Martial Arts Expert and Instructor Shawn Williams talks health and fitness

While the opponent across from you wants to take you down, it’s the opponent inside who determines success.

In the ‘70s TV series Kung Fu, Master Po would wants to take you down, it’s the opponent Warren Stout, who operates two martial impart wisdom and his young pupil, affectionately referred to as “Grasshopper,” would soak in the lessons both of life and of kicking butt through martial arts. It was a nice arrangement, good enough for 63 episodes.

Today they do things differently. The masters can be a whole lot younger, like 41-year-old Shawn Williams, who operates 5 Star Martial Arts in Koreatown and has another branch coming soon in Pasadena. And the students can be closer to the master’s age. Plus both master and student can learn from each other. All that may make for less drama but it sets the stage for scintillating physical feats.

“Discipline, it bled into everything else I did in life.”

Shawn grew up in the small town of Markle, Indiana, population 1,000. At age 12, although he loved swimming, he happened upon a local dojo and fell in love with martial arts.

“What drew me in was the movies, like a lot of kids,” says Shawn, who has worked with many celebrities, including boxing champ Manny Pacquiao. “I loved ninja movies. I would watch Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee going nuts. It was the fighting that got me into martial arts. But a short time later it was the emotional and mental benefits of martial arts that began to help me with other things I did. I started to excel more at swimming as a result.”

In particular, Shawn liked the internal challenge. While the opponent across from you wants to take you down, it’s the opponent inside who determines success.

“What sets martial arts apart,” he says, “is having someone else in front of you, but the challenge is in your mind. When you swim, it’s against others. When you play football, it’s against others. But not when you’re in combat in martial arts with someone else. It brings you to another level of heightened awareness.”

Shawn studied with Renzo and climbed the ranks; now he’s a fourth-degree black belt. But eventually the competitor faded, and the teacher took over. Shawn shifted his focus to instructor, and through patience and devotion to his discipline, he has gained followers and influenced minds.

Jamie Crowder is a practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has worked with Shawn for 15 years. “He did judo and wrestling,” Jamie points out. “He appreciated a wider scale of skills that were able to enhance his own skills, and he was able to integrate them very seamlessly into what he was already teaching. If you’re not aware or don’t understand the differences, it’s easy to miss how brilliant that is.”

Warren Stout, who operates two martial arts studios in Pittsburgh, is another longtime friend and competitor who has trained extensively with Williams. “I make two distinctions: great coach, great teacher,” he says. “They’re almost two different things in my mind. Shawn is both. He’s a great teacher and is recognized for his broad technical knowledge. He is also extremely articulate at conveying that knowledge.”

Although the taut and trim athlete and teacher still travels a great deal, spending time in New York City, he makes Southern California his home now. He and wife Annie, a fashion photographer, live near Studio City. His Renzo Gracie affiliate studio in Koreatown near Hancock Park, which opened in 2010, has about 6,000 square feet, 450 members and eight instructors. The new location in Pasadena, scheduled to open in April, came about because a lot of families who come to the Koreatown location are based there. It just happens to be a hot- bed of martial arts activity. Who knew?

“We already have members who commute from there, so it only made sense,” he explains. “We wanted to spread the brand.”

Shawn is all-American but mystical, even-tempered but capable of combat. He is the kind of individual who inspires loyalty because he exudes old-fashioned sincerity and devotion to the correct way of doing things. That’s one of the reasons why he loves working with youngsters—because they’re reminders of the same qualities of martial arts that drew him to become a devotee.

“Martial arts are so good for kids,” Williams says. “I tell parents that as long as they understand that it’s important to keep kids motivated and to stick with it, eventually they’ll see the benefits.” Master Po may not have articulated it this way, but if you have a great teacher and a passion for a pursuit, you can get pretty far in this world. “Discipline,” Shawn states. “It bled into everything else I did in life.”


Shawn’s Fitness & Health Regimen

Workout Routine
As a coach, my goal is to maintain a good level of fitness, flexibility and skill. This consists of Brazilian jiu-jitsu training once a day—generally five to six days per week—a wrestling session once a week, a boxing/kickboxing session once a week and weight training twice a week (focused on primary lifts such as deadlifts, squats and occasional Olympic lifts, followed by a circuit of accessory exercises that target my core, back, shoulders and chest).

I try to eat sensibly—usually a high-quality protein (fish or chicken), a plethora of vegetables and some fruit. I’ve found that if I begin to feel “flat,” a sweet potato gives me a nice boost of energy. I aim to follow a very loose Paleo-style diet.

Guilty Pleasure
My mom’s “puppy chow” is insanely good. It is similar to muddy buddies, but it’s almost an insult to compare the two … another level!

Ultimate Fitness Goal
My goal is to push myself to see what my body is capable of now that I have passed the 40 mark. Getting back into competition is definitely on the agenda after I heal from a few injuries.



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