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Up Close: Ernie Reyes Sr.

ernie reyes sr.
photo courtesy of Ernie Reyes Sr.

FEATURED ON: The Master’s Way

BACKGROUND: Black Belt Hall of Fame, former

point-karate champion, founder of the

West Coast Demonstration Team

MARTIAL ARTS: taekwondo, tang soo do,

escrima, boxing, kickboxing

SEE HIM IN: Surf Ninjas, which stars his son Ernie Reyes Jr.

Four of the most prolific martial artists in the world came from your school: your son, the first martial arts-action child star; Scott Coker, who created Strikeforce and now runs Bellator; Cynthia Rothrock, the most dominant female martial artist in history; and George Chung, who changed the way formswere done globally. Did you ever see this coming?

Ernie Reyes Sr.: No, sir. My main thing was just to be the greatest martial arts teacher that I could possibly be. It was a time when I was trying to be a champion myself, and I fought in the third World Taekwondo Championship and won the bronze medal. So I was training — and they happened to be my students.

My main thing with my first couple of instructors, great grandmaster Moises Arizmendi and great master Dan Choi, was their basic, really precise and very masterful [ways]. So I took it upon myself to make sure I got that and every one of [my students] had it. But really I never thought that would end up where [they were] impacting and empowering the world.

You went from a champion yourself to grooming the next generation of champions. You wanted to teach precise movements, but was there anything else that you wanted to instill in that generation?

Reyes: The most important thing that was instilled in me by my martial arts teachers was the highest values of martial arts: honor loyalty, family and bravery. The traditional martial arts [are] based on honor and respect. I’m 74 and a half years old, and when I see them, they’re getting close to their 60s themselves, and I can still see in their eyes and I can still see in their hearts that they never lost those traditional values.

Now that you’ve put together this great history with well-known students, there’s a legacy. If you could tell a younger version of yourself a couple of tips to accelerate the journey, what would you tell a young master?

Reyes: I was very external. I had a lot of heart but not the heart that I have now. I accelerated a lot of the training. I made them become faster and better. Rather than it taking four years for people, I was doing it in one year.

But you have to work internally, too. It takes age and time to get that experience to work internally, which means spiritually. To take more quiet moments with yourself to contemplate and to do what Olympic champions are doing really — it’s all about visualization and mental focus.

So how do you do that? You have to take quiet moments and you have to breathe and you have to meditate. That meditation part of it, which I’m heavily into now — I’m still a ways from it, but at least I know I’m practicing and training and hopefully I’ll get to master it before my time’s over. But I would just say bring more of the balance of the mental. The spirit [of my students] was awesome because they all had that indomitable spirit to never quit or give up, but it’s a different spirituality. I think it’s connecting with the divine spirit as you get older.

black belt plus

I think that’s exactly what it is. It’s one of those things where the young bull doesn’t have time to be mindful. And now with experience, you realize the importance of it.

Reyes: Yeah. It’s not easy. You once said that first and foremost, you’re

a martial artist striving to reach the highest level through the martial arts process, the way, the do. 

What does the highest level of living look like to you?

Reyes: The highest level is [composed of] three things. Number one, develop the master’s mindset to do the extraordinary and to go above and beyond what you think is possible. You think you’re defeated, but you’ve got much more. 

The next thing is [to develop] your indomitable spirit to never give up in any crisis. That’s gonna be the true test, right? We could say, “Yeah, I’m not gonna quit.” Well, get hit with a crisis in your life and see if you can still have that warrior indomitable spirit.

The last thing is for my students — and for myself — to develop the power of love. I think love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe to create positive change in people’s lives and to give unconditional love to people in dire need without being told and without expecting something in return.

Those are the three primary things that I try to teach my students and live by. 

Martial arts is one of the greatest gifts to transform people’s lives if they develop themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. And it’s an ongoing process.

Reyes: Constant and never ending!

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