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Exclusive Interview: Ed Saenz


8th Degree Black Belt Ed Saenz got his start in martial arts in 1967 as a student of Chuck Norris. Mr. Saenz has spent his entire professional life in the martial arts and fitness business. In his current position as Directior of Operations for Mr. Norris’ KICKSTART program, Mr. Saenz is responsible for instructors, school operations and program development, overseeing more than 6,000 students and more than 40 black belt instructors in 38 programs in 34 middle schools, one high school and one elementary school in the Houston and Dallas areas. Mr. Saenz ability to translate the vision of KICKSTART into real terms is proven by the success of the program. He is a true example of the tenets of the martial arts and the commitment of those involved with KICKSTART.
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Patrick Parker: I was familiar with Chuck Norris’ ‘Kick Drugs’ school programs from years ago. Could you tell us a little bit about the newer KICKSTART program?
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Ed Saenz: I’ll start by telling you what Mr. Norris has to say in our web site on what KickStart the program is, what the mission and goals are and how the martial arts can accomplish this. The overall mission of KICKSTART is to change and save children’s lives. Resiliency is enhanced through the values and philosophies taught through the Martial Arts. Specific goals of the program are to encourage students to resolve conflict productively, avoid participating in gangs, choose drug-free lifestyles, and remain in high school until they graduate. Martial Arts training serve simply as the vehicle to instill the values and skills necessary to combat the drug and gang-related peer pressures. The core philosophy of Martial Arts stresses the vital importance of a healthy mind and body necessary to lead a productive life. The KICKSTART karate program replaces many missing elements of our students' lives including offering a role model, a figure of authority, a chance to set and reach goals, physical and mental conditioning and very importantly, a feeling of hope for the future and belief in themselves.
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Houston and Galveston Independent School District studies show that drug and gang related peer pressure is the worst on the sixth grade level. The goal is to instill protective factors in these children, so that they will have the resiliency to combat these pressures. From Chuck Norris’ vast experience working with children through the Martial Arts, he is confident this program provides the necessary tools for these children.
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On August 16, 1990, the Kick Drugs Out of America Foundation was formed in Washington, D.C. The Foundation received its 501(C)(3) status on March 1, 1991. The headquarters for the Foundation is located in Houston, Texas and also maintains an office in Dallas. Currently, the Foundation has a national board with Chuck Norris serving as Chairman, Houston and Dallas Advisory Boards, an Executive Director, a Director of Operations, two Community and School Relations individuals, a Business Manager and over forty Black Belt instructors. Funding permitting, the Foundation will be expanding on a continual basis. Beginning in 2003, in order to widen the focus of the anti-drugs aspect of the program, and to better represent the core values and philosophy of encouraging every child to lead a productive and healthy life, the Board decided to change the working name of Kick Drugs Out Of America to KICKSTART. The Foundation still maintains its official name as Kick Drugs Out of America Foundation, but now it has added a "dba" (doing business as) KICKSTART.
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Patrick Parker: Some of my readers have told me that you were the most amazing martial artist that they’d ever gotten to personally work with. What do you think are your particular strengths as a martial artist and as a teacher of martial arts?
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Ed Saenz: My experience and association with many respected martial artists such as Chuck Norris Howard Jackson, Pat Johnson, and John Natividad have allowed me to gain tremendous strength in both the knowledge and practice of the martial arts. I started in 1967 when I was 12 years old under a black belt named John Robertson, who was one of Chuck Norris’ earliest students. The experience of having Chuck Norris’ as my mentor has given me exposure to some of the best martial artist in the world and therefore allowed me to gain invaluable strength. In teaching the principals of the martial arts, I teach that a quality technique contains six components.
  • Posture
  • Lines of power
  • Methods of generating Power
  • Footwork
  • Timing
  • Focus
Using these six components I can identify to a student more clearly what is happening when a technique is being executed. It also allows me to layer a movement. This gives the student more control of his body when he is executing the technique. Instructors often tend to use the “Do it like this” method to teach. I feel that this method is not always teaching karate as much as showing karate. A student can be overwhelmed with all that is happening and not understand all that he needs to do and the timing of how it needs to be done.
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Patrick Parker: What aspects of the martial arts (i.e. physical fitness, self-defense, self-improvement, competition, etc…) do you think you emphasize the most in your teaching?
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Ed Saenz: I feel that physical fitness, self-improvement, self defense and competition are all equally important. I feel a Martial Artist should always be working on his physical, mental, and spiritual development. I feel that it is important to concentrate on three areas of practice: the art, the self-defense and the sport. In my opinion the three need to be kept in balance. I have found that when these three are out of balance you become too much of a martial art sport athlete, aggressive and disrespectful, or you have an unrealistic opinion of your skills and abilities. Keeping the three areas of practice in balance, gives a person more respect for others and the inner-strength to always be improving and staying on the path of being a true martial artist.
