The movie “The Karate Kid” came out in 1984. I believe I was like six or seven. A lot of people don't know that the writer of The Karate Kid was a fifth-degree black belt and his purpose was to show the true mentorship, leadership and development that martial arts can have for people.
They nailed it with the movie. It was just the biggest success. We wanted to start washing and waxing cars, and painting fences and building houses. That meant martial arts and that was what led my dad into finding martial arts classes for me. I started in the summer programs at the Y, which were very relaxed. Nobody had uniforms or anything like that, but we were doing karate and other martial arts -- we were just having fun and enjoying it.
As I got older, my interest grew and at the same time, I needed to get away from things that were not a good influence for me. My dad used to tell me, ‘If you keep hanging around them like that you're gonna do the same things they do.’ As a teenager, I didn’t believe it but it wasn't long before I knew my dad was right.
My dad's co-worker was a black belt in Taekwondo and he told my dad to take me to the school he went to. When I walked in that first day, that was the real deal. It was kind of intimidating. Everybody had real uniforms and all the different colored belts.
I remember feeling excited and intimidated at the same time. I had some experience from a couple of years at the Y but this was completely different. Not only was the instructor really nice and welcoming, the class seemed like a well-oiled, structured machine.
There was the obvious respect -- ‘yes sir, no sir’ -- but also they were doing push-ups. And to me, they look like the best push-ups in the world, you know?
It made me want to be like them. I wanted to be part of that. It was a very welcoming feeling.
Then at 16 years old, I had the chance to lead the class in my school. I came in one day, and my instructor had just had surgery, and was still in quite a bit of pain and wasn't able to run the class. I was the highest rank there that day. He was like, ‘Hey, can you run the class for me?’ And I said, ‘Well, sure.’
From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was run a martial arts school and be able to give back to the community everything it provided for me growing up and helped me get through things as a teenager and as an adult.”
- John Vasquez, Gold Medal Martial Arts Saginaw