Wåhen most people think of martial arts, they can’t help but visualize experts such as Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Bruce Lee or Tong Po.
In movies they guarantee viewers thrills and excitement. Tong Po, with his muay thai skills, is perhaps the most ruthless and savage of them all. His opponents are always in agony or worse. Snarling and cracking his fists, he intimidates his opponent in the ring while screaming, “I kill you!”
During combat competitions, some are forced to bend to his mighty power, or they end up physically mutilated, their egos crushed forever. What kid or grownup wouldn’t have nightmares after seeing those films?
Steve Bruce has been training in this field for more than 15 years and currently holds the rank of brown belt in Machado jiu-jitsu. He definitely wants to reassure the community that this is not how martial artists behave in real life.
Bruce is the owner of Elite Training Center Academy, where he instructs students in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kali, judo, jeet kune do, muay thai, catch wrestling and cardio kickboxing.
His dojo is at 220 S. Summit St., in Ark City.
“Here is how I would respond to the movie industry portraying this martial arts instructor (Tong Po) as a brutal, cruel person: most of the true martial artists I have encountered are genuinely caring people,” said Bruce, who is referred to as “Sifu,” or “teacher” by his students. “Most are not mean or arrogant, or have a lot of ego. I’m not saying there are not mean people that do martial arts, of course. I mean, people will be people, but for the most part I believe that when you really strive to be the best you can be, you will change for the better as a person.”
In truth, Bruce has much respect for all martial artists, and he encourages his students to show respect toward one another. Experience has taught him a lot about this art and himself. He is always constantly learning.
“I started training with my instructor Sifu LaDell Elliott when he came to work in the print shop I managed in about 2003 or 2004. We started training jan fan jeet kune do, a martial art-fighting system developed by Bruce Lee, and Kali, a form of stick fighting,” he said. “Sifu was an avid fan of Bruce Lee and had trained in various martial arts since childhood.”
Bruce is fortunate to have trained with many great martial artists, such as Master Rickson Gracie, Royler Gracie, Dan Inosanto — one of Bruce Lee’s first students — and Master Jean Jacques Machado, who had been Bruce’s instructor.
“All of these men are some of the most humble and generous people you would ever want to meet,” he said.
Kids and adults of all ages enroll in classes at the ETCA. He usually starts young people about 6 years old. However, he thinks kids can begin as early as 3. Many parents are glad that their children study and train with Bruce.
“Most parents are very excited about our program here at Elite Training Center Academy,” he said. “They can see the growth that they experience here as they learn self-control and confidence.”
Bullying is an issue very familiar to Bruce and some of his students. His classes help young people to stand up for themselves by learning self-defense.
“I have had several kids that have had issues with bullies. The bullying problem will never go away. What we teach here is a change in our kids so they are less likely to become a target,” he said. “Most bullies are looking for that weak person to prey on. Martial arts teaches us to be not only physically strong, but mentally strong as well. The confidence comes from training and accomplishment. I always try to discuss this problem so the kids know it’s OK to talk about. It’s all part of the process to building them up. They have to know they are not alone and have support from our team.”
Students possess additional reasons for participating in Bruce’s martial arts classes. Some just express an interest in getting into shape, while others will join so they can learn self-defense.
“The workouts we have for all classes are fantastic. Our cardio classes are usually an hour of fun-filled, full-body workouts that will leave you with a great sweat and feeling amazing,” he said. “Kickboxing classes are a real stress reliever for most. An hour of punching and kicking will really make you feel empowered.”
Today, Bruce has noticed that more women are involved with these classes — an inner spark or keen desire to learn is their motivation.
“I do see more women in the kickboxing and cardio classes. I think it is because this is a lot of fun for a group to participate. This is more appealing to the women, I think,” he said. “Now, the jiu-jitsu class seems to be the opposite. We usually have more men than women, but I see a new trend across the country, Many women’s jiu-jitsu classes have started up, and one of the big organizations is called ‘Girls in GIs.’ It focuses on empowering women through this great art.”
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is performed by Bruce in the gi (pronounced “gee,” with a hard “g”), which is the uniform. This simulates clothing a martial artist applies for leverage advantages.
“It also is effective in tournaments where other competitors also wear a gi or on the street where you may need to use an attacker’s clothing. At the training center, we train for sport jiu-jitsu, as well as self-defense. We include many classes that teach no-gi techniques, as well,” Bruce said.
Those who are not familiar with some of these different classes might want to know a little about them.
Kali is a Filipino fighting art that involves training with sticks, knives and swords.
Jeet kune do is a fighting system developed by Bruce Lee. In this art, competitors or students train in a series of trapping and striking.
Muay thai, the art of eight limbs, developed in Thailand and is a stand-up striking art that utilizes the fists, elbows, knees and shins in combat.
Catch wrestling, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are all a hybrid of grappling arts designed to take combat to the ground. These arts have a mixture of techniques that rely on leverage to achieve submission holds or chokes that will disable an attacker.
For more details regarding class schedules, Bruce can be reached by calling (620) 446-1969, visit his Facebook page, or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chuck Norris continues to be only one “master” Bruce thinks highly of. Norris, now 79, founded his own school of fighting known as Chun Kuk Do. He will be a distinguished guest at the 2019 martial arts Supershow that runs through July 3 in Las Vegas.
“Chuck Norris was responsible for helping grow Brazilian jiu-jitsu in this country,” Bruce said.
Recently, Bruce celebrated his 49th birthday. He is on a journey that has no end. Having gained knowledge and techniques from his instructors, it is his hope to pass on his skills to his students. And his students often turn out to be “teacher.”
In each class, he stresses the importance of family. He wants everyone to feel comfortable while they learn. And he has learned a lot from his “family.”
“We are a community of people that help each other reach our goals,” he said. “I want to empower everyone to overcome anything that has held them back in life. I want to be doing jiu-jitsu for the rest of my life. And I feel like if I am smart about how I train and who I train with — I will be able to accomplish this. I competed in a tournament recently with guys half my age. Many of them are professional martial artists. I brought home two silver medals and had some of the greatest fights of my career.
“Here is a life lesson I learned from training martial arts,” he said. “When you are in the middle of combat, there will be many opportunities that come up which will lead you to victory. If you ignore those opportunities or are too afraid to take advantage of them, you will not better your position — you will lose. We don’t get another chance on this earth — this is it. Take advantage of all you are offered and always challenge yourself. It’s really easy to be average, to do what is expected and take the easy road.
“My belief is that anyone has the capability to do great things at any age. Honestly, I am probably in the best shape of my life. I am choosing to learn and grow from every experience that I have in life, both in my dojo and outside of it.”