Most of 2008 has been spent with SIDEKICKS Lithia laboring over the move to the new location on FishHawk Blvd.  Everyone has been so great in your support as month after month it didn’t seem it would happen.  Over at the New Tampa school, they’ve hit their stride and are making their way to becoming the pre-eminent martial arts and personal development facility in that area.  So, now that the summer is in full swing and we begin the countdown until school starts again, we have to ask ourselves probably the most important question we have faced as a school.


What Now?


Now that we’ve broken through at both schools and things are really starting to move, what now?  Where do we go from here?  What kind of martial arts school are we going to be?  You see, right now—when we’re experiencing so many good things in the life of our school—is probably the most precarious and dangerous time because we risk falling victim to believing in our own greatness.  Then, it’ll be ease to rest on our laurels and be a good school, when we could have been a great school.


It has been my experience that there are basically two kinds of martial arts schools.  The first type are schools that aspire to be museums for the in-crowd.  The students of this type of school seem to be completely focused on who outranks whom and where everyone stands on the totem pole.  The respect you’re given is more a factor of your rank and being part of the in-crowd than the fact that you exist.  Tradition is misused, almost as a weapon, to stagnate progress because it is misinterpreted as the gospel with all meaning behind the traditions and drills lost, replaced by a culture of doing things because “that’s the way it’s done.”  If it seems as though I’m railing against that kind of school it’s because I am.  I’ve seen many people lose their desire to train in the martial arts or be plain mistreated because of this type of thinking. 


A while back, I was at a tournament and I had a question.  So, seeing one of the black belts from the host school, I went up to her to get the information I needed.  The first thing she did was to look to my belt to see what rank I was.  It was as though my rank determined whether or not I was worth of her time.  Fortunately, because I needed information, I was senior to her in both age and rank, so it was answered courteously if not exactly warmly.


Now, some of the experiences I’ve had could be attributed to age (I am younger than most martial arts instructors out there), however even someone with the wealth of knowledge and experience like Master Cabrera has had the same experiences as well.  One day, since he was driving through Master Cabrera stopped and visited an associate who owned one of the local schools.  Master Cabrera was not in uniform because he was traveling from an appointment back to 

the school in New Tampa.  Not immediately seeing the school owner, my dad asked one of the adult students where the owner was by his first and last name.  The man, who was taller than my father, immediately squared off with hostile body language and corrected Master Cabrera with “Don’t you mean Shihan [Last Name]?”  Shihan is Japanese term for master.  Luckily for this red belt (Master Cabrera and I share a general dislike for rudeness) the master instructor in question showed up greeting my dad warmly with a bow and immediately telling everyone in the lobby (red belt included) about how Master Cabrera was one of his mentors and was even the head judge at his original black belt exam.


What if my dad had been someone else?  Maybe a member of the school owner’s church and came in genuinely interested in martial arts lessons for his children and the he wanted to check out the school of someone he knows before going elsewhere?


How many people’s view of the martial arts has been influenced negatively because they experienced this kind of treatment?  Unfortunately, I can tell more stories of my own experiences and those of crossover students into our program with school’s like these.  This is always been something SIDEKICKS has tried to avoid being like.


The second type of school is the one that Master Cabrera, for more almost 40 years now, has been trying to steer us towards.  These schools are Foundries of Excellence.  A foundry is a place where they melt metals down into liquid form through extreme temperatures to burn off any impurities.  What’s left is the pure form of the metal and when it cools it’s stronger than it was before.  This is how we get the phrase “forged in fire.”  The extreme heat literally changes and breaks apart the molecular bonds of the metals.


Great martial arts schools are like this.  They’re places where, through the intense training of the martial arts, students are changed on the inside and become empowered to follow their heart’s desire and lead great lives.  These schools become laboratories for people who want to reach their full potential.  These schools care more about you and your development as a person, not where you stand in lime because your rank is not a status symbol, but a visual reminder of your progress and dedication towards reaching your goals.  The staff are dedicated to helping everyone find a place in the school to thrive.  The ego drives of everyone—instructors, students, and parents—are channeled into the success of the students, the school, and the local community.  They build a great school because they can’t stand anything else.


Which martial arts school do you want to train at?  While SIDEKICKS has certainly has room for growth to become a foundry of excellence, we are certainly working in that direction, but we can always do more.  More to help our students succeed, more for our community and more to bring families together.  I believe that the mission of SIDEKICKS is to grow a community of excellence by empowering lives of all ages from the inside-out through the martial arts.


Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities.  If often involved the empowered developing confidence in their own capabilities.  Sometimes, the word empowerment has been overused and watered down to simply mean a sense of employee ownership of an idea or buy in.  However, empowerment 

really comes from having the right information to make good choices and the belief and confidence in yourself to follow through by taking action.


