Being the target of bullying and rarely being able to defend himself as a kid encouraged Sergio Camacho to enroll in a karate school in his native Aguascalientes, Mexico.
And what at first was born out of necessity turned into the beginning of a long career in martial arts — his way of life.
“After (learning karate) nobody messed with me anymore, they respected me, and martial arts became my passion throughout my life,” Camacho told La Voz/The Arizona Republic.
As a teenager, Camacho migrated to the US and his love for the discipline only grew, motivating him to pursue the highest rank he could in different martial arts.
“I came to the United States with nothing. Everything I have done has been thanks to God and my effort. I arrived alone like any immigrant in search of a better life and thanks to the amnesty I was able to fix my papers,” Camacho said. “By 2000, I became an American citizen.”
Today, Camacho has reached Ninth Dan in tae kwon do — the highest distinction in this discipline — Sixth Dan in tang soo do, Sixth Dan in hapkido and a black belt in judo with the US Judo Association.
At the age of 60, Camacho is now a karate master himself and the owner of a martial arts school in Phoenix. For the last 22 years, his passion for martial arts has allowed him to help shape the lives of thousands of pupils in Maryvale.
From Aguascalientes to Phoenix
When Camacho was 15 years old, he crossed the US-Mexico border through Tijuana to Redondo Beach, Calif., where he lived for a short time before settling in Huntington Beach, Calif..
There he resumed his martial arts training under the instruction of master Ruben Gonzalez, an instructor whose career in martial arts has included work in the film industry as both an actor and producer. Gonzalez trained with Chuck Norris, co-produced and starred in Spanish-language action films and did a small part in the Jack Nicholson film “Prizzi’s Honor.”
According to an article from the Daily Press, Gonzalez began teaching martial arts in 1976 and ran various schools in the Los Angeles area — around the time Camacho made it to the States.
Camacho moved to Phoenix in 1995, settling in the Maryvale neighborhood — one of the most Latino-populated areas in Phoenix.
There he began working as a tae kwon do instructor at the now-closed YMCA location in Desert Sky Mall and Fitness West gym. He also taught at a location located in a strip mall at 67th Avenue and Indian School Road.
In 2000, the same year he became a naturalized US citizen, he established his school, Master Camacho Martial Arts, at 75th Avenue and Indian School Road in Maryvale, where to this day he continues to train children in the discipline of tae kwon do.
He offers classes in tae kwon do for all ages as well as judo, jiu-jitsu and self-defense training.
His skills have also led to him being invited to teach self-defense courses at police academies in Mexico, something that he continues to do to this day.
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Getting kids ‘off the streets’
Living in Maryvale, a Phoenix neighborhood with high crime rates, is not something that bothers him. On the contrary, he sees his work in the area as an opportunity to help better the lives of many.
Instilling in his students the techniques of tae kwon do, but, above all, values and respect, is one of Camacho’s objectives. In the 22 years that he has run his school, Camacho estimates that some 40,000 children have passed through there.
“I am proud to see that parents, who were my students in their childhood, bring their children to school so that I can also teach them,” he said.
Camacho mentioned that he tries to make his classes as inclusive as possible, saying that he accepts students that live with varying neurological conditions. “I treat them the same as the rest of my students. I correct them when I have to and they learn fast,” he said.
Edgardo García, 57, who was a student of Camacho and has worked with him as an instructor at his school, applauded the passion with which he teaches the various disciplines.
“I have met quite a few tae kwon do masters both in the state and abroad, and I can tell you that no one is as professional as master Camacho,” Garcia said. “He is a teacher who imposes a lot of discipline and respect. With him, you have to work hard to win the belts, and that makes his school one of the most prestigious.”
Garcia is a Third Dan in the black belt. His daughter, Priscila Garcia, who will soon obtain her degree in medicine from the University of Arizona, was a student of Camacho since she was 7 years old, obtaining her black belt and winning several competitions.
The classes don’t just stop there, he said. Master Camacho Martial Arts is a school that has won multiple state championships. His students have participated in international tournaments in Ireland and Costa Rica, among other countries, obtaining several first places.
“We train respectful children, students, who are not delinquents, who are not gang members. … That is the satisfaction that I get. Each child in my class who graduates from high school or university is a satisfaction for me. We are getting all of them off the streets,” Camacho said.
Parents see positive changes in children
Judith N. enrolled her child Alejandro in Master Camacho Martial Arts on the recommendation of a teacher. Her intention was to keep him distracted since he is a hyperactive child.
“He has had a better behavior since he started training with master Camacho. I have noticed a quite remarkable change in his discipline and concentration. Above all, he can focus better on things than he did before, and he has more patience,” she said. “I live in this area of Maryvale and so it’s important to get the kids involved in sports or other activities so they don’t go the wrong way.”
Aidée Pedroza and Roberto Flores are parents who drive from Avondale so that their children can train at the Master Camacho Martial Arts school.
“It’s a sacrifice that I make three days a week, but I’ve seen great progress in my son,” Pedroza said. “Gasoline is expensive but money comes and goes, the most important thing is to support our children.”
Flores, who drives from the Dysart Road area to Maryvale, says that the bullying suffered by children in elementary school is what encouraged him to enroll his 7-year-old son, Roberto Jr., in the school.
“The main objective of bringing him is so that he learns to defend himself and he has done very well in one year and a half. Master Sergio Camacho is very good, my son liked it a lot and I support him,” Flores said.
Reach La Voz editor Javier Arce at email@example.com or on Twitter ,javierarce33.
Comuníquese con el reportero de La Voz Javier Arce por correo electrónico Javier.firstname.lastname@example.org o por Twitter @JavierArce33.
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