SCV karate studios offer a number of options

Master Gavin Espinosa, top, flips Master Jason Kivi while demonstrating some of the grappling techniques taught at their Stevenson Ranch martial arts studio. Bobby Block / The Signal.
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By Matt Fernandez

Signal Staff Writer

Ninjas, karates kids and kung fu warriors have long captured people’s attention, and with the awesome power of hand -to -hand combat come discipline, confidence and other life skills.

While it takes years to harness the kind of technique and power seen on television and the movies, the Santa Clarita Valley offers several options for those hoping to get some exercise and learn the ancient arts.

Victory Martial Arts

Master Kivi, left, stands beside Sr. Master Espinosa in the Victory Martial Arts Studio in Stevenson Ranch. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Between receiving dual masterships and celebrating its 22-year anniversary, 2019 has been a big year for Victory Martial Arts in Stevenson Ranch.

Victory, which is owned by Senior Master Gavin Espinosa, is part of the international ATA organization. Espinosa first began taking Taekwondo lessons in high school, after he moved to Santa Clarita from Northern California as a way to become more involved with the community after he discovered his classmate Paul Kim, who also used to own a local school, was an instructor.

“When Paul told me he was an instructor, I didn’t believe him, because I thought martial arts instructors were supposed to look like Mr. Miyagi,” Espinosa said. “When I walked into that studio, it was the first day of the rest of my life; and I have had the same passion for martial arts ever since. My instructors early on planted the seed that I would be a successful instructor and, in 1997, I opened up my first studio.”

In July, Espinosa and his instructor Jason Kivi received their Senior Master and Master ranks from the ATA.  In order to receive the title of master, members of the ATA who have reached the rank of sixth degree black belt undergo a yearlong process that includes training every day, reading self-improvement books, attending training sessions at the national and world championship tournaments, a hike to Red Rock Canyon and a nine day fast while training.

“I almost quit when I was a brown belt, but my parents made me stay because I made a commitment to reach black belt. And once I got it, it was the most empowering feeling,” Kivi said. “The process of becoming a master is priceless, because it’s something that you make your own. For me, it was a tribute to all the people who had an impact on my life and a symbolic passing of the torch to show my students that they can do it, too.”

After two decades of teaching, Espinosa said that each day still feels fresh for him. 

“It’s humbling and exciting, and after 22 years I’m still looking for ways to grow and to reaffirming our place in this community,” he said. “I look forward to each of the new faces that comes in hungry for what we do. After all those years it’s so easy to look at students just as one out of thousands, but I still look at each student as a new challenge and that’s what keeps it me going.”

Liz Gaspar and her children have been part of the studio since 2016 and said that as a parent she likes how Espinos and Kivi balance discipline with enjoyment and the opportunity to train with her children. 

“I appreciate how the instructional staff here isn’t stagnant and is always striving to improve boy going for master or senior master and beyond,” Gaspar said. “We’re excited to be here with the studio to witness their anniversary and look forward to what the years will bring.”

Rising Sun Karate

Rising Sun Karate students from left, Kevin Stevens, 17, Kieran Tamondong, 17, Sensei Randy Word, Aiden Lewis, 12, and Rachel Lam at Rising Sun Karate in Stevenson Ranch on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Rising Sun Karate owner Randy Word coaches Santa Clarita Valley karate students into Olympic-caliber athletes.

Word bought Rising Sun Karate in 2005 from the previous owner and former Power Ranger Jason David Frank, who started the studio in 1998.

“I grew up watching ‘Ninja Turtles’ and the original ‘Karate Kid,’ so I wanted to learn and my mom signed me up,” Word said. “Everyone has their own passions, and mine happened to be martial arts — so I’m just very lucky that I get to teach it as a career. ”

While other karate schools Word has seen teach a more Americanized style that blends in techniques from different styles, Rising Sun specializes in traditional Japanese karate styles like Wado Ryu, which focuses on practical self-defense and more hand techniques than other styles of martial arts. That being said, the school also offers classes in other skills, such as boxing.

Word is also a national team coach with USA Karate and four of his students are on the team. Some of his students have competed in national competitions, and one recently even went to Chile to compete against other martial artists from around the world.

“Some of these kids I’ve trained since they were 5 or 6, and they first try out for the team when they’re 12 ,” Word said, “so I’ve been with them their whole lives. One of the greatest things is seeing my students grow up and go to college, then seeing the goals they have accomplished when they come back. I like to think that I helped in that journey, and that’s what keeps me passionate about this” 

Word’s approach to martial arts is that while it is primarily focused on combat self defense,but self defense via maintaining one’s health against things like bad eating habits or diabetes. But top of the discipline and rigor of training, Word said that one of his main goals is to make sure that his students still enjoy themselves.

“It’s about more than the punching and the kicking. It’s the life skills and the values that you get from martial arts that protect us from all the things in life that are harming us,” Word said. “ome of these kids are training for around three hours per day at the higher levels,” Word said. “It’s important to make sure that the training is still fun for them.”

Tae Kwon Education Center

Students receive insdtruction from master Jung Lee at the Taekwon Education Center in Valencia. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Master Jung Lee grew up in Korea, where he also completed martial arts training, and then fell in love with America, he said. 

Like most South Korean boys, Lee began training as part of his school curriculum when he was 10. He developed a passion for martial arts in high school and went to martial arts college before he joined the Korean Tigers demonstration team that toured internationally.

“In high school, the focus was how to be strong and fast, but in college is when I learned the different philosophies of martial arts, which helped me become more serious about my training,” Lee said. “We were training six to eight hours per day and they were even more strict than the army because we couldn’t drink or smoke and they didn’t care if you were injured. 

Though he initially did not want to join the touring team due to philosophical differences, Lee said that he is glad that he joined because his the experiences opened his eyes to a new world of possibilities.

“When I started touring, UFC was just starting, and I had never seen anything like it or jiu jitsu,” Lee said. “When I saw those styles, I felt like I had missed out on something in Korea, and I immediately wanted to learn. Another thing I noticed that people here are more positive and friendly while in Asia, people are very tight and if you look into their eyes, it feels like they want to fight you.”

In October, Lee’s school Tae Kwon Education Center, which specializes in tae kwon do and hapkido celebrated it’s 8 year anniversary. He reflected on how his teaching style has evolved through his interactions with students.

“In Korea , most parents force their kids to train even though they don’t want to, but it’s like the first ‘Monsters Inc.’ movie, in how, when they use the negative energy of the children’s screaming it works, but when they use the positive energy of the laughter , it’s much more effective,” Lee said. “Over the years I’ve learned that there are no bad characteristics in a child and I personalize each student’s training journey based on what is challenging for them. If a student can’t tie their belt, as long as they try I’ll tie it for them but if they don’t even put the effort I’ll leave that as a challenge for them to overcome.”

The Tae Kwon Education Center is located at 24021 Newhall Ranch Road, Valencia,

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