Master Joseph Santarose and his wife Erika Erica recently moved their family martial arts studio, Rock Solid Martial Arts, into downtown Katy. The dojang originally opened in a 1,000-square-foot …
Master Joseph Santarose and his wife Erika Erica recently moved their family martial arts studio, Rock Solid Martial Arts, into downtown Katy. The dojang originally opened in a 1,000-square-foot storage unit just off The Grand Parkway in 2011, but with a focus on the students and bringing family together, Santarose has been able to bring his family’s tradition of martial arts to the Old Town Katy District.
“I was forced to do it because my dad owned a Taekwondo school,” Santarose said. “So I started when I was four, but then I just fell in love with it when I was about 11 or 12 years old and I loved the fighting aspect of it. That also helped me build a lot of confidence because I am hard of hearing.”
Santarose, who said he has about a 90% hearing loss, said connecting with people at his fathers martial arts studio helped him make friends as a child. The confidence he built in that social environment and the talent he found he had as a competitor kept him going.
While Santarose didn’t mention it, Erica pointed out that his love of Taekwondo and the effort he puts into his students as a result of his passion for martial arts has earned him two inductions into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame – both times in categories relating to quality instruction. His first induction was in 2013 as master instructor of the year and his second a few years later as leading Taekwondo master.
However, Santarose said, while he’s proud of his own achievements in the ring, it is the connections with his students and how his sport brings families together that makes it worth it for him.
“That’s one of the things that I always tell the parents, you know, you can’t play on the softball team or the baseball team with your kids. You can't play on the football team with them – but you can do Taekwondo with them,” Santarose said.
Santarose said that, while the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for the martial arts studio. However, there have been some things that have helped. He began offering instruction online when COVID-19 closed the business down – Rock Solid is categorized as a gym for business purposes – and moving into a new, larger space allows for social distancing now that the business can open with partial capacity. The space allows him to space students out into workout stations that they can then sanitize themselves prior to switching to the next station, similar to circuit training with one-on-one instruction as Santarose works with each student.
“(Sept. 25) we had 30 people come in just for that one-on-one training and just rotating through,” Santarose said.
Now that classes have begun again, Santarose has realized that his instruction process was already set up to facilitate social distancing with students spaced six feet apart when lined up for drills, he said.
Another thing that has helped has been the popularity of the new “Karate Kid” spinoff show, “Cobra Kai,” Santarose and Erica said. As pop culture focuses on martial arts, the dojang sees waves of students come in and the most recent one has helped keep the business running they said.
“You know, it’s funny, because on Facebook everybody’s (saying), ‘Oh, we saw “Cobra Kai” so we’re coming by to check out martial arts.’ Everybody’s getting into it, and what’s funny is I know the show and I’ve seen a couple of episodes, (but) I haven’t watched it like everybody else has,” Joseph said.
Joseph said his focus though isn’t on TV shows, but making sure students connect to the sport and traditions of martial arts and succeed. It’s a point of affectionate contention for the two.
“I hate watching martial arts films with him,” Erica said. “He’s always like, ‘Really? That was the kick you’re gonna go with?’”
Erica, who functions as office manager and jack-of-all-trades for the business, said she has seen her husband’s dedication to his students and she’s proud of his humility and passion as a Taekwondo master. For him, she said, it’s about helping students succeed which she said is part of why his students have done well in competitions.
“Two of his boys right now are currently in the running to represent the U.S. at the Olympics in 2024,” Erica said. “And I would say that’s because of his commitment.”
Santarose said those successes come from a love of the sport he learned from his father and encourages parents to join in with their young martial artists. He offers classes for adults as well, he said, and if the parents have studied other martial arts disciplines, he’ll keep them at their same belt level and work with them to learn Taekwondo at that same level before the belt progression starts or allow them to start from scratch with a white belt just like their children so the family can have a shared learning experience.
“You can ask them to get on the (dojang) floor, practice with them, get your black belt together, and it’s really cool to see a family of three or four all get together and get their black belts,” Santarose said.