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From Students to Instructors: Interview with Mr. Paz and Mr. Gamino

We sat down and spoke with former Kickstart Kids student and now instructor, Caesar Paz and his student, now instructor-in-training, Oscar Gamino. Mr. Paz has been teaching with Kickstart Kids since 2012 and is currently the instructor at Rodeo Palms Jr. High in Alvin ISD. Mr. Gamino joined Kickstart Kids as a student in 2012 and is now an instructor-in-training with the program. Their passion is tremendous as they are products of the program and know first-hand how Kickstart Kids changes lives. As Mr. Paz and Mr. Gamino are part of an impressive 80% of southeast Texas instructors and staff that are Kickstart Kids alumni, we wanted to know more about their inspiration and path to becoming instructors.

(Pictured below: Mr. Paz and Mr. Gamino)

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Kickstart Kids: What impact has Kickstart Kids had on you?

Caesar Paz: The impact that Kickstart Kids had on me, well, I guess the main part was it gave me a place to be. Yeah, I loved being at home, but the dojo itself was a second home to me. In fact, I think I was there more than I was at home. Any opportunity that I got to be there, I was there. But the majority, I guess most of all, as far as life impact, Mr. Bradley, as well as Mr. Gutierrez (Mr. G), even though Mr. G wasn't considered my instructor until I was already an adult, but it played a big factor as far as a male role model goes because I grew up without my dad. My mom was the only parent; it was a single parent household. So as Mr. Bradley was there, he really helped me out, my mom, even my sister, my cousin as well, because she was part of the program too. Just overall, he supported us even when he didn't have to. He really helped me become who I am today. (Editor’s note: Mr. Bradley is no longer a Kickstart Kids instructor; Mr. Gutierrez “Mr. G” is currently the instructor at Stevenson Middle School)

KSK: And just to follow up on that, did the fact that Mr. Bradley was a Kickstart Kid make you look up to him even more?

CP: Well, you know what, as you asked that, I used to always remember him always talking about Mr. McCleary and Mrs. McCleary (former Kickstart Kids instructors) and him growing up in the program and what it did for him, because of his backstory and all that. And I guess in a way, he was able to put forth what Mr. And Mrs. McCleary did for him and in turn do that for us.

"I think Kickstart Kids has overall given me a lot of different things in different aspects of my life, but more than anything, it gave me the ability to want to improve and set those high standards for myself." - Mr. Gamino, Instructor-in-Training

KSK: What impact has Kickstart Kids had on you and your life?

Oscar Gamino: So, I think for me growing up it was very difficult too. As I heard my instructor give the same answer, I kind of related a lot to what he said. Growing up, I had difficulty trying to find, I guess you could say a spot for myself. I ended up finding my first real family whenever I got involved with the program. I know that because of what my instructor has guided me through. I was able to kind of make a switch in the way that I look at my life and the perspective I gained. I like to say that I gained the ability to try to set the highest standards for myself and try to, in a way, always do the right thing. And it just kind of led me to a lot more opportunities. It kind of gave me something new to love. Martial arts was the first thing that I wanted to get myself involved in. It stayed consistent throughout the years. So I think Kickstart Kids has overall given me a lot of different things in different aspects of my life, but more than anything, it gave me the ability to want to improve and set those high standards for myself.

CP: May I jump in really quick on that as far as on an instructor perspective? So, I do want to say obviously every student has their story and their struggles and hardships throughout life, that's part of life. But you know, I just want to say as far as Gamino goes, as well as others too, but just being a perfect example of what a Kickstart Kid should be. I hope Mr. Gamino doesn't mind me sharing this at all, but as I remember him growing up, I had him as a seventh grader when he started. He was actually one of my first-year students, but as a seventh grader, when the program first started. I don't remember too much from his seventh and eighth grade years. You know, it was a long time ago, but I do remember when he first got on Team All-Star he really started broadening his horizons. He started putting himself out there, started going to more competitions. If you were to look at the videos, you would see the growth of who he became as a person, as well as an overall martial artist. And through all his failures, he didn't promote every single belt. There were times at which he had to be held, but instead of him giving up as, you know, most people would break down and do, he strived to become better. He would push himself in every aspect possible. Just like I said, overall, what a Kickstart Kids student should look like, which is never give up and always persevere.

KSK: Thank you for that. I don't think that Mr. Gamino would be able to do the things he has been doing if he didn't have that strong sense of self and that's in big part because of you, Caesar. So, thank you for that.

Mr. Gamino, what was it like to be taught by a former Kickstart Kids student?

OG: I think it's difficult to kind of answer that question correctly because in order for me to be able to tell you, I would have to have something to compare it to. But I think that my instructor being very knowledgeable and very understanding in what he does was definitely a big help. He always was very big on the details and trying to fix the small things that you didn't really notice when you do it yourself. I think what it was like to be taught by somebody who also grew up in the program, well, I think that because he knows what the process looks like he's a little bit more understanding of how to introduce things and how to go about connecting to the students and trying to motivate them to push themselves to do things at the best of their ability.

KSK: Would you say that it means more to you that he's had a connection to it as a former student? Do you feel like there is value to him being an alumni?

OG: I'd like to think so. I think other styles and things of that nature, normally the instructors, they come from that same background. So, it's kind of cool to see time pass by and you kind of like start to fill in the same shoes that he was once in. It's just kind of going through that process. And it's a lot of times where I'm just like, man, how did you even get through all of this?

KSK: This question is for Mr. Paz. Mr. Gamino said something really powerful. What he said is that because you understood the experience of being a student, you knew how to approach that experience for your students as well. Would you say that Mr. Bradley and by extension, Mr. G did that for you as well?

