We’ve got a real gem to share with you today! This is an interview we originally conducted with Master Frank Soto back in 2012, but since having to move our old website to the new it got lost so we’re pleased to find it again! More lost gems will hopefully surface soon!
We’re proud to present an interview with Frank Soto, a 6th Dan Kempo Master at KDM (Kinetic Dragon Method) in Mexico with hundreds of students worldwide. He received his early training and grading from world renowned Kempo Master, Larry Tatum. He works closely with the son of the late ‘father of American kempo’, the formidable Ed Parker.
In this candid interview, Frank discusses his own personal journey, some of the deeper aspects of training and lifestyle whilst offering some unique insights along the way!
Raj: Hi Frank! Thanks for agreeing to participate in this special interview with Kung-fu Kingdom! It’s great to have a chance to share something about your martial arts activities and how things are progressing with you!
Frank Soto: Sure Raj. I agree!
So, let’s start with the basics, where do you come from?
I am from a small town called Hermosillo in Mexico. Previously, I lived in LA and Pasadena.
The martial arts are most often connected with Asia. Have you ever lived in Asia?
No, I have lived in the States, I learned more the American way.
What is your height and weight?
I am 6ft (1.82M) and 122KG (I’m a big guy!)
Do you find you’re able to use all of that weight in your martial art?
I definitely feel comfortable, otherwise I would have taken the extra weight off! (laughs). My mother art is American kempo, Ed Parker’s kempo. He was a big Hawaiian guy. I’m Latino, but around the same size.
So, how did you get started in the martial arts, how old were you?
I started martial arts when I was 12-13 years old, back in 1984. I started because of my father. He took me to a tae kwon do school and I started because of the bullies! I was always looking for something practical. I found that kicking for me, in the streets, wasn’t that practical. I had used it a couple of times and I always felt I needed to use the hands more. So, I did some boxing as well, and I looked at different arts until I found one that I really liked, because of the practicality and street application, and that was American kempo. I was 21, in 1994. Fast forward to now, I’ve got 25-26 years experience in the arts, got my first and second degree from Larry Tatum, I have a 6th degree black belt in Lima Lama and 6th degree black belt in American kempo.
A sign of dedication for sure!
Well, I’m a passionate man! I enjoy teaching and travelling and have done so around the States and South America. I’ve also travelled and taught in Jersey Island, (UK), Spain, Belgium, Holland and France.
So, back to your beginnings, did you practice after school or did you have a private tutor, how did that go?
I started in my home town. I wanted to get closer to the source so I went to Pasadena in 1996 and was trained by Master Larry Tatum who’s one of the most respected and senior masters of American kempo. I actually lived in Pasadena and worked for him at his studio in 97 and 98, that’s when I got my black belt from him.
Is he still an inspiration to you now?
Yes! Well, after some years I went on my own way. I will always have deep respect for him. He’s still one of the biggest influences in kempo. He was influential to me and I learned my basics from him.
It was 2000 when I left, and about 2 years ago, I got a call from Tim Bullot who’s also a student of Larry Tatum and we got to do the movie “El Negocio”. Larry was one of the main protagonists, so I had a chance to meet up with him again. That was a good experience. I really liked that!
Trailer for El Negocio
I was just having a look at the movie clip. It’s very fast and energetic; there are a lot of movements there!
Yes, American kempo is known for its rapid hand movement. I guess we got a chance to demonstrate that well on film!
Absolutely! It really looks good! So apart from kempo, did you practice any other martial art?
Yes! Back in 2003 I got in touch with the Tuiolosega family. Tino Tuiolosega was the founder of Samoan Lima Lama. Tino was one of the big names back in the 60’s and 70’s, he was one of the masters. He passed away in April 2011, and his son Rudy Tuiolosega (still alive) is my Lima Lama teacher, I studied under them for 4 years. I’m still under senior master Rudy’s tutelage in a way. I honour them and I am grateful for what they taught me. They have very fluid movements, Hawaiian and Samoan, very practical for the streets. It was big in the States for a while in the 60’s and 70’s with Master Rudy bringing it back to the audience.
Frank Soto Kinetica Demo
I know there are some wrestlers for example, of Samoan heritage, the Rock, has Samoan blood in him.
Yes and they’re fearless! They might strike you as crazy people! Samoans are pretty much always big, they’re warriors, they’re actually very nice, devoted to God, to their beliefs but when you ask them to fight, it’s not a threat to them, but a compliment!
You mean they’re going to go all-out and show you what they’re made of?!
That’s part of who they are!
I guess it’s like a ritual for them!
Yeah, I guess it is!
Who else Frank are your main inspirations?
