By Asher Landau
Growing up as a young Filipino boy in the projects of Buffalo, N.Y., Patrick Becker hated Bruce Lee.
Being one of the few Asians in his neighborhood, Becker was nicknamed Bruce Lee after the famous martial arts master and actor.
When he would walk down the street, Becker received incessant shouts of Lee’s characteristic battle cry, “Hwaaaaaah!”
“The neighborhood kids used to call me Bruce Lee as a derogatory term, so I was never able to appreciate him as a child,” Becker said.
Flash forward to 2012, Becker proudly represented Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts, founded by Dan Inosanto, a pupil and fellow actor of Lee, at this year’s Pan-American Jiu-jitsu Championships. Becker took home the silver medal in the Black-Belt Rooster Division. The Pan-Ams, put on by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, is a major jiujitsu tournament, attracting competition from across the globe. Becker’s triumph was the culmination of more than 10 years of devotion to martial arts.
“Placing in a tournament like the Pan-Ams feels like everything you’ve sacrificed has been worth it,” Becker said.
“It’s a strain to maintain the intensity that comes with training hard all the time and dieting. Blood, sweat and tears is true. But in the end we all feel like Rocky.”
As a child, Becker’s father tried to get him involved in boxing, but Becker, being relatively short, quickly lost interest. He always regretted not sticking with it, so in 2001 he enrolled at Inosanto Academy to practice muay thai.
He fell in love with the eclectic fighting styles and friendly atmosphere he saw there. Becker practiced for two years until 2003 when he discovered his true love: jiujitsu.
Unlike muay thai, jiujitsu is more strategic, as it forces the fighters to rely more on skill than on strength. Becker immediately took to it because on the ground, where most jiujitsu fighting takes place, size does not account for much. At only 5 feet 2 inches, he found he could compete against larger men.
Becker continued training in jiujitsu, gradually working up the colored-belt rankings, from white to blue to purple to brown until he finally achieved black belt status in 2011.
During this time he competed in numerous tournaments, taking home the gold medal for the 2010 and 2011 American Jiu-jitsu Nationals in the Brown Belt and Black Belt Divisions, respectively. The average time it takes to achieve black belt is 10 years, but Becker achieved it in eight.
“Pat had trained for more than 10 years in grappling and jiujitsu before I took over as his teacher,” said Gary Padilla, Becker’s jiujitsu instructor. “After training with me, his skill and his character showed that he was deserving of black belt status. It is an honor to have him as a student and a fellow black belt.”
For Becker, achieving the rank of black belt meant much more than a status symbol.
“As you progress in rank, you know you’re getting closer to the black belt, but you realize that it’s not about being better than everybody else,” Becker said. “It’s about guiding others and innovating the sport.”
At this stage in his training, Becker has moved on to teaching. Inosanto always said that the highest form of learning is teaching others and Becker took that advice to heart. He is currently teaching jiujitsu at Inosanto Academy, a huge honor considering Inosanto’s esteemed reputation.
Becker also recently began teaching mixed martial arts at UCLA. Since the class is for beginners, he has to explain concepts that he normally would not, which is much more difficult, but still satisfying.
“Pat has a calmness that allows him to teach in a way that exerts control over students and he has a great ability to break down technique,” said Paul McCarthy, the John Wooden Center’s Instructional Program Coordinator.
Over the years, martial arts has transformed from a hobby to Becker’s entire life. However, like for any athlete, the future holds some uncertainty.
“I don’t view martial arts as work,” Becker said. “It’s a way for me to blow off steam after work and forget about my problems. Half my thoughts are about jiujitsu. I just fear the day I can’t do it anymore.”
That day is still in the distant future as Becker will follow in the footsteps of Inosanto, who still practices and teaches at the age of 75. As for Lee? He trained until the day he died.
“I’ve come to realize what a great hero he is,” Becker said of the martial arts extraordinaire.
Becker will continue training at Inosanto Academy and teaching mixed martial arts at UCLA this summer. Chances are, his students will learn valuable lessons in martial arts, but who knows, he might even throw in a couple “Hwaaaaaahs!”