At the end of Steve’s first karate class, he ran out of the room vowing, “I’m never going back!” He was 5 and scared of all the “yelling”. He didn’t return until he was 9 when he decided he wanted to kick like the Ninja Turtles, and enrolled at Tom Bloom Karate in Thousand Oaks, CA. This proved to be a prudent move once his sister, Andi, took up sparring. Together they spent every spare moment at the studio. In summer, they were there for the first class at 10:00 a.m. and the last class at 9:00 p.m., taking classes and working out, stopping only to eat.
For the next 9 years, Steve reaped many benefits as a result of his karate training. He learned that being a "gentle soul” as his teachers at school called him, was not a liability … that real strength comes from within, and respect and hard work are most often rewarded with respect.
Once not able to do a single push-up because of a back injury from skiing, Steve gained strength in body and spirit as his training progressed. 4 years after he started, he received his black belt in Tang Soo Do in 1997, his second degree in 1999, and is currently in training for his third degree from Master Tom Bloom. He was scheduled to test in March 2001 and June 2002, but was out of state competing for both tests. Steve is a certified instructor in Tang Soo Do, formerly teaching classes at Mr. Esau McKnight's Thousand Oaks Spectrum program and Tom Bloom Karate. He also teaches private lessons in open forms and seminars. Whenever he can squeeze them in, he enjoys taking wushu classes from Coaches He Jingde and tae kwon do from Master Simon Rhee … and, no, he hasn’t had the benefit of taking formal gymnastics, which may be why he spends so much time with the chiropractor.
Steve has been very fortunate over the years. Many outstanding martial artists saw something special in him and befriended him, generously sharing their knowledge and insights. It is because of their influence that Steve has always felt he should “pay back” which is why you’ll see so much of his “stuff” on the net and why he helps those who ask him even during his own workout time. He hopes those he helps will do the same in turn.He also enjoys giving back to the community through performance.
Just before he received his black belt, Steve was fortunate to meet forms great (now successful stuntman/coordinator), Hiro Koda, on the set of Beverly Hills Ninja. Hiro inspired and encouraged him to enter the world of tournament competition and still remains a constant source of inspiration. To this day, Steve thinks of himself as Hiro’s “humble grasshoppa” and always ends his form with a “Hiro” bow-out (unless he feels his performance was unworthy.) This is when he developed a passion for learning tricks. In those days, he didn’t have a source of slow motion examples to learn from, but vividly remembers throwing himself on his bed and slamming into the wall for 6 months before he learned his first barrel roll!
Later, Steve’s close friend and supporter, fighter Manny Bujold, mentioned Steve to David Douglas when David moved to L.A. They became friends and started working out. Steve was introduced to David’s intense regimen, sometimes working form sections to the point of making them both ill. Steve credits his learning how to make up combos through David’s workouts with friends. This is where he began to put his gentle soul aside on the competition floor and develop intensity. They still work out from time to time, but David is very busy with his acting these days. He is thankful to David for sharing his knowledge and flair and continues to be amazed at his abilities.
When Arnold Chon moved to L.A., David invited him to their workouts. This is where Steve met him and they became training partners. Although they don’t actually work out together any longer, they are often seen at L.A. Valley working along side martial artists, stuntmen, dancers, and actors.
Steve’s workout schedule depends on his tournament, work, and school schedule and is roughly outlined in the FAQ questions. Open workouts with friends usually begin with a telephone call from someone who actually found a place to workout. The word goes out via telephone and they gather, usually late at night at a studio or gym where classes are over and the owner has graciously given them permission to use “free mat time”. Master Harry Graham of American Eagle Karate in Thousand Oaks has been especially generous over the years.
People often wonder how he got onto Team Paul Mitchell. The story is unusual, and I think, can be inspirational to young martial artists looking for that elusive sponsorship.
Steve didn’t actually start competing until he was almost a blackbelt. He grew to love karate so much that he gave up soccer, baseball, basketball, skiing, track, and even a place on a State championship football team in his high school. He would love to have run on the track team as well, but unfortunately he would have had to give up his job.
Perhaps the most impressive feat is that as a junior Steve paid for his post blackbelt training and competition fees himself. Which is why few people actually knew who he was for so many years. He always asked for money from relatives in lieu of Christmas and birthday gifts, squirreling it away in his “competition fund”. He would find local tournaments where a few dollars were offered for junior championships to add to the fund, and based on what he had accumulated, he would try to find competitions to enter within his budget. When he was sixteen Steve was able to secure a job and saved his earnings in his fund. He will never forget how friends Manny Bujold and Raymond Daniels showed their faith in him by helping him out however they could during those lean times. An enduring memory is sharing Hawaiian Rolls on tournament road trips in Manny’s 4Runner.
Needless to say, the first few years were tough. He could usually afford to go to only a handful of tournaments “for fun” and selected them from different leagues for personal reasons. He would pop up at tournaments a virtual unknown…unsponsored and unaffiliated, hoping to go up against a well-known competitor to challenge himself and to see how he “measured up”. He had several disappointments until he was no longer completely anonymous, but during these times, he also had some notable successes, Jr. Grand at Ed Parker’s Long Beach Internationals and NBL’s Double Diamonds being the first. It wasn’t until he finally won the Jr. grand prize at the Las Vegas Internationals, that he had enough money in his fund to compete in a few NASKA tournaments in 2000. The rest is history. He was able to compete in 5 NASKA World Tour tournaments, winning 4 junior grand championships for forms, and was noticed by Team Paul Mitchell. Steve will always be grateful to long-time friend, Raymond Daniels for putting in a good word in his behalf to the team. He still remembers the days when no one knew either of them and realizes how lucky he has been.
So, for those of you out there that think one can’t overcome the logistics or politics in the sport karate world, Steve’s advice is to hang in there, work hard at what you love, give generously of yourself along the way, and hope for the best. It can happen to you too. =)