CP: Oh, for sure. For sure. Like I said earlier, as far as how Mr. Bradley would talk about Mr. and Ms. McCleary, Mr. G did the exact same thing and just handing down their knowledge and their experience because for me, as I teach I see a little bit of Mr. Bradley in myself, as far as the teaching terms and his one little eyebrow that comes up and all that. I always called it the look and I'll do that to my students as well. I'll give them, you know, that look and they'll know, they'll know. But yes, it means a lot to me knowing what they went through whether it was good or it was bad, they'll share their stories and then once you hear it, you can put it into comparison and ask, am I going through the same thing? Or can I put myself in those shoes and stuff like that? So hopefully I'm able to do the same thing for my students, as far as whenever I share my stories, can they understand what it really means for the program, how we want them to be successful? And hopefully have them be the face of the program, how the instructors are now.

KSK: How do you foresee the future for Kickstart Kids?

CP: The way Kickstart Kids is going now I don't see it going any other way than being successful. Especially talking about these times in the pandemic and how we’re pushing forward, striving through making the most of what we got. And really, it starts from the very beginning. If you want to think about it generation through generation, our first set of instructors who set the tone for the next generation: Mr. Stinson, Mr. Bradley, Mr. G, and then it goes down to our generation. Not only for myself being an instructor but look at y'all being in the office (Mr. Paz referencing KSK Admin Staff Brenda Franco and Javier Negrete) and y'all sit down over there doing everything that we need and all that. Then pushing forward as you look at Mr. Gamino and then I have another student, Mr. Mack, who is also an instructor-in-training. I just see it being successful overall, as long as we're sticking to the same blueprints if you will and will be handing down our knowledge and our experiences this is going to be nothing but the best.

KSK: Thank you. And Mr. Gamino, you are an instructor-in-training right now. From your perspective, what do you see as the future of more Kickstart Kids becoming instructors?

OG: It's a tough thing because not even a lot of students make it to black belt, let alone to instructor. From my perspective, kind of like my instructor just said, I do see it being successful mainly for this thing I like to call trying to get your students to outgrow you. I feel that a great instructor will always have students that end up being better than them in the long run. They will learn because as an instructor, you spent your years trying to study the martial arts the best way you can. So, in terms of how you end up passing on that knowledge more effectively, I feel like the right students who do end up becoming instructors will then take that same knowledge, learn more by themselves and then apply it further and further. In the long run, the more generations come out, the more I see more kids falling in love with martial arts, whether it's through performances, traditional demo teams, and the more I could see it, that kind of expanding and growing that I see for the program. That's a tough thing to say for the record Mr. Paz, I haven't outgrown you!

"For myself, I can say that it's the little things that count that mean the most when I'm on the mat and I'm teaching. When I see a student who has been struggling for a while, or even if they get it on the first try, but if I see a beautiful knife hand block, an arched back stance, I lose myself, I'm going around the room crazy. Whoa! You know, that's what I want to see." - Mr. Paz, Instructor at Rodeo Palms Jr. High

KSK: That’s actually very perceptive of you because as students we kind of take the form of our instructors and it's really hard to find your own voice as an instructor if that is the path that you're choosing. I think Mr. Paz has been one of those instructors that has done that really well. I know in the first few years of him being an instructor, I would always think “oh my gosh, you remind me so much of Mr. Bradley.” But now that's not the case. Now Mr. Paz, is an instructor all of his own. And that's because he's grown out of his instructors. I think that's a very important thing, that's awesome.

One last question. Mr. Paz why do you think Kickstart Kids students keep coming back to teach? What is that certain trait that they have in common that you see these students have that pushes them to come back and teach?

CP: To start off with, the relationship, the instructor has to really put themselves forward towards the students, build that relationship, get that connection. Another thing, you know how people can see whenever you're having a bad day? They can also see when you're having a good day or a great day. For myself, I can say that it's the little things that count that mean the most when I'm on the mat and I'm teaching. When I see a student who has been struggling for a while, or even if they get it on the first try, but if I see a beautiful knife hand block, an arched back stance, I lose myself, I'm going around the room crazy. Whoa! You know, that's what I want to see. And as a student, if I see the instructor having fun or see the instructor really enjoying their job then the student may want that. They may want to have that type of feeling to motivate students how the instructors motivate them now. So that's what I get to see as far a how it goes. Because if I remember a long time ago, even before they were black belt, my two students that are instructors-in-training right now, Mr. Gamino and Mr. Mack, when they were younger, barely in high school, they were saying “We're going to have schools one day. My school is going to compete against your school.” Like they had that type of talk and that competitive mode already when they were students, and they weren't even instructors yet or instructors-in-training.

KSK: That’s awesome. I agree that the instructors have a lot to do with showing that example of what it's like to be a teacher is more than just teaching, but it's more about just inspiring, you know to take leadership in their own life and how they want to lead in their life. Mr. Gamino, same question. Why do you think students keep coming back to teach?

OG: It would vary by person. In my opinion, I feel that each one of us has our own personal reasons. And even if they're slightly different I feel like each answer could be unique to them. If that makes sense. I know for me, the impact that my instructor had on me, like I was saying earlier, the way that basically the perspective on my life kind of changed in wanting to reach for more and setting those standards came directly from Mr. Paz. And so, I always had the goal of trying to find that one student one day who might be in the same place as me, or in a similar situation who may be hanging around the wrong crowd, or they might just not have found that one thing that kind of like changes them in a way. And I want to be able to do to them what my instructor did to me, which was help me make that change and help them discover that they do have what they need within them. They just don't really see it yet. – possibly pull out as a bolded quote?

KSK: That's awesome. Thank you both so much for all that you do.

(Pictured below: Mr. Paz as a student with his Kickstart Kids instructors Mr. Bradley; Mr. Gamino with his Kickstart Kids instructor, Mr. Paz)

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