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Patrick Parker: What was your first experience with martial arts that got you on this path?
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Ed Saenz: My Dad saying to me and my brother, that he just enrolled the three of us in karate. I joke with everyone now that when I first started karate, I didn’t know I was allowed to quit, when your whole family is doing it with you. (Even though, I was the only one who went on to become a black belt)
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Patrick Parker: What do you think most interests your students and keeps them coming to class?
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Ed Saenz: Though my methods of teaching the martial arts, as I described above, they can actually do karate and though executing the martial arts they can be empowered to doing anything. It’s the empowerment of the martial arts that keeps students coming back.
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Patrick Parker: Your involvement with KickStart appears to be a great example of a remarkably successful children’s program on a local (Houston and Dallas) scale. What do you think has to happen to have a successful local grassroots children's program?
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Ed Saenz: A successful program is one that meets the needs of both the parent and child. “Most” parents are not interested in having the toughest or strongest child, but are interested in ensuring their children are provided with the best education and discipline in order for their child to someday become a strong and confident adult. They want a good and safe program that supplements their personal values and goals for their child’s life. Parents want a program that will build a “winners attitude” for life, not just for sport.
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What most children want is a program that is both fun and safe, safe both physically and emotionally. Where it is just as safe to fail, as it is to succeed, where the compliments and encouragement is real not just rah, rah or worst of all hurtful. Children’s programs should have a structured method of teaching to develop the skills necessary to execute correct movements and techniques. Everyone should have the same opportunities to feel the empowerment of being successful at doing martial arts, not just the physically talented and gifted. There also needs to be additional programs, where if the child is physically talented they will still have challenges and not get bored and disappointed with their instructor and fellow students. A school needs to have children’s classes set up by levels (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced classes) so that material can be layered and your intensity expectations can be taught to each level of maturity. Most of all children want instructors who are fun and exciting, who care about them, and who are proud of each and every one of their students.
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Patrick Parker: How have the martial arts with which you’ve been involved changed over the course of your involvement?
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Ed Saenz: When I started martial arts back in the sixties, there weren’t that many schools like there are now. Now there seems to be one on every corner and a person can get involved with just about any type or style of combat art you can think of. Because of that, schools are becoming more diverse in what they are teaching. This isn’t really anything new; it’s just that during the seventies, eighties and nineties sport karate was so popular that a lot of martial art school taught only a sport style of their martial art, now with the MMA being so popular everyone is returning to the cross training of the martial arts again.
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Patrick Parker: Mr. Norris in his autobiographies talks about doing judo when he was younger and working out in some Brazilian Jiujitsu later on. Have you gotten much chance to cross-train in different martial arts? How important do you think it is to cross-train.
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Ed Saenz: At Mr. Norris’ yearly convention for his martial art of Chun Kuk Do we are always bringing in the top martial artist of the world to present their styles and concepts. In years pass we have had Gene LeBell, Carlos Machado, Frank Shamrock, Fumio Demura, Wally Jay, Richard Norton, Neil Adams and Geoff Thompson to name just a few. We have also brought in David Meyers and John Wills to set up a curriculum up to the blue belt rank in the art of Machado Jiu-jitsu. So as you can see, Mr. Norris and all his instructors and students, definitely believe in the need to cross-train in all the difference skills for self-defense and combat. Mr. Norris style of Chun Kuk Do means The Universal Way.
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Patrick Parker: What does the future of these particular martial arts look like to you?
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Ed Saenz: In my opinion everything goes in cycles; self-defense, sports and self-improvement. I believe schools that teach being a martial artist will always be around and will always be sought after, as compared to those who teach doing martial arts. I feel that these schools tend to come and go with the latest trend or sport.
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Patrick Parker: Over the course of your career in martial arts, who were the 1-2 most amazing martial artists that you ever got to personally work with? What made them so great?
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Ed Saenz: The most amazing martial artist I have ever personally worked with is Chuck Norris. First, as a competitor he was the best of his era. Second, as a teacher, he always stayed a student of the martial arts and what he learned he shared. Third, as a person, he is a very giving and caring person. He is one of a few martial art champions who probably have given back just as much to the martial arts community as he has received.
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Ed, I have thoroughly enjoyed talking with you today. Your great attitude and obvious commitment to using martial arts to help kids is inspirational. You have given us all a great gift in this interview. Thank you.

