Steve Cardenas, a former “Power Ranger” and 5th degree black belt in American Tae Kwon Do & brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) started training martial arts in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas at the young age of 12. It wouldn’t take long for him to realize that he wanted to teach martial arts and follow a career path “karate biz”. At age sixteen, Cardenas received a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, prompting him to teach multiple after-school programs to kids and teens.
At twenty, Cardenas moved to Los Angeles, where his journey would lead him to an unlikely audition that would land him the the role of “Rocky the Red Power Ranger” on the TV series ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.’ That show would prove to be an instant overnight success and cement itself in the annals of pop culture history! Since his time on that legendary show, Cardenas has gone on to live out his dream of becoming a martial arts instructor. He successfully ran martial arts studios in California and Texas and in 2009 started a kids-specific program at Hollywood BJJ studio in West Hollywood founded by actor and BJJ black belt, Sean Patrick Flanery. With twenty five years of martial arts experience, Cardenas has also received many outstanding honors, including: two-time Silver Medalist at Copa Pacifica in 2009 & 2011, Gold Medal winner of the 2009 American National Championship, Bronze Medal winner in the 2010 American National Championship, Gold Medal in the 2010 Jiu-Jitsu Pro Gear Open, and Silver Medal in the 2010 No-Gi World Championships.
Now, Steve not only focuses on working with kids in BJJ, but people of all ages and believes that the conditioning, discipline and respect that people learn from martial arts can be carried over into all aspects of their lives. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Steve Cardenas to discuss his roots in martial arts, his experiences as part of the ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ and his latest endeavor, Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Yoga in Burbank, CA!
Where did you grow up and how did you first become involved in the world of martial arts?
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas and I became involved with Martial arts at the age of twelve.
Is there any specific martial artist that has inspired you the most?
One of my favorites was of course, Bruce Lee. Now days it’s people like Fernando “Margarida” and Lucas Lepri.
How have martial shaped the person that you are today?
Well, everything I am and ever was were because of the martial arts. The confidence and skills I’ve gained have helped me both professionally and socially.
With an extensive background in karate, what got you into Brazilian jujitsu?
A guy who was at the time a blue belt in BJJ came into my studio and very friendly challenged me. I was a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do at the time. He basically man-handled me and choked me out in 10 seconds! He was only training for a year and a half at that time and i had been training for 10 yrs. It was an immediate eye opener.
What has your experience been like in BJJ as opposed to other martial arts disciplines you have be involved with?
Well other styles came very naturally to me. BJJ has not. Its been a long hard road to learn this sport. No one gives you any breaks just because you used to be famous. You gotta start from the bottom no matter what kind of experience you have. And I for one love that.
What has been the most rewarding part of your martial arts training either personally or professionally?
Watching people develop. Taking someone from off the street with no knowledge and teaching them how to unlock things inside them they never knew they had. I know how it felt for me and i love to see that look in their eye when they finally “get it”.
If you could learn another martial art system, what would it be and why?
Well, Ive tried to learn a little bit of lots of different styles here and there. I think I’m gonna take BJJ as far as it will let me.
Many will recognize you from your role as Rocky The Red Power Ranger. How did you initially get involved with that project?
Well, my friend in Texas told me that he heard about a nationwide audition for Power Rangers TV show they were holding in my town so I decided (not expecting any results whatsoever) to audition for a role. I tried out then a couple of days later they called me back and said they wanted to fly me to California to meet the producers. So of course I hopped on a plane and then they met me, I tried out and they hired me on the spot almost! Told me I didn’t even have time to fly home so my dad had to mail me my clothes! [laughs]
Were you able to help choreograph your martial art moves on the Power Rangers show?
That was actually very fun! Yes, they let me choreograph my own stuff a lot of times!
How did your martial arts background compare to the other Power Ranger actors?
Well, only three of us were actual martial artists. The others were gymnasts. But I guess my style was similar to the other guys on the show.
What was the biggest challenge for you as a martial artist/actor on this project?
Well, as a martial artist, the biggest challenge was learning to act! I had never done anything like that before. I was horrible in the beginning. But i got an acting coach and he helped me a lot.
Looking back, what is your fondest memory of that role?
Doing the big feature film in Australia was the funnest part. The most rewarding part was to see the kids from Make A Wish Foundation! These kids dying wish is to meet the power rangers and to be a part of that still chokes me up to this day.
You have appeared at several conventions dedicated to the Power Rangers over the years. What have those experiences been like for you?
I never knew how dedicated the fans were till i went to my first Con. It was quite an eye opener. To see all these people who were little kids back then all grown up and reliving their childhood. Very cool!
Did you or any of your cast mates have any inkling that the show would go on to have the impact that it has had on pop culture when you started out?
Well, no. They had no idea at all. Not even the producers knew it would take off the way it did. No one can really know what an audience will or wont like. They just took a chance and it paid off!
You are running an interesting Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Yoga business located in Burbank, CA. What can you tell us about the facility and all that you have going on there?
Our school’s environment will be one of non-intimidation. In two arts where things can seem and sometimes are, quite complex, we want the beginner to feel very comfortable. That said, the school is certainly not just for beginners. Even the most advanced practitioner will walk away feeling like they’ve gained something. Plus our place looks kick ass! Top grade Zebra mats, killers sounds, a great lounge area with plasma TV and probably one of the most beautiful yoga rooms you’ll ever set foot in! Stop in a and see the Force/Balance experience for yourself.
How did your partnership with Michelle Muench come about?
Michelle has a son that trained with me at Holllywood Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Where I was and still am getting my training from Sean Patrick Flanery and Ricardo Miller.
You are obviously dedicated to your love of martial arts. What drew you to the role of “teacher” rather than just one of “the student”?
I knew at fourteen that I wanted to be a karate instructor. I told my instructor that and he put me in his apprenticeship program where i learned everything about teaching and running a studio.
If you could only teach or pass on one “thing” to your students, what would that be?
Don’t cheat yourself. Only you really know if you left it all on the mat or not. If you hold back then you only hinder yourself from getting better. No one else can do the work for you!
What would you want your legacy to be known for and why?
That I somehow was an influence in part or in whole to someone’s life being richer than it was before they met me. Not there yet, but it is my ultimate purpose.
What are your thoughts on nutrition for the martial artist? Do you follow any special regimen?
Well, I for the most part eat Vegan. Not because of cruelty to animals (although that’s bad too!) but because the hormones they feed animals now are killing us as humans. Organically grown produce and no processed sugars or grains help keep me in shape.
What do you think about the rave over MMA? Are you a fan of it? If so, who is your favorite “fighter”?
I like GSP, Damien Maia, Anderson Silva, Jacare and BJ Penn.
Finally what advice do you have for people who are just starting off in Brazilian jujitsu?
Step on the mat humble or you will get humbled. Fo Sho! And by the most unlikely of opponents. You never know who you’re messing with. Never judge a book by the way it looks.
Where is the best place to learn more about all that you have going with this endeavor?
At the actual academy or you can go to www.ForceBalanceBJJ.com
Anything that you would like to say to your fans before we let you go?
May the Power Protect you! Thanks Guys!
Be sure to check out Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Yoga at www.ForceBalanceBJJ.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/forcebalance. You can also catch up with Steve Cardenas on Twitter at @ForceBalanceBJJ.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.