Unfortunately, there are many people who go through life without feeling empowered to create the lives they want.  They’re too afraid of being teased by classmates that they won’t raise their hand to ask a question others might think is stupid.  They wake up everyday already wishing they could go back to bed because they’re unfulfilled—they go to a job instead of having a career.  They’re developing defeatist attitudes believing they are unworthy of success or happiness.  I believe that we’re the right school, with the right people.   We can be the example for other martial arts schools of what a real impact we can have in our communities.  Because we’re a personal development center, we can be the fourth tent pole in a family’s life alongside home, church,  and school.


Now that our facilities reflect in a visual way the tremendous life-changing quality of our program we’ve decided to set our sights high as to the type of impact we can have in the Lithia Community and the New Tampa Community.  Author Jim Collins says that truly great organizations continually up the ante on their paths to greatness.  They go after what he calls Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). 


Our Quest is to transform and empower 1,000 lives through martial arts training in each of the communities that a SIDEKICKS school operates.  What it entails is transforming our community into one founded on the principles of a black belt; courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and victory.  With 1,000 actively training students committed to Black Belt Excellence in their academics, sports, careers, homes, and relationships we can transform our community into a great one.


At SIDEKICKS, we’ve never been for growth just for the sake of it or increasing our bottom line, but because we have a positive influence on everyone we interact with.  In addition to our goal to change 1,000 lives of active martial arts students we are also upping our community involvement with free community events to help children gain more focus in school, stop bullying, evade abduction, and arm women against domestic violence and sexual assault.  Over the last couple of months, behind the scenes, Master Cabrera and I have been assembling and developing some things to help us in our quest to empower communities like no other martial arts school has ever done before. 


At the same time we’re reaching out into the community by sponsoring things like the Kidz ‘N Power program, we’re also going to re-educate the community on what the martial arts is all about.  Martial Arts is first and foremost, in my opinion, not about fighting.  It’s about becoming your best.  And since becoming your best includes self-protection we will always endeavor for our program to be the pillar in which all other self-protection programs are measured.  However, it is way more than that. 


Unfortunately, much of the population views the martial arts not as the way we do but in two very distinct camps.  The first is that martial arts is another “activity” that kids do.  We’ll do three months of soccer here, three months of gymnastics here, three months of football and then three months of karate.  We get lumped in with sports because there is a sport aspect to the martial arts, but it is by no means our primary function.  The first thing that needs to happen is we need to re-educate the public as to what


The martial arts can do for them.  It’s not simply an extra-curricular program it’s a life changing experience. 


The second way we’ve come to be viewed is the result of the major coverage that Mixed Martial Arts has gained.  MMA shows the public the most violent side of the martial arts, a side that existed for the warriors of the past but does not show the many positive aspects of the martial arts.  With hundreds of hours of MMA on television each month, people may now be getting a distorted view of what the martial arts is all about.  MMA is entertaining to be sure, but instead of the world-class empowering personal development that we teach they’re only seeing the bloody violent side that I’m almost certain parents do not want their child to be about.


Sidekicks’ “Empowering Lives” Campaign, the quest to change, transform, and empower 1,000 lives and through martial arts training in each of our communities is our way to take back our story and show the world what martial arts can do, what a great community we can be. 


1,000 lives empowered by the martial arts isn’t going to be an easy task.  The average martial arts school has between 80 and 100 students. 


Our goal is 10 times that!  And we need your help.


Our Kidz ‘N Power program, which is the tip of the spear in our community outreach programs and we need parent help to get the word out about this awesome program.  We’ll be scheduling a series of self-protection and “stop the bully” clinics leading up to school starting up again.  We need parent volunteers to help man booths for a few hours once a month to get the word out and sign families up for the event as well as the free “stop the bully” reports available through  In addition, with many new families joining our program we’re going to nee Parent Ambassadors to help with orientating new families to our program and making them feel welcomed when they come for their first classes.  If you’re able to help with any of these things, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me.  We are already scheduling information booths and the first ones in New Tampa have come off spectacularly.  We’re very excited by the response we’ve got from them which demonstrates the need for this kind of thing in our community.  Martial arts teaches all of these things, but as I said previously, our story has been co-opted and we’ve been mistaken as just another activity.


So, What Now?


Are we going to be a museum for our past or are we going to surge forward as a foundry of excellence?


I know what our potential is and I know that we can get there.  Now is the time, this is the school, and we can do this together.


Again, thank you for all of your support over the last several months and I look forward to helping each and every one of you reach for high goals in the future.


Manny Cabrera III

Chief Instructor

Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers



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