His childhood heroes were Chuck Norris and Ansel Adams. He was one of the first U.S. Kubudo weapons competitors to receive a weapons rank; and now, Ernie Baca has brought martial arts to Mohave Community College’s north campus.

In 1980, Baca studied under Toshimitsu Kina, the Supreme Instructor of the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kyokai system, and his brother Tadashi Kina, to develop his martial arts skills and began instructing others as part of the program. Then, in 1984, he joined the U.S. Karate Association, enabling him to compete nationally and internationally.

He became one of the top 15 weapons competitors in the nation and achieved a special certification to teach Kubudo weaponry. This experience inspired his interest in teaching, and now, he looks for chances to offer others exposure to subjects he’s passionate about.

“A martial arts student must assist and teach others to attain higher rank,” Baca said. “In doing so, both the student and I gain from teaching each other directly or indirectly.”

“What I like most about martial arts is the confidence and self-esteem it instills and the ability to teach what I have gained,” he said. “Under my instruction, students learn not only to defend themselves, they learn about themselves.”

Although the martial arts courses were new to community members, word soon spread and Baca’s classes gained popularity. The new dynamic instructor caught people’s attention.

Intermediate and advanced students soon sprang from the original beginners’ class, tripling his class load. This posed a challenge, since Baca commutes from Kanab to MCC’s campus in Colorado City.

“Ernie’s focus is amazing,” said student Virginia Dockstader. “He’s helped me become more self-disciplined and confident through self-defense training. He always encourages me when I think I can’t do something. I’ve appreciated the chance to study with him.”

The students aren’t the only thing keeping him coming back, though. “The staff always has a friendly and positive attitude,” Baca said. “They’re willing to go the extra mile to help the teachers. Their participation in enrollment, scheduling and promotion of classes is top notch.”

Surprisingly, photography, not martial arts, is Baca’s number-one passion. A photography course is, in fact, next on his list of classes to teach at MCC. He was yearbook editor and photographer in high school, but his plans to pursue landscape photography in college were interrupted when he met his one true love.

“Life threw me a loop when I met my wife,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I changed my course.”

He didn’t completely abandon his passion for photography, of course. “I never put my camera down,” he said. “Utilizing my martial arts foundation and artistic expression, I was able to unite the two disciplines to create and express what I see, capture it in a digital format and preserve the image for all to see.”

When he’s not focused on martial arts or photography, Baca works for the Utah Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Division in Kanab.

Baca’s next martial arts classes begin March 24. Registration is going on now. Call 800-678-3992 or visit mohave.edu/schedule for more information.