6 comments:

  1. I've had the luxury of taking classes with Master Saenz at both my schools and at the UFAF convention. We at UFAF consider him an "instructor's instructor".
    He puts the "DO" back into the martial arts. I can rely on him for any information I need on any aspect of teaching. In my over 40 years of training I find him to very very fresh and on top of things. What he brings to the matt is great. This blog came from his heart. ALso, Master Saenz is a 9th degree black belt in Chun Kuk Do.

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  2. I am really happy that Mr. Saenz interview has occurred because it is just so great to see the generosity between his comments and Mr. Parkers questions as well as the commitment of both of you to forwarding excellence in the martial arts. I am also very glad that Mr. Prestie commented on what we think of him because the "we" he mentions is a larger number of people. UFAF has over 3000 black belts now and what there is to really understand is that Chuck Norris has empowered Master Saenz to be the man who leads us in training together with a board of other masters all of who have upwards of 35-40 years experience. Then of course in kick Start he is responsible for over 6000 students. My personal experience as a martial artist has totally transformed from my participation as Mr. Saenz student over the past 12 years. He helped to connect the dots on subjects that I had already had world class instruction on and really helped me to be empowered through my personal experience as a martial artist all the time creating a safe environment for me to grow in. He has also helped me to develop my own incredible martial arts students all of who are incredible human beings in addition to producing champions at a local, state, national, and international level. I am quite clear that the skill sets he developed in me made it possible to produce champions both in the martial arts and in life.
    I feel divinely blessed to have had him as a mentor, a boss, a trainer, a teacher, and a coach.

    Thank you Sir
    Chris McLean

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  3. Thank y'all for your nice comments. I certainly agree that what he says in this interview really emphasizes the "do" in karate-do. I'm glad I got to do the interview and I'm glad y'all are enjoying it.

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  4. As always, I'm impressed with the people you end up getting to talk to.

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  5. I would just like to say that I have been a karate student for Kick Drugs out of America for 4 years before it became Kick-Start and it is by far the best karate program I have ever been apart of. Receiving a black belt after 4 years was not only an accomplishment but an astonishing victory that gave me the confidence and devotion to face any challenges that come in my life! If it wasn't for Chuck Norris,Mr. Ed Saenz and Chris McLean I would not be here today in college on my way to a successful career. I have one semester left and last semester I made straight A's in all my classes. I have had many struggles in my life mentally and emotionally but this program helped me to overcome it all and gain strength to make the impossible possible! Mr. Ed Saenz has taught me a great deal about the martial arts as and so has my sensai Chris McLean. I was very pleased to meet Mr. Saenz in person and having the privilege of getting to know him, I have seen what he has done for all the students for the Kick-Start program. Thanks to all of you!!! Thank you for the scholarship from Mr. and Mrs. Norris the day I graduated from high school in 2003. Thank you Mr. McLean for giving me information about the karate scholarship. Thank you for the teachings, amazing motivation, discipline and skill that you have embedded into my body and soul. Thanks to Mr. Ed Saenz for the patience and commitment to make this all possible and the reason its still standing! I am blessed to have met all of you and lets continue to build our foundation so that all students will have a bright and wondrous future and become black belt champion of tomorrow!

    sincerely,

    Leo Mary

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  6. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Telangana Ration Card Download

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