Moffat County Locals: Paul Cruz teaches ‘certain victory’ from within
December is an important time of year for Paul Cruz.
Yes, it’s his birthday, having just celebrated his 40th, but the month marks a different anniversary as well, one which he considers crucial to who he is a person.
It was Dec. 12, 1988 when Cruz was first introduced to the martial arts, and it marked the first step of a journey ongoing for 28 years for the man who recently obtained a fifth-degree black belt in taekwondo.
Taekwondo traces its roots to 1940s Korea during occupation by Imperial Japan when the natives began to develop their own offshoot of the karate discipline.
Cruz has been an instructor in Craig for about seven years, the head of Northwest Colorado Tae Kwon Do/Hapkido, the latter of which focuses on self-defense.
“Just to be a first-degree black belt in hapkido, you have to learn 236 moves,” he said, adding that he only teaches adults the more intense version.
Punching and kicking is an integral part of the physical activity, though what Cruz emphasizes for all students — particularly kids — are the tenets that apply to daily life.
“We teach courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit,” he said. “Students learn how to be responsible people through the martial arts. We want to be humble, be good people of the community.”
Cindy McKey drives her children, Lila and Nolan, regularly to Craig from Savery, Wyoming, to attend Cruz’s classes because of the lessons he imparts.
“The whole sport has such a huge emphasis on something that’s kind of lost on today’s society: manners,” she said. “I love how that’s valued here, and Master Cruz models that all the time, shows respect with kids, and when he speaks to parents it radiates from him. It’s as simple as a bow or a handshake, those symbolic gestures.”
Shasta Hyer is a senior red belt — one level below black belt — who is both a student and assistant under Cruz.
“He’s so patient, he can really break things down and anyone can learn from him,” she said.
Unlike the sadistic sensei of the Cobra Kai Dojo in “The Karate Kid,” Cruz discourages using martial arts for the wrong reasons or with the wrong attitude.
“We have a philosophy, ‘pil sung,’ that means ‘certain victory,’” he said. “It doesn’t mean you go out, beat up people, win everything you try. You try to be the best you can be, one mind that controls all of you. After that, you should be able to accomplish any goal you set.”
After utilizing several locations in town, Cruz’s current goal is making his newest space a permanent one at 535 Yampa Ave., which his school will share with the local Zumba classes.
Teaching within the community where he grew up is an honor he doesn’t take lightly, aiding kids in developing physical and social skills and continuing to grow as people, using an analogy for the progression of learning.
“Once one cup is full, put it in a bigger bucket, and wait for it to fill up again with that knowledge,” he said.
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It was the 25th iteration of the Craig Rotary Club’s annual Diamonds & Spurs banquet Saturday, but, to its organizers at least, it was more than that.