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Life lessons learned through Hawaiian Kempo

Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
1:51 pm PDT April 14, 2014

Inside of a slender, rectangular room on the second floor of an unassuming business plaza in Malibu East is “The Pit,” and 15 people stand in a circle awaiting instruction from Hawaiian Kempo chief instructor, Rick Metzler.

The members of the group collectively represent four age groups: 4-6 years old; 6-9 years old; 9-14 years old; and ages 14 and older.

The majority of the group is made up of children, but at least two are in their teenage years and another pair are adults. 

Wearing padded armor — which consists of shin guards, padded helmets and boxing gloves — they all stand on a blue padding that covers all but the entryway of the floor. Most have their backs to walls lined with mirrors, punching bags and sparring equipment, but a fortunate few stand against a window and are momentarily relieved from the late afternoon heat as a breeze lofts through.

“Aaron and Gabriel, you’re up,” Metzler said.

Aaron Redondo and Gabriel Ziering, two of Metzler’s students in the 9-14 age bracket of the Hawaiian Kempo class, break from the circle.

“Now remember to make this look good for the photos, OK?” Metzler said to the boys. “Normally I care about what works and what will help you when you’re in trouble, but I want you to focus on your technique right now. OK? Go.”

Redondo and Ziering begin slowly as they size each other up. A few jabs and low kicks are exchanged to test each other’s awareness and spot weaknesses, but soon the two grip each other in a calculated flurry of kicks and punches: Some shots miss, others are blocked and others still find their marks.

To the untrained eye the boys’ spar can look like a chaotic series of movement, but Metzler carefully sifts through each motion and directs each student throughout.

“Watch for that kick, you’re wide open,” he said. “Remember to block, keep your gloves up.”

But the moves that Metzler teaches his students, both children and adults, are only the physical manifestations of a deeper instruction; resting at the core of which, is learning how to be, and the value of being, responsible.

“There’s so much about martial arts that’s based around responsibility,” Metzler said. “So much of the promotion of martial arts focuses on achieving goals like belts or ranks, but responsibility isn’t something you achieve: It’s something that you take on and are willing to accept, and it never ends.”

Metzler, who is a former preschool teacher and certified AYSO coach and referee, primarily trains his students in Hawaiian Kempo, which is a martial arts style pioneered by Metzler’s own instructor and Pitmaster, John Hackleman.

Hawaiian Kempo, a program taught by Malibu Martial Arts, Inc. at The Pit, is a nod to another martial arts style called KaJuKenBo, which incorporates elements of kick-boxing, boxing, Judo, Kempo, Brazilian Ju-jitsu and wrestling to create a practical and effective fighting style.

“When it comes down to it, I know my students are safer,” Metzler said. “This isn’t a dance class, this is martial arts. I could be teaching dance, piano or soccer and I could be communicating life lessons through those things, and I think there’s a lot of great teachers doing those things, but with me, people are learning about how to be mindful of their body and how it interacts with other people’s bodies.”

Confidence, Metzler added, is also an important takeaway for students of Hawaiian Kempo.

“There’s always going to be challenges, and everything that we do in here is a microcosm of life,” he said. “Achieving goals helps you be confident, [but] it just so happens that a caveat of what we’re doing here is being confident while someone is trying to hurt you ... We have to protect ourselves, we have to protect each other and we have to look after the ones we love.”

While Metzler said he recognizes the importance of personal achievements and the personal responsibility one undertakes to accomplish those, he believes that not only is the family of fighters at The Pit an important part a student’s success but also — of course — is that student’s family.

“Parents must be willing to set the example, and bringing kids in here two or three times a week is not all it takes,” he said. “We’ve had both children and adults in therapy be able to make huge strides because of the level of mindfulness of being responsible for your body and a care for the other person’s body, but that doesn’t happen when parents only drop their children off and pick them up 45 minutes later.”

And if anyone in Malibu is curious to learn more about Hawaiian Kempo or visit The Pit for his or her self, Metzler said there’s two things to bear in mind:

“Don’t be afraid of our name or the skeleton guy in our logo,” Metzler said. “He’s like a comic book character to us.”

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