Author: Richie DeMaria
Victor Chico has plenty to brag about. A third degree black belt, winner of numerous tournaments and longtime member of the prestigious International Karate Association, the karate instructor could easily boast for hours about his many accomplishments. But instead, Chico-who also works as the assistant supervisor in Oxy’s mailroom-prefers to keep a low profile.
“I like to be in the background,” he said.
It is this humility and level-headedness that Chico passes along to his students. Now in his 13th year as an instructor, he teaches karate twice a week at Occidental, alongside famed grandmaster Soke Takayuki Kubota, inventor of the GoSoku Ryu (“Hard-Fast”) style of karate.
A longtime martial artist, Chico has lived a life defined by principles of humbleness and respect. He began taking karate lessons after moving from the Philippines to the United States as a teenager, when he found himself without a way to defend himself.
“Moving here in ’71 from the Philippines, I didn’t know much English,” he said. “I was small and got picked on. So I started defending myself.”
He first learned karate from a generous neighbor, who offered him free lessons.
“My neighbor said, ‘If you show up, I’ll teach for free,'” he said. “Knowing some self-defense, most big guys ignored me.”Karate quickly became a valuable skill for Chico.
“Karate: it’s like life,” he said. “What you learn in karate is what you use in your personal life. Karate is life. It’s not all about fighting. It’s about respecting people, learning how to take defeat and confidence.”
In 1979, Chico became acquainted with Kubota and the two have worked alongside each other ever since. It was a beneficial relationship for Chico, who acknowledges the advantages of studying with the karate legend.
“It’s great-the fame kind of gets passed on to me,” he said. Chico recalled how his allegiance with Kubota and his IKA has bolstered his teams’ presence in tournaments. “I was in Vegas at an international karate tournament and we were billed as [the team from] the headquarters. Being around him and his name helps,” Chico said.
Kubota’s name, of course, is not just any name. Founder of a school now represented in 59 countries, karate instructor to the LAPD, FBI and other police agencies around the world and actor in over 300 movies, commercials and television shows, Kubota is a veritable legend in his field. Most egos would inflate from being his disciple, but Chico remains modest.
“I’m proud, but I don’t want to have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “You know, I just laugh.”
After all, respect and perfection of character are two of the key tenets for GoSoku Ryu, and Chico lives them to the fullest. Chico sees his black belt, now gray from years of wear and tear, as a humbling reminder of his beginnings.
“A black belt turns white over time,” he said. “It reminds me of where I came from.”
It’s a message he passes along to his students.
“That’s what I tell students at Oxy, to humble yourself,” he said. “Some instructors don’t teach humility. Once you get to upper level, they have a chip on their shoulder.”
For Chico, watching students grow as martial artists is a particularly rewarding part of teaching.
“To me, evaluating a student is rewarding,” he said. “Not everyone is a natural; I like trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t. By the end of the semester, I’m able to see what I was able to get through. It’s great to see them have this knowledge by the end of it.”
Chico and Kubota’s teaching is so effective that it has earned Oxy students notoriety in tournaments.
“At tournaments, they say, ‘The Chico Clan are here’ or ‘The Oxy Boys are here,'” he said.
Though the trophies are nice, in the end, it’s the students’ commitment and the relationship he forms with the class that keep Chico coming back to teach.
“My number one reasons for teaching are the dedication, the respect and the continued friendship,” he said.
A skilled fighter and accomplished instructor, Chico could comfortably fill the shoes of grandmaster Kubota some day, but the desire for a title does not drive him. The humble Chico is fulfilled and contented by the teaching itself.
“A lot of people call me ‘shihan’ [master], but I’m not a master yet,” he said. “No, call me sensei. That’s good enough for me.”
Victor Chico and Soke Takayuki Kubota teach karate at Occidental on Monday and Wednesday evenings, 5-6:30 p.m. See their students in action at the Occidental Karate Tournament on October 7 at Rush Gym from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information on Kubota and the IKA, visit the IKA website at www.ikakarate.com.
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