My martial arts training began in the early Summer of my seventeenth year. I was a bright-eyed, impressionable, high school senior, ready to conquer the world. I wanted to leave my past behind and strive full throttle into the future. Paradoxically, fate had already intervened as my past and future were on a collision course in which my reality would be forever forged.
From the beginning, training with Sifu Joseph Simonet was physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. Intuitively, he seemed to know my limitations – real or imagined. Sifu Joseph introduced me to several training methods. We boxed, grappled, weight trained, ran, hiked, and worked endless rounds of focus pad combinations. I learned aspects of Wing Chun, Silat, Kenpo, Doce Pares and Yang Style Tai Chi. Each art offered a unique and challenging expression of fighting dynamics. My passion for the martial arts was insatiable as several years of training ensued.
One day during a private lesson, Sifu Joseph handed me a training blade and asked me to show him my knife fighting skills. I assured him I didn’t know any knife fighting techniques or methods. “Actually, it’s everything you know”, he replied. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”, I said. Unbeknownst to me, Sifu had specifically taught me techniques and methods of movements that all translated to knife application. My jurus from Silat, my Kenpo techniques, the stick drills–everything became relevant to knife fighting. My astonishment soon turned into delight, as I realized edged weapons had already been an integral part my life. A further look into my history will explain.
I was born in Mexico in 1976. I was just four years old when my mother died giving birth to my baby sister. With five very young children, my father packed up and headed north to America in search of work in the orchards of Washington State.
My father is a hard working man, proud of his craft and Mexican heritage. He grew his own vegetables and butchered livestock to feed his family. Of all the children, I was the one that did not shy from the process of butchering our animals. Very early on, I would learn the skills by watching my father kill, skin, gut and clean animals. For me, using an axe, knife and machete became a natural and necessary part of growing up. I would cut off the heads of chickens using and ax and then clean and bone them with the sharpest knife my father owned. I have cut up rabbits, pigs, turkeys, deer and even a bear. It was not unusual to see my father and me side by side, cutting down alfalfa and corn stocks with a machete. The use of edged tools has always been a part of my Mexican culture.
Growing up, I wanted to be like all the “American kids”. Being young and immature, I was sometimes embarrassed that we slaughtered our animals for food. Now, as a woman and a martial artist, I have come to appreciate my heritage with pride and renewed respect.
At age 6 or 7, I first witnessed an underground Mexican past-time – cockfighting. During harvest every Fall, my father would hire dozens of workers to pick apples. This was a time of excitement as well as long, hard hours in the orchard. At night, the men would converge to drink, play music, and gamble on cockfights. The scene of men gathered around a circle of rope yelling and cheering during these cockfights is both surreal and vivid. These vicious rituals would often end with dead or severely injured roosters.
Unfortunately, there were some men who would cheat to win at any cost. In cockfighting, the cheaters would secretly attach thin razors on the cock’s feet, which of course, would destroy their opponent, slashing them into a bloody mess. On one particular night the crowd was loud and frenzied. Apparently, two cheaters had been caught. In punishment, they were forced to arm each rooster with razors and fight. Here I was, a young girl, witnessing a vicious reality of contesting with blades. My recollection of that night ended in chaos, spurting blood and yelling men.
The next day, I asked my father about the cheaters and the fighting. “Papa, I don’t understand. Who was the winner of the fight?” In a somber voice my father replied. “Hija, in a real cockfight with blades – the winner is the second one who dies.”
Through my father and our culture’s necessity to survive, killing and cutting up animals taught me respect in the blade and a strong value for life. Through Sifu Joseph and my passion in the martial arts, I understand the lethality of blade work through osmosis and practical self-defense application. The philosophy held by these two men has merged together and has allowed me to forge my own way of the blade.