I also work with Ed Parker Jr, which is important. His father, Ed Parker himself was known for his ‘vicious’ art, he was devastating. We teach the alternative form of self-defence, the counter-balance of what his dad did…exemplifying the soft touch. It was from him that I learned to flow and to move more slowly in a gentler manner, more from the internal. Together we founded what we call Kinetica, which is a soft touch self defence system you might say.
Kinetica is a great name!
Thanks! Kinetica is the understanding of motion and applying simple principles to manipulate the opponent. I teach the kempo tools, the devastating form and the Kinetica solutions: movements on the gentle side. So I have both sides. I work with the healing and the hurting arts, one might say!
Cruel to be kind!?! Both sides!
Well, when I first met Ed Parker Jr, I was a full-on kempo devastating type of guy. I really used to like to hit and move and apply the breaks and so forth. When I was first exposed to the soft side, I didn’t really like it you know. But the logic behind why Mr Parker Jr did that got me hooked! Once I started applying and opening my mind to the other side of motion and the benefits you gain from going from the extreme sides of kempo, to the shades of grey, it became for me a more complete art form. You have options when you move and defend yourself. I believe it goes back to the roots.
You mean like you have tai chi, which is more fluid, which is softer?
Yes, that will expose you to life itself. Understanding yin-yang, positive, negative and neutral gives you the whole spectrum of experience to understand life and how it develops.
KDM Maximum Result – Minimum Effort
Nice! Pretty profound themes which I’m sure we’ll return to! Frank, have you ever worked with any well-known personalities in the martial arts?
I’ve been in seminars with many of the Kajukenbo guys, I’ve met Mr Emperado once, the founder of Kajukenbo who passed away. Most of the people I know are from the kempo community. I am one of the new masters you might say of the new generation. We have projects with big names going on right now, we might have a big film going on this year. But as you know nothing’s signed yet, so I can’t say much about it. There’s a big project going on with Mr Ed Parker and big names in Hollywood. It might mean good things for kempo and the Kinetica side. So the exposure is mainly through my partner Ed Parker Jr. He is the one who has all the connections of course because he’s the son of the father of American karate! My exposure to the movie industry is more through the indie movies. But there are projects, there will be more to talk about in the next year or so!
I’ve also worked with people close to Chuck Norris although I’ve not met him myself. Would welcome the pleasure of meeting Jackie Chan for example, but generally, I’m more involved with people on the kempo side.
From what I saw in El Negocio –it was very good, extremely interesting, high impact and eye-opening!
Yes, that was my main movie. We made most of it in Colombia. We went there for 2 weeks at the beginning of last year. We’re working on the sequel “El Negocio 2”. That’s pretty much what we have going on right now. For sure you will get to know more about it!
Who in the martial arts industry would you most like to work with?
Well I’m not THAT ambitious, but I’d be happy to work with any of them. I love Jackie Chan movies, Jet Li, and the main guy who did Ip Man?
You mean Donnie Yen?
Yes! He’s amazing! I’ve seen him in a few movies and I so much like what he did with the character! He did just amazing work
He carried it off very maturely, with poise, humility and intensity at the same time.
Yes, I really liked what he did with Ip Man.
Did you do your own stunts in El Negocio?
Yes, I did all my fight scenes. They called me for my fighting skill, NOT my acting skills (laughs). The fighting, I think, looks pretty amazing, the acting…it’s okay! Martial arts and performing…that’s what we do!
What was the hardest stunt you had to do?
Well, we didn’t have to jump-off buildings or anything like that, I wouldn’t do that! Well, it’s what we do everyday, so, it wasn’t so hard. The fight I did with Mr Bullot was hard. We really went full bore for each other. Some of the strikes you see there are real, that I can say!
We did hit each other very hard. We wanted to make it look very realistic and we ended-up with black eyes and big bruises and stuff. But, by the end of filming the scene (which we had to do several times of course) we were laughing and having a good time at the end of the day!
No broken bones or anything?
No. But it was hard, there was a moment I think where I struck Tim’s ear awkwardly a little, then he really went after me! He was supposed to hit me on the chest, but he ended up hitting me in the face! So I think he had an intentional loss of aim right there, haha! It was all good fun though, I hit, and he got me, it made it look very real we were in our roles, good guy versus bad guy! That’s the most intense fight in the film. Then he does a fight at the end with the other bad guy who is my boss in the film, the bodyguard. He did a very nice technical fight which also looked very nice!
Fantastic! Well I’m going to definitely look forward to seeing that soon and giving you my humble feedback.
Good! And I hope you enjoy it!
Okay, so now we come to your top 5 martial arts movies Frank!
