Most of you probably don’t realize what an important part Instructor Jim Radzik had in opening Brand X. We met while training at Ramona Kenpo and sometimes when I would get gas at the Chevron station he would come over and talk with me. He was always encouraging me to open up a school. I used to laugh at him, point across the street at an old warehouse and say, “When that warehouse opens up I’ll open a school, Jim.”
In April 1999, Mikki and I had a little phone company in the store next to Victoria Supply. Mikki had the idea that we could move all the phone equipment to the backroom and I could teach a kickboxing class in the 600 square foot room. I called Jim and asked him if he would be interested in helping me. He said sure. So we hung a sign in the window advertising streetfighting, self defense,and kickboxing, and began classes. For about two months Jim and I met twice a week, sparring and working out. We stopped a lot of traffic on Main Street as we knocked each other around the room. People would stop and watch but nobody was signing up. Our classes were not growing. Perhaps our marketing method might not have been well thought out. Jim and I beating the tar out of each other for public amusement was probably not the best approach. Mikki, Jim, and I put our heads together and decided to have two kickboxing classes and a street fighting class. Eventually, people started trickling in to take the kickboxing class. We had a lot of fun teaching kickboxing and we almost drove the neighbors nuts with the speedbag pounding against the wall.
A few months into our little adventure I got a call from a lady who was interested in taking Kenpo. I tried to talk her out of it but she insisted. With a little prompting from Sifu Marcia, I started a Kenpo class on Friday nights.
Suddenly I was teaching Kickboxing, Self Defense, and Kenpo. People started asking, “What is the name of your school?” I couldn’t name it something like Martin’s Twin Dragons Golden Style Karate or America’s Martial Arts because that sounded too pompous. Jeff’s Karate sounded stupid (and it still does). I wanted something that was inclusive, since I believed strongly that no one style had all the answers. The name couldn’t be ostentatious. It needed to be something generic, certainly not a brand name but rather “Brand X”. I threw it out to Jim and Mikki as a joke, but they loved it, and it stuck. It has been a good name for us, and I have had to laugh as I watched the various gyms around try to copy it with their “Workout X” and “Class X.”
Around this time, a guy wandered in to the school. He said he used to take Kenpo years ago and he was thinking he would like to come in and work out a little. It was the first time Sifu Dan Strametz and I met. It turned out that he had received his black belt from the same school I had. In fact we were bookends to our Sifu’s career. Sifu Dan was the first person to go from white to black belt, and I was the last. I don’t think that we could have guessed how fortuitous that meeting was. From the start we worked well together - more like brothers than anything else. I could, and still do, count on Sifu Dan to finish my sentences for me when I am standing like a deer in the headlights. Who else can I count on when I need to demonstrate something? “Sifu Dan, hit me” has become a common phrase around Brand X over the years.
In the fall of 1999, the classes were getting too big for our little room. Mikki saw a space open up. It was the space I had always told Jim we would put the school in. I don’t believe I had ever told Mikki about Jim and I talking of moving into the space across from Chevron. We signed the lease and moved into our new location. 2500 square feet! What were we going to do with all that space? Oh I forgot to mention the work parties. The place had been used as storage: the roof leaked and pigeons had used the rafters to roost. It was a mess. It took us four weeks to get it ready.
So in 2004, we moved into our new digs. Classes continued to grow. The only class that didn’t seem to grow was our street fighting class. I had a dedicated group, but I couldn’t seem to get people interested… something was missing. We had wanted to teach a style of self defense that wasn’t being taught in Ramona; one that involved full contact fighting like we did but also included the pressures of a real street environment that was being ignored in the traditional systems.
I read an article about a little-known self defense and fighting system named Krav Maga. After seeing a class I knew this was what I had been looking for. It involved an extremely aggressive and effective fighting style and incorporated an element of psychological pressure unknown in traditional martial arts classes.
So I went to Mikki and told her I wanted to take all the money we had in the bank, go away to train with ex-Israeli military guys for several weeks, and then come back to Ramona and teach an Israeli self defense system. Don’t you think that is a good idea?
Why she agreed to this I will never know.
So I went to the training. I survived, that really is all I can say about it. More than a third of my class washed out. I came back from that first phase barely moving and somehow talked Mikki into going through it. I had it hard. My partner was 6’6” and weighed around 265 lbs. Mikki had it worse. She was the only woman in her class.
We started teaching Krav Maga, and over time we made some converts to the Krav Maga way of thinking. Instructor Dave Wong joined the classes (and now comes to play at the Friday night fight class). Sifu Dan and Instructor Jim followed Mikki and I through the phase training, and Todd Rakos went through the Law Enforcement division classes.
The Kenpo classes continue to grow. Along the way Sifu Tony Orlina moved to Ramona and began helping out. Senior Instructor Lee, Sifu Marcia and Senior Instructor C.J. make rare appearances when they can and remain dear friends and supporters. We have made a lot of progress and seen a lot of changes in the past five years. Our classes are again bursting at the seams. The kids class is crazy, Sifu Dan believes the kids are really rabbits because every time he comes in the class has doubled in size.
With the move in 2004 we added CrossFit™ to our class schedule. With the addition of the CrossFit program and the natural development of CrossFit Kids, Brand X has become busier than ever.
1999 Kenpo Karate, Reality Based Martial Arts
2001 addition of Krav Maga
2004 addition of CrossFit and CrossFit Kids Website, Program and Classes
2005 Published first CrossFit Kids E- Magazine, addition of CrossPIT
2006 Built Free- Climbing Wall at Brand X
2007 Opening of Brand X Poway, CrossFit Kids Elementary Lesson Plans
2008 first CrossFit Kids Certification
I have never really felt that Brand X was mine. Certainly it is my school, but more importantly it is the instructors and students in the school that make it “Brand X”. So I want to be the first to say Happy Anniversary and Thank You for the past ten years. I hope you are ready for and will enjoy the transformation that is coming. The next time you see Instructor Jim or Mikki, thank them for encouraging me to open the school. Thank Sifu Dan for adding so much, and Sifu Tony and Instructor Lee for giving so much of their time to make the school so special.