My first experience in the Martial Arts came from a Kajukenbo black belt that I met at a gym in the late 1970's. I was around 15 at the time and he started to teach me basic kicks and evasive techniques. I had always wanted to study martial arts and was so impressed I signed up at the nearest Karate school. This school taught me the art of Bok-Fu, an art similar to that of Kajukenbo and Kenpo.
During the next several years I studied under various instructors and progressed reasonably well. My foundation in the martial arts was being established and fortunately in a system and school that did not readily promote black belts and one that had a reasonably high standard of training.
About the time I began to work on my Blue Belt, my training was taken over by another instructor. This instructor was my 5th instructor to date. I only trained with this man for a brief period of time, considering martial arts is a lifetime commitment. This new teacher was the most demanding yet. He taught good basics and fundamentals, the development of mind, body and spirit as well as the drive for perfection. The training was intense and very satisfying. At the time, I did not realize, but this person was molding me for the remainder of my martial arts career. This person was Sifu Gary Toppins.
Since these early days in my training, I have studied with numerous other instructors and black belt's, some very well known, others obscure. I have studied various other arts, including Kenpo, Judo, Jujitsu, Shorinji Zendoryu and various weapon training. To this day, the person that I consider Sifu (literal meaning, not simply teacher) to be Gary Toppins. I consider anyone that has the opportunity to train with this man to be very fortunate, value your time and learn well. Mr. Toppins is truly a master of the art and a master of teaching the art.
It has been many years since my training with Mr. Toppins and I am now a somewhat eclectic martial artist, but then so is the Hawaiian lineage of self-defense. By no means have I forsaken the valuable training from the early days, the lessons my Sifu taught I carry with me always and have grown based on this foundation. My training early on and even now teaches to enjoy your martial arts experience, it is an experience and a commitment for life. Do not be in a hurry to obtain your Black Belt, as you will find, your Black Belt is just the beginning. Remember to "empty your cup" so that you may learn and "nothing is impossible to a willing mind".
Make your martial arts a lifetime study; research the history and origins of your art and others. It is important to have an understanding of all combative art's, not to forsake your own, but to understand the opponent and different philosophies. Become well read in the martial art classics such as the "Art of War", "Tao of Jeet Kune Do" and "Book of Five Rings" as well as simple modern day guides such as "Zen in the Martial Arts". When researching, you will often find opposing theories, but remember the Yin Yang. Read many sources, and in the end draw your own conclusions.
And finally, honor your Dojo/Kwoon as you would your own house, your teacher as you would your own family and your art as a sacred way of life.
Sifu Tony Zitko
Napa Valley Martial Arts Academy