For the Good of the People
The Native American tribes that inhabit the Coso Mountain Range of eastern California have a history that goes back millennia as evidenced by the rock art that’s spread throughout the area, some estimated to be at least 10,000 years old. An important part of that history has always been the indigenous warrior tradition.
“The Coso Mountains were a training ground where tribes would come together to share their medicine,” said Raymond Garcia, who was raised in the region and is part Shoshone. “I grew up being told about how Shoshone warriors would protect healers when they’d come into the mountains. Hearing stories of how �ierce they were in hand-to-hand combat was inspiring.”
But with the marginalization of American Indian culture over the years, such inspiration has been more and more dif�icult to come by. Native American youth grow up facing alcoholism, domestic abuse and health problems of epidemic proportions within their communities.
Garcia, 52, a longtime student of renowned martial arts instructors Al Dacascos and Benny Urquidez, came up with his own unique means of combating those issues by reinvigorating the warrior tradition in young Native Americans. He does that by offering martial arts classes that combine Asian �ighting arts with American Indian cultural traditions. “WHEN MY OLDEST son was a teenager, I noticed all the kids his age were looking and acting like little gangbangers,” Garcia said. “The elders in the community thought they needed to learn to sing and pray and dance, but when I talked to these kids, they told me, ‘Who wants to be a Native American?’ Then I learned from some counseling classes I took that you have to meet kids halfway. So I thought if they’re all trying to look and act like tough guys, let’s bring back the idea of Native American combat and use that to give them something to take pride in.”
Garcia started learning Native American dances later in life and was forced to turn to the traditions of
other tribes because most of the Shoshone dances had long since been forgotten in his community. But armed with the knowledge of those other dances, he began combining them with his martial arts skills to create a unique cultural mix.
“I’d already been working with the kali I’d learned from Al Dacascos, and it has a beautiful blending of dancelike steps with combat,” Garcia said. “So I started manipulating the things he does and blending that with Native American dance. Kids would see it and like it, so I eventually got them dancing and chanting and being proud of what they’re doing.” GARCIA BEGAN offering his martial arts classes to at-risk youth and domestic-violence victims nearly 20 years ago. He quickly noticed positive results among the kids he taught, as well as some real �ighting potential developing in a few of the more talented ones. He turned to Urquidez, a former world kickboxing champion, for guidance in helping the more combative kids train for competition.
While Garcia prepares his students primarily to battle the negative circumstances they encounter in their everyday lives, he also likes to think that as all-around warriors, they can back it up by stepping into a ring or cage and holding their own. But he’s most proud of the members of the next generation he’s guided in a more positive direction, keeping them out of jail or away from an early grave.
“There’s one young fellow named Spider who I started teaching when he was a really frustrated kid,” Garcia said. “But he’s now a talented artist. He creates this beautiful artwork with �lint knapping and teaches seminars on it. I think training in the martial arts provides these kids with a con�idence they can do things like that.” GARCIA SAID the classes he conducts are not free, but he doesn’t turn away anyone who can’t afford to pay. If they’re unable to cover the cost, he offers them a deal that entails helping out three people in the local community. To make things easier, he provides them with a list of organizations in need of volunteers.
“I think all martial arts schools should be involved in this sort of community service,” Garcia said. “In the Indian way, a warrior was taught to look out for the good of the people and to help meet the needs of the community. Fighting by itself is not for the good of the people, so you also have to learn how to lift people’s hearts up. This is the warrior’s way.”
“In the Indian way, a warrior was taught to look out for the good of the people and to help meet the needs of the community.”