Oh my! That’s a hard one! Let’s see…I’d have to say Hero, I like the way they portray the history of it. I like the fight between Donnie Yen and Jet Li, I think that was one of the best fights. Believe it or not, I like Above The Law, Steven Seagal, the first movie he did.
That changed the way I perceived martial arts back in 1986-87. The intensity and passion, the way he moved with the art of aikido (I’d never seen aikido before) with that strength and dynamic, I think that’s why I liked it. The fact that he went with multiple attackers and weapons, for me it just was a good film. Enter The Dragon. Any of the Jackie Chan movies!
Just any Jackie Chan movie?!
Yeah! I love Jackie Chan man! It’s got to be Drunken Master, the first original one! I can’t leave Chuck Norris out, I think for him, Octagon. I know it’s cheesy and all compared to today’s standards but back in the day, he did a great job on that film.
I would have to say those are my top 5, mainly because of the actors.
KD Master Patterns
Thank you Frank, that’s nice to hear your views on them! Now, Frank moving to daily routines and practicalities, can you describe a day in the life of Frank Soto?
Yes, sure! I usually wake around 10am, a little late because I teach classes until night. So I get up and work on admin, my website, Facebook and I work on the DVD’s and other things. I teach from about 6pm until 10:30pm Monday to Friday. During the weekends I sometimes do seminars.
What’s your work-out like?
I do the kempo forms and sets all the time which helps keep me in shape and keeps me moving. I also, in my teaching, work-out as much as I can with my students. I used to go to the gym, but I don’t so much anymore, but I do work with kettlebells in my studio.
So you get enough all round resistance exercise?
Yes, I try to relate everything to martial motion you know, because when I was going to the gym I was getting a little bit stiff. So, when I tried to flow and move, it wasn’t that practical or useful. You tend to look better, sure, but I prefer to move better than to look better.
Got it. Real world martial-arts right?
Yes! I guess through the years, you stop worrying about how you look but focus more on how you function with not only effectiveness but efficiency in your movement!
Thanks for going into the fundamentals here Frank!
Martial arts for me is a lifestyle and a spiritual path, but for some people it isn’t. Everybody has their own agenda. You have to respect that. Everyone practices for different reasons. When you get individuals who appreciate the more profound side of the arts, well, you know, then it’s very gratifying to say the least.
Yes! That’s definitely a theme we’ll feature more and more, raising awareness.
For me that’s definitely the way to go. Respect all and be a “martial arts gentleman”!
A MAG in other words, nice one Frank! Do you have any training tips you could share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers?
Well, let’s see…What works for me is combining hard work with soft work. So you train the hard side of the art by sparring and doing self-defence techniques and moves with an opponent who doesn’t help you, so then you go hard, and hit and get hit so you develop your toughness and your power. But also you need to go to your soft and gentle side, with slow motion moves working with efficiency and precision. So from the young man’s arts to the old man’s arts. You don’t have to wait until you get old to start gaining benefits from practicing the older and wiser man’s art! The elder represents the wisdom, they also carry the knowledge.
If you have the power and passion of the young, the precision, efficiency, gentleness and softness of the old man’s art and have a balance. That for me, would be a complete expression then you get the full benefit from what you’re doing. So you can go to the gym and work your stamina with push-ups sit-ups etc, then you can work the mobility of the internal arts. The master of motion knows both sides. It’s a lot of fun!
Sounds like it! Do you keep a special diet at all Frank?
I wish I did, but…NO! Well, when I have to get ready for a presentation, or a movie, then yes, I do go on a strict diet. I haven’t done it for a while though. But I’ve done it in the past, you know, no fats, no carbs, going to the gym for 3-4 hours a day. Last time I did that was about 7 years ago. It was good for the way I looked, but it wasn’t good for my art! I was as stiff as a board when I wanted to move!
Sounds pretty intense!
Well, yes! Now I try not to gain too much weight. When you’re a big guy, you get comfortable being big, then you’re not too worried. But then your knees start hurting then you’ve got to lose some weight and take care of your health. Just stay away from the junk food and stay away from the fat.
Good advice! Easier said than done perhaps?
Yeah! Especially when you’re travelling and things like that! But then those who are being hospitable to you, they want to be nice to you and keep encouraging you to eat! They just want to be nice. Last time I went to Belgium, I was with a Sicilian family and, oh boy! Do they like to eat! They just fed me like a pig, “C’mon, c’mon, mangia! mangia!” Well, basically, stay away from bad carbs, fat and junk, exercise and you’ll be fine!
Do you eat more vegetables, salads, that kind of thing?
I’m definitely a meat eater! I should be more into veggies, but I love meat! Guilty as charged!
Do you feel it contributes to your strength?
