By Adrianna Clinton
At 7 a.m., as students and faculty make their way to school, many travel through the square of Red Lion. Almost every day, they notice a peculiar sight in the parking lot of the Lion Pharmacy.
Regardless of sub-zero temperatures or humid mornings, Roberto Martinez can be seen almost every morning working out and waving to passing students on buses.
“It started with a girl saying hi to me on a bus and becoming my friend,” Martinez recalled. “I have a daughter myself, and a granddaughter. I think kids are the best thing.”
Inspired by a special needs student who waves to him on the way to school, Martinez has been returning to the square as a part of his martial arts regimen. Martinez has come to the square to see the kids of Red Lion and to show them that they can be their own person.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a person who likes to idolize somebody, as long as it’s good. I do it not to show I’m bad in the martial arts, but to put a positive image out there… I do it as an inspiration, not to show off,” Martinez said.
His interest in martial arts began at 10 or 11 years old, when Martinez saw a movie of Bruce Lee. His career then began at 15.
“At first, the Hollywood part drew me in. I was young, I didn’t understand it took a lot of hard training to get to that level. But as I grew older in the martial arts, it kind of became a way of life. I live it every day. I still am doing what I did as a kid,” Martinez said. “I’ll probably be doing this until I’m 70 or 80, maybe even longer.”
Martinez, 50, practices Gung-Fu, a martial art developed in China hundreds of years ago. His intense workouts, consisting of kicks, punches, and lots of stretching, have garnered a lot of public comment over the past two or three years, earning him the nickname “Red Lion Ninja”, even though he has been taking his martial arts to the streets of Red Lion and Dallastown for over 20 years.
His day starts at 4 a.m. when he starts stretching and training in his home. Before he goes to the square, he eats while stretching or doing some activity to prepare his body.
“I never sit down,” Martinez said.
In fact, his home is set up like a gym. One room houses dummies of all kinds to work on his fighting techniques. In his bedroom, pull-up bars are hung above the door, weights sit on the floor for neck exercises along with bricks covered in rice to harden his hands, and a bag of sand that Martinez punches 300-500 times.
Martinez proceeds to the square at 7 a.m., where he often talks to members of the community.
“Even at the square when he has his headphones in, he still sees and hears everything,” Martinez’s wife Megan said.
He returns a couple hours later to train with a friend, then sleeps for an hour and take a medication to control the seizures that sometimes hinder but never entirely stop his workout routine.
The seizures, which began about 16 years ago, have taken away some of Martinez’s motor skills, reading and writing abilities, and if he has a bad one, he’s usually down for two to three days.
“Even with all that damage, I never forgot anything about martial arts. It became second nature, like walking,” Martinez said. “Even if you have a disability, you can be whatever you want and achieve whatever you want. I’m still doing martial arts...if I can have seizures and do this, what can you do with a clear brain?”
Toward the ends of his days, Martinez does balancing exercises, and at night when he is watching television, he does sit-ups.
“This is how crazy I am: I can’t wait to get up the next morning and start all over again. When it’s done, I’m excited for the next day. It’s not an obsession, and not that I want to leave a legacy behind. I feel I have a purpose to show the younger generation that there’s always something better out there. It’s not just about fighting,” Martinez said.
Martinez has involved himself in the Red Lion community, as he has taught rape prevention classes and is about to teach a class at the Grace Lutheran Church.
He fought on a professional level for five years and never lost before he had to stop. His skills could have potentially taken him to a bigger stage than the Lion Pharmacy parking lot.
“We could’ve tried to make a career out of it [martial arts], he had things lined up, but it was just too much of a risk,” Martinez’s wife Megan said. “He’s very dedicated.”
Martinez even had his wife training in martial arts for three years. “But then she got lazy on me,” he said.
In the rare moments when he is not doing something related to martial arts, Martinez enjoys cooking, Spanish and Chinese being his best dishes. He also works with computers and spends time with his granddaughter.