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Karate champion’s teachings cover much more than form

Listen to Ralph Castellanos talk for any length of time and you’d swear you were gaining insight from Mr. Mayagi from the movie “Karate Kid.”

To the 65-year-old Sigung Grand Master, wisdom and spirit carry much more weight than how many championships are under his ninth-degree blackbelt.

“Ralph has amazing wisdom,” said John Pegis, who has trained under Castellanos for 11 years. “He’s changed me a lot. I used to be one of those people that you’d get arrested by a lot; now, I go out of my way not to arrest people.”



Castellanos, a retired security guard, recently scored a pair of first-place trophies at the GSKA International World Karate Championships in Stockton, Calif.

“There’s much more strength in gentleness than in muscle and power and thinking that way, too,” Castellanos said. “I thought I knew some things when I started at 34 and didn’t realize that I knew little until I was 55 or 60. Now, I’m just starting to understand (life) to where I can communicate with some of my seniors and put a little light in their lives.”



Castellanos certainly understands how to win. In the masters 50-plus division, he claimed forms and weapons titles. The longtime Horizon Casino Resort employee also combined with Pegis to take third place in self defense, a doubles competition that requires one attacker and one defender.

“The reason he’s competing at 65 is that it’s a gift,” Pegis said. “If more of the old ones would perform, the younger ones would be lot more informed and lot more motivated, and it would just be a better art.

“The problem with art is that it’s so secretive. Ralph puts his ego is his pocket and shares his art with as many people as he possibly can.”

If you want to gander at Castellanos’ latest hardware, you’ll have to head to Stateline. Castellanos donated the first-place trophies to the Horizon out of respect for what the casino has given him over the years.

“I have the moment,” he said. “I have enough trophies. It was the moment that was special to a 65-year-old guy.”

Karate has evolved as much as Castellanos has during the past three decades.

“In the early years they didn’t have all the padding,” he said. “It’s kind of like running around barefooted all the time and then putting on shoes.”

More important to Castellanos than his own accomplishments in the sport now is introducing others to his passion.

“Basically, I forget more than I remember, but I remember enough to teach,” he kidded.

Pegis, more widely known as “Johnny Midnite” from the Old West shows he and Castellanos perform regionally, says karate enthusiasts are in a unique position here in Tahoe because of Castellanos’ unselfishness.

“Ralph is just amazing from way he goes about teaching to just about everything,” Pegis said. “You don’t train with Grand Masters. They usually teach the blackbelts and blackbelts teach you. It’s so amazing to have someone of that caliber available to anybody who could walk through the door and learn from him.”

The price is unbelievably right, too.

“I don’t charge. Just bring your ears and heart,” Castellanos said. “If you look at if for the soul instead of the buck, you’re a lot richer.”

The class meets every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Horizon Convention Center. Newcomers are welcome.

“For most people, the hard part is getting started in anything that is going to make change in their life,” he said. “If we think about it too long, we usually talk ourselves out of it.”

Wax on, wax off.


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