Well, I believe if you eat too much meat, it will make you more aggressive, but instead if you eat more vegetables and that type of food it will make you more relaxed, calm and tolerant. What you eat affects your emotions. I can say I’m an explosive person, but I try to be as nice about it as I can!
That’s why you’re practicing the old man art now so you can be nice, a gentle man?
Yeah! Exactly! That’s why I started! Haha. That’s why I stopped going to the gym too, brought out too much of the fire in me!
Brings to mind the Samoan warrior ferocity, living amidst that raw volcanic environment!
Okay Frank, tell us, have you ever been seriously injured? If so, how did you work around it?
Well, I haven’t had any really bad injuries. When I used to train just the hard side of the art my joints were bad. I was in constant pain. The fingers, the wrists, the elbows, the shoulders, the knees, everything just hurt! But now that I do a lot of the joint mobility, soft side and breathing it’s much better. Now, I don’t believe in full-on impact anymore, I believe more in flow and fluid motion. It’s also less painful for the joints. I have an old gym injury in my shoulder. I can move it, but can’t move any heavy weight. I had some hand surgery when I was 23 or 24. That’s the biggest one I had. Now I’m much better.
Three years ago, I did a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class with grappling and I hurt my back. Yes, I tried the grappling arts, but I’m more a stand-up type of guy. I can move around if I need to, but I don’t believe it’s practical for the street, in my point of view. I respect and value all other ways of expression and I believe in keeping it practical and in keeping with what works for you as an individual mentally, physically and emotionally.
“Expressing yourself honestly“, sounds like Bruce Lee’s philosophy.
So, what advice Frank, would you give to anyone looking to take-up a martial art?
Look for a good instructor and a good school, a place that’s clean and positive. Sadly enough, there are a few instructors who are bullies. They have the wrong idea that they have to be too hard on their students to make them tough. So if someone is looking for a school, studio or academy to train, look for a knowledgeable and kind person. An honest person who can teach in a positive and fun way. Martial arts should be recreational as well.
To recreate oneself?
Exactly! If you come out of a class feeling bad, then it’s not the place for you. If you feel tired that’s fine, but you have to feel good about yourself when you leave the class. I think that’s very important. You feel good because it was a positive experience. The instructor encourages and pushes you but he’s trying to build something. They’re trying to build character, strength and confidence, even if he makes you do a thousand push-ups or whatever, but he makes you feel good, then it’s a good school. If you’re feeling mentally down, it’s not a good school for you! It may work for someone else. Everyone has to find out what works for them!
Comforting advice! Moving forward Frank, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Well, hopefully, whether I’m living in the States or in Europe, with a large academy or studio, making more films and promoting Kinetica and KDM on a larger scale and influencing more people in a positive way. That’s really it. Having more students in the Frank Soto network that I have, and more students everywhere.
How many people are in your team?
I have promoted up to 42 black belts. I have a couple of black belts in Chile, 80 students in Venezuela, it’s big there, lots of students. In Mexico 300-400 students in different studios.
I have individuals working with me in the States on long distance programs, in Madrid, Spain, I’m building a group in Belgium, I have a couple of black belts there who are starting a new studio. There’s another in France, I will be there next week. So, it’s growing! Also in Russia, we’re promoting Kenpo there, it’s growing step by step, it’s very exciting! KDM material is in both English and Spanish but all these works are being translated into the country’s language where it’s studied and practiced.
Nice to hear about this organic expansion! Frank, do you have any special message for Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your followers and students?
The main thing is for people to really enjoy themselves and give a positive message to others. I’d like to say MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), has highlighted and pushed the more violent side. We should do the counterpart, the gentler side, bring balance to the arts. That will only be found in those arts with more depth, philosophy, lineage and strong, confident beliefs, that’s what I believe we need to do right now.
That’s an apt assessment of how martial arts are being perceived as whole out there right now. Sadly, we’re approaching wrap-up point, so Frank, is there a last bit of warrior wisdom you could share with us, something that you always remember, a pet phrase perhaps?
I always tell my students to FLOW! Don’t get hooked-up on bad or emotional things just leave the drama aside and try to flow all the time.
Like Bruce Lee said, “Be like water my friend”.
Yeah! I agree with a lot of Bruce Lee’s philosophies, he was ahead of his time for sure, there’s a lot we can learn from that to this day. Let your energy flow, be yourself, and seek for the truth, that keeps you humble.
Frank Soto – European Seminars March 2011
Where else can we get further info on the Kenpo you teach Frank?
Fantastic! I’d like to say thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise with us Frank. We appreciate your kind co-operation in participating in this interview!
Thank you Raj, I’m honoured, thank you! It’s been a pleasure and please stay in touch!
NB: If you’re too busy practicing martial arts check this out if you want to pay for essay cheap.