When Robert “Robby” Putnam was three-years-old, he started doing martial arts because he loved watching the Ninja Turtles. In his later years, he got into gymnastics because he loved working with kids. Combining his interests in martial arts and gymnastics, Putnam now owns the Santa Clara based Gymrate (pronounced gym-RAH-tee), located upstairs in Airborne Gymnastics (1515 Walsh Avenue, between Scott Boulevard and Lafayette Street). The school serves kids age five and up.
“My goal is to combine the focus and discipline of martial arts with the strength and flexibility of gymnastics,” Putnam said. “I started working at Airborne Gymnastics back in 2009. I saw all these boys upstairs watching their sisters do gymnastics and I thought to myself that they should be doing martial arts. Because I have a background in martial arts, I talked to the owners of Airborne, Mel Ruggiero and Leah Parker, about starting a martial arts program. Four years into the program, once it reached enough numbers, I approached them about taking over the program. Since we started this program back in 2012, we have served over 500 families.”
Putnam holds a black belt in Bok-Fu, a style combining various martial arts styles. By studying Bok-Fu, Putnam was able to train in the styles advertised in Gymrate’s flyer: Kenpo, Tae Kwon Do, grappling, Aikido, Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kickboxing and Kung-Fu. Gymrate runs on a modified Bok-Fu system.
“At beginning levels, the children mainly focus on self-defense tactics from the art of Kenpo. Kenpo, a style of karate, is a Japanese style of martial arts that focuses on using the other person’s energy and force against them,” Putnam said. “You’re not allowed to use your legs in boxing—it’s about punches only. But kickboxing focuses on hands and legs both. Tae Kwon Do, a Korean style of self-defense, mainly focuses on stretching and kicking. Aikido is about using your body to know how to calm and control a situation rather than using overly aggressive force. Grappling is a form of ground fighting.”
For Putnam, martial arts is more than just throwing punches and kicks. Rather, he considers martial arts as a tool that helps to positively shape young people.
“We focus on not just the physical aspect but also life skills,” Putnam said. “We have a ‘word of the week’ whether it’s ‘respect,’ ‘confidence’ or ‘teamwork,’ etc… We do a learning drill to reiterate and reemphasize the word within the class itself. The learning drills can be anywhere from dodgeball to work on awareness and ‘Ninja’ Says (Simon Says) to work on focus.”
“We have a yearly tournament that’s a fundraiser for a camp for kids who have had, or have, cancer,” Putnam said. “It’s called Camp Okizu. The tournament, held at Airborne, is called the Kicking Cancer Karate Tournament. It’s held usually around Thanksgiving time. It’s a competition held among our students. Last year, we raised $1,600.”