skills. I had acquired some more rank in Savate under Professor Nic Saignac, and an apprentice instructorship in mixed grappling under Professor Roy Harris (whose attention to detail and teaching skills would have a major influence on me). I was also teaching classes regularly for Sifu Bud, and I knew I was on the path of an instructor. I attended my first Oregon Thai Camp (a five day training crucible held through the Thai Boxing Association of America) in the summer of 2007. Also, having done some seminar work with Guro Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny, and some of the other Dog Brothers, I participated in my first Gathering of the Pack fighting with rattan sticks and a minimum of safety equipment in fall of 2007.

In the fall of 2007, I also began my doctoral studies at the University of La Verne to earn my Doctor of Education Degree (Ed.D.) in organizational leadership. The program at La Verne mostly took place on weekends, and actually fit into my life fairly well. In 2007, I did my best to be a good father/husband, teach junior high school for a living, train at the Kali Academy and the Inosanto Academy, and be a doctoral student. When I write about doing those things, I am not bragging. I was delirious for a lot of that. What I’ve discovered is that delirium makes you brave; you don’t have time to outthink yourself.

2008 was a great year for personal development. I moved back to teaching English at the high school level in a new school district. I moved into the second year of my doctoral coursework, and even co-authored a research study for the university. Early in 2008, after receiving an invitation from Tracy Fong (who had also become a familiar face, and friend from the seminars over the years) I flew to Atlanta to attend my first instructor’s training conference at the Francis Fong Martial Arts Academy. I was certified as an apprentice instructor under Sifu Bud in Kali and Jeet Kune Do, and accepted into Guro Inosanto’s instructor’s association. I earned my yellow glove in Savate under Professor Nic. I participated in the three-day, 20th anniversary Gathering of the Dog Brothers, logging in 13 fights in 3 days, and I became a full Dog Brother, earning my nickname of “Guide Dog”. I capped the academic year by again attending Legends 2008, arriving a few hours into the first day with a car full of classroom supplies ready to be put in the garage for the summer, as that was the last day of the academic year for me.

In summer of 2008, my best friend became a widow at the age of thirty when her husband finally lost a long battle with cancer. During a conversation later with my friend in the fall of 2008, my wife and I were inspired by the positive energy and the “seize the day” attitude my good friend was maintaining, even while still figuring out how to move on with her life. After that visit with my best friend, my wife became pregnant again a few days later in spite of the insanity that was already our lives.

2009 was really all about my family, and my wife’s pregnancy. I was still training at the Kali Academy and Inosanto Academy when I could, and I managed to attend a few events. I made it back out to Atlanta to train with Sifu Francis at another instructor’s conference, and I took my preliminary test to begin to qualify to one day enter into Sifu Fong’s insructor’s assoication, which is a very difficult endeavor. I fought at the spring Dog Brother’s Gathering. I attended most of Legends 2009. I took time off after Legends, because my wife was due in August. Our daughter was born right in the middle of the month, and we needed to keep up the theme we set with our son’s name, so we named our baby girl “Katana”, which means “sword” in Japanese. My wife and I always say that we have a drum and a sword.

2010 was an amazing year. I changed high schools again, and I landed in at my favorite site at which I have ever taught. In February, I flew back to Atlanta, and Sifu Francis Fong surprised me with a promotion to apprentice instructor. Sifu is an amazing human being, and I want to make sure that more people in California have access to him. Guro Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny promoted me to Lakan Guro (apprentice teacher) in Dog Brothers Martial Arts in March. I am proud to be both a fighter (with currently just under fifty career stick fights) and an instructor in the Dog Brother’s approach. In early July, I finished my coursework for my doctorate.

On July 18th, 2010 just about two weeks after my thirty-second birthday, at the conclusion of two days of seminar work, I took my test with three other examinees from OC Kickboxing to earn my instructorship in Thai Boxing. [Extra period deleted] After a basic skills demo and a demo of the traditional fighter’s dance, the examinee completes a pair of 3 minute rounds during which he/she must score 60 kicks and 40 knees on Thai pads held by a certified instructor while the holder is free to attack at full contact. The examinee may only cover and shield while landing his/her kicks and knees. I know my experiences with the Dog Brothers prepped me to take a beating, but the test pushed me harder than I thought it would. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but it was more mentally draining than I expected. Frankly, that makes it all the more rich.

I began teaching martial arts on a regular schedule in March of 2011 in my garage. I ordered tee shirts and class supplies. The goal was clear: build up enough students to transfer the operation to a commercial facility. A few weeks after I began teaching in my garage, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation and my degree posted in May of 2011. In September of 2011, I finally found a space that was affordable, and I transferred my garage program into my current 1400 square foot space in Pomona, California. My curriculum, which took about a year to write, was already in place from my garage program.

I have multiple workshops that will be launching and DVD’s that are already in the editing stages. My goal is to divide my organization into three areas of emphasis: 1. The promotion of the eight arts that I teach, which are underrepresented in my area 2. My Martial Arts Wisdom for Educators concept that I developed during my master’s project

3. Martial Arts Wisdom for Everyday People, or the development self-improvement materials for those who do not wish to engage in regular martial arts training, but who might still wish to benefit from martial arts philosophy in their personal lives.

My life has been anything but a straight line. I am here, at the end of some roads, and the beginning of others because I continue to believe in what could be. If you are close, please stop by the academy whether for a free class or a workshop. If you are not local, please visit me on the Internet at stoopsma.com as I have products launching as well as free videos and articles in development. The back of my current academy tee shirts read “Using martial arts to make the world a better place”, which is a vision to which I am committed. I wish you good luck in the future on your endeavors and I know they are possible. I know because I have been able to accomplish many of my life’s goals and if I can, anyone can. Just remember that your path to your goals may take a different route than you had in mind originally. Stay on the path, enjoy the ride, and savor it when you finally reach your destination.

In Friendship,

Dr. Bryan Stoops


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