For the Good of the Peo­ple

Black Belt - - BETTER BUSINESS - by Mark Ja­cobs

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.”

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