Inspiring Students through a Career in the Martial Arts

A woman in full sparring gear prepares to fight with her fists up.
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Inspiring Students through a Career in the Martial Arts

A karate instructor in a front stance holds a board as a student tries to break it with a side kick.
a karate instructor yells while extending his arm with a palm strike

Black Belt intensity.

Mr. Ricardo “Ricky” Garcia, a third-degree Black Belt through Mile High Karate in Westminster, Colorado, recently took the reins as Head Instructor for Ripple Effect Martial Arts in Johnstown.

Here he shares some highlights from his roots, his heroes, and his drive to train and teach in the martial arts.

When did you start your martial arts training?

I was young, 7, almost 8 years old. It was early in February that year, if I remember right. Some black belts from Mile High Karate came to my elementary school for an after school program. My brother and I call ran home and begged Mom and Dad to sign us up.

Did it take much persuasion?

Not really [laughs]. My sister [now also a third-degree Black Belt and Ripple Effect Martial Arts instructor–ed.] wasn’t so keen at first [laughs]. But we all went over the Westminster school and signed up the next day.

The whole family.


How did that first karate class feel?

I was shy at first. I remember it perfectly, walking up, gripping my Mom’s leg as we toured the school.

So it was intimidating.

For sure, watching these (to me) HUGE guys and girls kicking X-ray sheets, that loud SMACK!, shouting HI-YAH!!! [smiles]. It was a totally new environment, a new type of energy.

What warmed you up?

The instructors. They made me feel confident, like “you’re little, you’re new, but you can do this.”

You’ve since trained to third-degree Black Belt. Has your family kept training?

We all made it to Black Belt, I’m proud to say, earning first degree together. My sister’s gone on to earn her third-degree Black Belt as well, and Mom’s working on hers [smiles].

So you were a Black Belt going into high school?

I’d actually earned my second degree by freshman year, yes.

How did that prepare you, socially, academically for the challenges of those years?

A karate instructor helps a student target a specific point on a board he's about to break.

Breaking through intimidation.

In terms of homework, tests, etc. the focus I gained from martial arts really helped. Training for Black Belt gave me organizational skills that helped me keep up with the academic workload. Socially, martial arts helped me with being bullied.

You were bullied? As a Black Belt?

Everyone gets bullied, in some way, at some point. Black Belt doesn’t make you immune. It just gives you the skills to deal with bullies in a healthy way.

What other challenges have you faced in life with the help of martial arts?

I have a condition known as dysautonomia. It causes the nervous-system to basically short-circuit, and it can cause severe pain, muscle fatigue. It also affects the memory. Once in junior high school I literally forgot how to write. I had to relearn, and the condition caused these tremors in my writing hand. I couldn’t make letters with straight lines, so I learned to write cursive.

You adapted.

You could say that.

Have you seen other people struggle in their training?

In my past five years as a martial arts instructor I’ve worked with students with ADHD, severe autism, and muscular dystrophy. I’ve worked with students who are deaf. I never take those struggles for granted. My goal with everyone is to help them make gains, help them achieve more than they ever thought they could.

How did you get into instruction?

When I was 15, an instructor position opened up at Mile High.

How was it teaching adults and kids, when you were just a teenager?

I was nervous at first [laughs]. Talking to a group of students, you could hear the nerves in my voice. But I had had great instructors, great examples. 

So your instructors inspired you to follow in their footsteps?

Oh immensely, especially Master Galloway [who went on to found Success Martial Arts–ed.].

How so?

He’s the coolest grandmaster-type guy I know [laughs]. He always had this energy, the biggest smile. He taught me how to connect with people, no matter who they are. Plus he could kick straight up in the air [smiles]. I always had a good day with Master Galloway.

Any other martial arts heroes?

Oh, you know, the classics [smiles]. Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and some legends I got to learn from in person like Grandmasters Jeff Smith and Bill Wallace. I’ve always respected martial artists for who they are, how they interact and inspire people. Not just for what they can do [physically].

Any final thoughts on how teaching martial arts has broadened your horizons as a person?

I’ve learned that everything depends on the individual student. How they think, how they learn, their own fears, their own goals. I’m always learning too, from my students. It’s what makes martial arts fresh, it keeps it fun.

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