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article imageEast Meets Southwest Through World Champion Martial Artist Special

By Kim Hartman     Sep 20, 2009 in Sports
A story about World Champion martial artist Johnny Linebarger. His life and work as a teacher at KoSho Karate in Tucson.
TUCSON -- Thirteen-time world champion martial artist Johnny Linebarger gets 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night.
After all, long days are all he’s ever known.
For nearly a decade, the ninth-degree black belt trained under Phoenix-based Grandmaster Robert Trias and missed just five weekly sessions in almost 10 years.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” Linebarger said. “I arranged my whole life so I could study.”
The martial arts Hall of Famer, who grew up in a small town in North Carolina, also served nearly 10 years in the U.S. Air Force and spent three years in Tokyo.
“As a leader, I needed to have a better education of the world,” he said. “I needed to know more about what I was teaching.”
Linebarger’s long days continue. For the last 26 years, he has been the head instructor at KoSho Karate in Tucson, where one would think that his long-standing fame and achievements would be the emphasis of his teaching.
But the hundreds of students and their parents are pleased to find that there is a deep man behind Linebarger’s legendary accomplishments.
“He’s such a loving, caring man that really cares about his students,” Rosie Gallegos, great grandmother of 5-year-old Xander Vialpando, one of Linebarger’s students.
Vialpando’s mother had abused drugs and abandoned him when he was a year old. His sister Faith Noel died shortly after he was born from a drug-related stroke. As a result, Vialpando’s aunt Tina adopted and raised him, along with his older brother Gabriel, 13.
“His mother would say to me (when she was pregnant with Faith), ‘I just shot up cocaine. Do you think that’ll hurt the baby?’ Gallegos said.
Gallegos and her husband Joe said they have seen a definite improvement in their grandson’s behavior since enrolling him at KoSho Karate. Vialpando used to headbutt people frequently, according to Rosie.
“He was always such a nervous child,” Joe said. “So I got him into classes, and he’s a lot calmer now.”
Much like the Gallegos family, Linebarger said that many parents sign up their children at KoSho Karate because of their behavioral problems.
“A lot of these kids coming in have issues,” he said. “We work to help them achieve better self-esteem and better self-discipline, as well as demonstrate empathy toward others.”
Johnny offers it all
Linebarger has no allegiance to any certain type of martial art and incorporates many into his curriculum. His students get a taste of the whole spectrum, including Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Kobudo, Karate, Jujitsu and Aikido.
“I’ve never thought it was good to limit myself to just one kind,” he said. “To have the full experience, you need a blend of all types. It gives a person comprehensive knowledge and appreciation for martial arts as a whole.”
KoSho Karate has three sets of classes: Youth (ages 3-9), Junior (ages 10-16) and Adult (ages 17 and up). It also offers kickboxing and self-defense courses.
Nine-year-old Ayla Condo, second-year KoSho Karate student and purple belt, likes the people aspect of Linebarger’s classes and said her physical balance and flexibility have improved since joining.
A typical Youth class -- the one Condo is in -- begins at 4:30 p.m. The students then perform a series of punches and kicks to warmup. Linebarger comes in to join the other teachers at 4:55. The kids break into groups for further drills and techniques, including roundhouse kicks to x-ray sheets. The session ends by 5:15 p.m., with Linebarger distributing mental homework such as memorizing their parents’ full names and phone numbers.
“They aren’t pushy at KoSho,” Condo, whose favorite move is the flying sidekick, said. “The instructors let you take your time and are very patient. I can always be myself here.”
Moving beyond the basics, the Junior and Adult classes emphasize sparing and tournament training. The mental aspect is stressed more, with students learning advanced moves and competition strategies.
“I’ve learned the importance of being patient in finding the path to the belt,” first-degree black belt Logan Boyd, 13, said. “It doesn’t come all at once.”
Boyd, who has trained for four years under Linebarger, has won six first place trophies and two second place trophies in various competitions.
Whatever the reason that a student enrolls in his class – from competition training to physical fitness to behavioral and self-esteem improvement – Linebarger keeps people as the pivotal part of his training.
“You talk about what it takes to be a world champion, and it certainly takes self-discipline, consistency and knowledge,” Linebarger said. “But it also takes compassion. You really have to care about people.”
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