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James Martinez, 26, lives in Point Richmond, California. A former ballet dancer, he discovered a passion for martial arts when he and a friend tried a free trial of Poekoelan Tjiminidie Tulen, an Indonesian martial art based on the movement of animals and practical free-fighting. What started as a lark soon turned into a full-fledged obsession: James now works out four to five times a week and teaches in the children's program at Studio Naga in North Oakland.
What made you become obsessed with this sport?
I wasn't very athletic as a child—I couldn't even do a chin-up until the ninth grade. As a young teen, I was really into ballet, and received a scholarship into the city ballet school. The workouts were great, but my peers were less than impressed with my passion and my body was unbalanced—freakishly strong legs from lifting and jumping, paired with a scrawny upper body. I left ballet but couldn't find anything to replace it. At 22, I joined a gym but found it boring and macho. I met my martial arts teacher in my neighborhood, and she encouraged me to try it. I was instantly addicted. I became obsessed with going to class, meditating, and working out on the training mats. Every aspect of class was exciting, challenging and fun—it's become all I can talk about. My friends have become a little tired of me raving about it; luckily, I have made a lot of new friends through training.
What is your training regimen?
Classes are every night and Saturday morning. I usually attend four or five classes a week. We do lots of strengthening warm-ups —situps, pushups, running—and, of course, as much kicking and punching as possible. The style is an animal form so we also practice moves from the monkey, tiger, snake, and crane. There's a lot of jumping up, and going down on the mats. And, of course, sparring.
To be both an athlete and a gay man, what did you find you had to give up?
Very quickly I learned that how I treat my body [affects] how it will perform. It took me a few months of training let go of old habits—partying the night before training almost did me in. I can no longer convince myself that McDonalds and Burger King serve health food.
Does it feel good to kick a straight guys ass, or do you want to beat everyone?
I just want to kick any ass! Kicking a straight guys ass seems like reverse hetero-bashing bullshit—although I must admit that one of my ultimate fighting dreams is to fight a marine and win. I respect that crazy fight till the end mentality.
How competitive are you? And how does that translate into other aspects of your life?
Gratefully, Poekoelan—my art—doesn't promote competition, it repairs the soul and submits the ego to elevate the entire being. Being the best is unrealistic—though you can be better than others, there will always be someone better. I think of winning as personal success. The idea that I can support my family and friends with a devoted mentality means I am winning in the larger picture.
Within relationships, winning is never a possibility. If I believe I am in competition with a partner, then failure is inevitable. There are a few couples that train at the studio, and they don't fight with each other in training. Their relationship doesn't hinder their training, but I see that training does support and nurture their relationship. I really respect them.
What is the most painful part of training?
I'm healing an old fear that is years upon years of building—a fear that tells me I am not good enough. This thought challenges me to confront the insecurities that keep me back from being everything I can be. Weirdly, in a fairly short time, I've actually seen changes in my life. I am able to see the person I am, as opposed to the person I want to be or the person I should be, or the person I think I am. I have an amazing outlet in that the training itself is filled with compassion and meditation. My best resources are the incredible people who have gone through exactly what I have gone through; their insight and support have shown me that quitting is not going to help me feel better.
Who is your favorite sports or other star?
I would like to uplift all athletes as I respect the rigorous training we put ourselves through daily, though I'm a big fan of Kareem Abdul Jabaar. He was an amazing athlete as well as a man who followed his spirit, led with integrity, and moved with dignity. Kareem also trained with Bruce Lee who without a doubt is the greatest martial artist icon ever.
People know you're gay because...?
In my daily life I assume everyone knows I'm gay. I'm not extra-specially queeny, but I do have a sense of humor. I find a lot of truth in humor and I can even enjoy being the butt of a joke! (Thanks, Mom!) In training, I try not to make it too apparent as to challenge other people's preferences. It gives me great joy to express myself through movement and I don't believe having grace or being beautiful is either gay or straight.