1. When and how did you start training in the self-defense / Martial Arts industry/ fitness industry? Tell us your story
I have been training in the martial arts for 41 years and teaching martial arts and martial arts fitness for 36 years. I am a prodigy of the late, great Joe Lewis. Training directly with him for over 25 years and winning a World Kickboxing title under his guidance. I am a 7th degree master in the Joe Lewis fighting system (JLFS). The JLFS is at the core of the martial arts that I teach along with the COBRA self defense system.
I am also considered a pioneer in the integration of martial arts and fitness training. I developed Cardio Karate in the 90”s, along with the National Association professional Martial Artist (NAPMA). I certified over 6000 instructors to teach Cardio Karate in the US, Canada and UK over a five-year period.
Then I developed the Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC) in 2000. UBC was the first, start to finish, martial arts fitness program, in martial arts industry history. In fact, Chris Sutton, the creator of COBRA has said he was inspired by the UBC to develop COBRA. Chris made Black Belt with me and was training at my school when the UBC was created.
2. How has COBRA impacted you as a professional?
COBRA has had a Huge impact on my school since Vikki Klidis started running it about two years ago. I think it is a real advantage having a female running a COBRA Program. Most people who join COBRA are female, and Vikki, with her huge smile and friendliness, just makes them relax and feel comfortable.
She commands respect from her students and people who train with her.
Vikki is the real deal! She recently made 2nd degree Black Belt with me at my school focusing Predominantly on the Joe Lewis Fighting System (JLFS).
She also was one of the first Black Belts in COBRA Defense Fighting System and was trained by Chris Sutton himself. She has been training and teaching COBRA from the beginning.
Because of Vikki’s influence, COBRA has become the perfect fit for my school!
Having trained with Joe Lewis and fought at a world-class level, I feel I have a pretty good idea on what works and what does not.
COBRA is the real deal! It’s also a great feeder program for our adult Martial arts classes. When someone comes into your school already looking for knowledge it is much easier to convert him or her into a martial arts student than if they came looking for just fitness. Especially if you can present your martial arts program as just a continuation of what they have already been learning in COBRA.
I also believe in sparring and sparring drills to teach people how to fight. Sparring is not fighting, but you can’t learn to fight without it. The challenge is you can’t spar with a gun, knife or a bat. The COBRA drills and scenarios get you as close as you can to real street fighting.
The Majority of my Martial Arts Students are adults and must complete the COBRA Course to receive their Black Belt. I really believe the combination of JLFS and COBRA Self-defense is a great way to teach Adult martial artist.
So COBRA has had a big impact on me professionally!
3. What are your training/business goals for the next 3 years?
My next three years is a continuation of a 5-year goal I set a little over 2 years ago when I started teaching Adult martial arts classes again. For many years I taught adults only on a one on one bases.
The ongoing goal is a thriving adult martial arts program made up of smart professional students that are looking to achieve something special, real and empowering.
I believe there is a real need and market for a well-structured modern martial arts program for people 35 and older. A program designed for people that are looking to get more out of the time and effort they already have to put into fitness training if they want to stay in shape.
People that have already had success in life, be it college degree or success in business, know what it means to have a long-term vision on a goal. They are willing to commit to a long- term goal in the martial arts if the system is safe, and is designed for them, and not for a child or MMA fighter.
4.What do you enjoy most about being a Self-Defense/Fitness Instructor?
I love creating something unique that really challenges people and has a positive impact on their lives, like the UBC, or what Chris has done with COBRA. To have an original idea and to be able to get a large group of smart people to follow you is amazing.
Before Joe Lewis passed away he asked me to create the white to Black curriculum for JLFS. I have not given up on that pledge and for the last two and a half years I have been working on an adult fighting system that is very modern in technique, but traditional in structure.
I promise you, soon we will be putting out some exceptional adult Black Belts, like Vikki Klidis, of all ages and COBRA Self Defense will play a big role in their skill set.
