The smile on the blonde woman’s face as she walks through the entrance to Martial Arts Warriors Academy says it all. The academy’s students love being there. Located across from Heritage Park in Otay Ranch, the academy is as unique as its co-owner and fearless leader Dr. Grandmaster Gary Amen.
Teaching deadly techniques to elite Green Beret and Navy SEALs or pulverizing huge river stones with his bare fist are all in a day’s work for Amen, even if it means a broken knuckle or two.
“I’m old school,” Amen said. He’s been practicing martial arts since 1966. “And when I say old school in martial arts I mean the 60s. Anything after 1969 is not old school.”
He uses back to back anecdotes, rapid fire, to tell about his decades of experience. He started training in grade school learning lethal techniques from a neighbor who was Special Forces. He tells about his dad and siblings all being military, then about his friendship with Billy Blanks of Tai Bo Fame. Then he’s on to the next topic.
But Amen is the real deal. He’s a 10-time Martial Arts hall-of-famer. He’s trained and worked with all the top masters and stars of martial arts, from Chuck Norris to a Blue Angels pilot. But it is a unique set of principles that makes Amen and his school unique.
Take student-turned-trainer Cristina Marquez for example. A mother of three who recently found herself in a tight financial spot. When she told Amen she could not afford his classes for herself or her children, his response was to let her work for her lessons. Today when she isn’t training or teaching she is also the Academy’s impromptu office manager. Marquez and her children are all still students at the academy.
“It’s really good for the kids,” said Marquez. Her kids are all under 10 years old, two boys and a girl. “I want them to stay active and it teaches them discipline. And they like it. They think it’s cool that mommy does it too.”
She is not the only one helping out around the academy in exchange for access to his training. Because to Amen, not practicing martial arts is incomprehensible. Better to barter than to let a student walk away.
“I have a big heart. I mean, I still gotta pay the bills but if I can help someone out, I do what I can,” Amen said.
Amen and his partner, Grand Master Joe Gonzales, opened the academy a year and one month ago.
“It’s brand new,” Amen said. This is Amen’s first business. “It’s new to me and a lot of people don’t know we’re here, so that’s a challenge. But I believe if you do enough good, word-of mouth will spread.”
After leaving his military training job in 2006, Amen knew he wanted to work with kids and began teaching at the Veteran’s Park Community Center until he opened the shop last year.
“For me kids are the most important thing,” Amen said. “I’m here for the community. It’s a gift. It’s a gift I want to give to the kids. I don’t want to see shootings in schools and things like that. I think if we had more martial arts schools you’d see less crime. I really do.”