Almost 600 martial arts students, instructors, masters and grand masters from across the nation paraded into the San Jose City College football stadium on June 25 for the greatest master black belt test and display of martial arts skills in the 38-year history of the Ernie Reyes West Coast Martial Arts Association (WCMAA), headquartered in Santa Clara.
Taiko drummers began the evening. Then, led by an Olympics torch, the procession made its way onto the field, where a giant human circle was formed for the opening ceremonies of the 76th Semi-Annual Black Belt Show and Mastery Test. The ceremonies even included a surprise proposal of marriage from a black belt to a green belt.
A resolution from California congress member Mike Honda was read, commending WCMAA co-founder Grand Master Ernie Reyes Sr. “for his tireless dedication to his craft and our community.” Reyes was previously honored as “one of the greatest martial arts masters of the 20th century.”
The show was the culmination of a week of testing, in which qualified students to move to the next degree of black belt, from the fourth through the ninth degrees. The successful candidates performed for 3,000 friends and family members watching from the viewing stands.
WCMAA’s mixed martial arts training blends traditional and modern techniques, and the show featured traditional, combative and performing martial arts demonstrations. Performances by the WCMAA World Action Demo Team were among the show highlights.
WCMAA training is offered in Korean Tae Kwon Do, the art of kicking, American boxing, Thai kickboxing, Filipino knife and stick fighting, Japanese and Chinese weapon training, street self-defense techniques and submission grappling from the ground.
Individuals are trained not just in self-defense arts, but also in the self-discipline needed for personal development and success in other areas of life, according to Reyes. They develop three Empowering Master Mindset Concepts: Extreme commitment to produce extraordinary results, an indomitable warrior spirit that never gives up and unconditional love for others to make a better world.
“Today is all about a celebration of life,” said Reyes, who has needed all his warrior spirit to face recent health issues. Three months ago he underwent surgery for prostate cancer but is now cancer-free.
Master Ernie Reyes Jr., Reyes’ son, was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. He has dialysis three times a week and is on the national organ transplant list.
Also working through health issues, WCMAA co-founder Grand Master Tony B. Thompson is back at work after recovering from surgeries for congestive heart failure in April 2015.
Reyes Sr. and Thompson met as students at San Jose State University, became friends and later became partners in establishing the West Coast Martial Arts Association.
“We never signed a contract,” said Reyes. They just shook hands on the partnership. They have now been friends for 49 years.
“It was hard for minorities to break in,” continued Reyes, who is Filipino. Thompson is African-American. Both are now recognized internationally for their accomplishments in martial arts, and Reyes and his son have been featured in numerous TV shows and movies.
Thompson’s 29-year-old daughter, Tanika Thompson, has trained in martial arts since she was five.
“It teaches kids more than self-confidence and physical strength. It teaches character skills. Those are things that last with you,” she said.
“If we can help one kid a year get on the right path, then we’ve done our job,” said Tony Thompson. “It’s all about life skills.”
“I’m proud of Papa because he’s so strong he can even kick a monster in the face,” said Thompson’s five-year-old granddaughter, Anaiya, not yet a black belt.
Santa Clara resident Gloria Story became involved in martial arts when she took her son and daughter for lessons. She became a volunteer then an instructor at the WCMAA headquarters, 2410 El Camino Real, where Dave Medina, who has a 6th degree black belt, is head instructor. WCMAA has schools in nine states, with 17 in the Bay Area.
“The training teaches my children respect, self-discipline and responsibility,” said Story, who has a 3rd degree black belt. “It’s a great school. We’re like one big family. Everybody gets treated equally, no matter what.”
Night had fallen when Story’s extended, black-belted family of warriors and monster slayers–even slayers of cancer–spread across the SJCC football field en mass again for the spectacular grand finale performance of the historic 2016 Ernie Reyes West Coast Martial Arts Association show. Applause thundered through the darkness.