“True masters are those who have chosen to make a life rather than a living.” Neale Donald Walsch
If there is a single common thread in creative redefinition, it is the ability to find a path that rewards more than the bank account. And teaching a skill or life lesson to an eager student with the kind of passion for Martial Arts that comes so natural to Felix Ramos is a gift worth pursuing.
Ramos grew up learning how to defend himself. “I was a bully victim when I was eight years old,” he remembered. “My dad told me to go outside and make some friends. I went to the first person I saw and reached out to shake his hand. And he crushed my face with a rock.”
He remembers a childhood of fighting while growing up in a rough Connecticut neighborhood. “I had to protect my family,” he said. “You always have to protect the family.”
Ramos enrolled in a Martial Arts school in Connecticut at age eight and began building on his foundation. He taught as a student instructor at 15. “I taught the five to nine year olds,” he said.
Years later, as an adult with small children, he made the decision to bring his family to a better place and moved to Spring Hill in March of 1996.
His Sensei from Connecticut encouraged him to open his own school but Ramos needed to make an income. He began teaching the neighbor kids in the evenings and on weekends while holding two fulltime jobs to meet his financial obligations.
“When I first moved out here, I had six kids in the neighborhood I used to teach just because I loved to teach.” The parents would try and pay Ramos for his time but he’d refuse. “I was doing it in my house in my backyard. There was no overhead.”
His students grew to a number that overtook his yard which prompted Ramos to look for a property where he could open an official school. He found the second story studio on Countyline Road and opened Universal Martial Arts in 2009.
His own children, Felix and Jazelyn, were eager students in the beginning, he said, but gradually distanced themselves from their father’s backyard teaching. “They wanted to go and have fun,” he remembered. “I told them that one day they would come back and ask me to teach them Martial Arts.”
Today, the younger Felix, now 21, is an assistant teacher at his father’s school. He will enter the Police Academy in August. Jazelyn, now 19, took first place in a recent MMA competition. “She’s really tiny but she’s fast,” Ramos said.
In an impressive second floor two-room dojo, Ramos teaches about 30 students, from little ones to adults. He holds classes five nights a week, instructing Judo, Jujitsu, Karate, Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
Part of his experienced team is a professional MMA fighter, Reggie Pena, who teaches the MMA classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Another well-balanced instructor for Goshindo Jijitsu and Judo is Mike Kun. Ramos’ brother, Robert Ramos, is an assistant instructor.
As a child, Ramos remembered watching a lot of Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee movies. And when he became obsessed with Chuck Norris, his father found a school that used the Chuck Norris techniques. “My instructor was trained by Chuck Norris,” he said, presenting a picture of his Sensei and the infamous actor and Martial Arts icon.
He told the story of one student, 10, who joined his school because he was being bullied. After just one week, the child’s parent called Ramos and told him her son wanted to quit.
“He got a black eye,” Ramos said. Ramos explained to the parent that learning to defend one’s self himself would take time, maybe months or years, and that it was a gradual process.
“I have at least five students who are being bullied,” Ramos said. His experience growing up makes him particularly sensitive to the struggles of today’s youth. Bullying is more common than it should be.
Martial arts, he said, offers so many benefits to all children, no matter their physical size or agility level. Physical fitness, self esteem, discipline, and confidence are among the character building qualities that students learn in Martial Arts training.
Universal Martial Arts incorporates a variety of styles that Ramos consistently mixes up. “It keeps things interesting,” he said.
The principal foundation of his school is to give kids the confidence that will prevent them from becoming a victim to bullying while also learning the traditions of the Martial Arts.
At one point, Ramos had as many as 90 students enrolled. He has since remained at around 30 or so, a drastic regression he blames on the economy. But things are looking good as new students find his technique and passion a better fit than other schools they’ve tried.
Like Sarah Edmondson, 12, who started training at Universal Martial Arts three years ago. Edmondson came from another school and blended immediately into the Ramos’ system. “I don’t just like it, I love it,” she said. “It’s fun, simple, and they teach you really well.”
Lauren Tomkins, also 12, loved doing forms. Jessie Arnold, 7, likes the sparring (fighting) best.
Sarah Edmondson’s father, Red, was thrilled with the change of schools and his daughter’s progress. “She started Martial Arts four years ago,” he said. “In that first year at a different school, she basically learned nothing.”
She came to Universal Arts three years ago and is now at a very comfortable green belt level. “It’s because of the school,” Red said, “and the way that he teaches. He teaches from the heart.”