I also love to teach more than any other time in my life! Joe Lewis gave to me so much and asked so little in return. I feel l owe it to him to teach and expose as many people as possible to the brilliant martial arts that he taught me.
5. IF you only had 5 minutes to train someone what would be the most valuable survival skills you would teach them?
If you are talking about before any violence, than awareness is, by far, the most important survival skill and self-defense strategy there is. Being aware of your surrounding and the people around you, will keep you out of trouble more than any self-defense technique or strategy. That goes for men and women.
When it comes to confrontation, the first thing I teach is balance and distancing. Balance, because you cannot create any real power or be able to put up a strong defense without it. Distancing, because there is a huge difference between defending yourself with no reaction time, and having at least a step or more to react. Balance and distancing is at the core of the JLFS.
When teaching male student the first technique I teach is to defend against the most common attack on men, a right-handed punch to the left side of the face, also known as the sucker punch.
This punch has ended more fights, in the ring and in the street, than any other technique and has done it for centuries. So the first thing I teach all my male students, young or old, is how to shield and defend against that strike and balance and distancing play a huge roll.
Women are more complicated because of the wide range of reasons women are attacked, but most males, at some time in their life, is going to have defend against that punch, that is why it’s the first thing I teach, even to my juniors.
This common since approach is what makes JLFS and COBRA such s great match.
Describe your school, it’s location and all the programs you/your staff teach.
My school has been in the making for over 35 years, since I first started teaching professionally at a YMCA in Clearwater, FL at age 17, and then opening my first freestanding martial arts school at 19. I have gone through many transformations over the years.
From teaching traditional Taekwondo and focusing on competing to having one of the largest schools in Florida with over 90% kids throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. After 15 years of teaching children I took another turn and made my school more like a gym. Creating a student body of 90% adult women and teaching mainly fitness kickboxing and focusing on my Ultimate Body Challenge (UBC) from the late nineties to just a few years ago. My school now reflects all of those experiences and more.
I have a 5000 sf school in Seminole FL. I have been at this location for over 20 years. My school is now roughly 1/3 Fitness kickboxing, 1/3 junior martial arts and 1/3 adult martial arts. We also teach a wide variety of specialty courses like; anti-‐bullying, COBRA Self defense, Ultimate body Challenge (UBC) and now our new Personal Empowerment Program (PEP) 8-‐week course. PEP combines the fitness and nutritional training of the UBC with the real life street defense of COBRA. Making it one very empowering course.
When you are younger I think we all have a tendency to compromise on what we want to do with our school and go after what we think is going to make us the most money. There is nothing wrong with that, but at this time in my life I wanted to create a school that I really want to be at, and have students I really wanted to teach. I have only one kids class a night and I really enjoy teaching just one kids class. Same with fitness kickboxing, we have three class structures, Kickboxing, Fighter fit and KickBata. I really enjoy a motivating fitness class, but my true passion is my adult martial arts program. I believe martial arts is the closest thing to the fountain of youth, and my goal is to improve peoples lives through training in my version of the Joe Lewis Fighting System (JLFS).
7. If someone interested in joining as a Cobra Instructor / School what would you tell them?
If a traditional martial arts school owner, that is teaching only tradition martial arts techniques, asked me about COBRA, I would tell them that
COBRA can make them more modern and relevant, in the shortest period of time, than any other program you can put into your school.
If I am talking to someone that is already teaching a more modern and effective martial arts system, I would tell them that COBRA is a great feeder program for there martial arts school.
I would also say that the organization that is COBRA is top notch. I have been very impressed over the years on how well Chris, and his staff, keep creating new elements of COBRA like Active Shooter. This keeps COBRA relevant and marketable because it’s responding to the most modern threats.
For Information or to Schedule Training at COBRA-Defense Seminole / Jim Gradens Martial Arts & Fitness:
9104 Seminole Blvd
Seminole, Fl 33772 727-798-5269 Google Maps