Goju Ryu celebrates 25 years in business

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Richard and Cindy Long have overcome personal tragedy to succeed in business and build a network of devoted friends and fans, as well as amass an impressive number of trophies for their karate students.

Janis Marston-News-Bulletin photo: Richard and Cindy Long have marked a quarter of a century of teaching karate at the Belen Goju Ryu Karate. The Longs stand before a memorial for their daughter along a wall of the dojo.

The Longs own the Belen Goju Ryu Karate dojo at the corner of First Street and Becker Avenue. It’s hard to miss, with the big black-on-white clenched fist and big Chinese glyphs.

May is a special month for them. He had a birthday on the 14th, she on the 16th and, all month long, they celebrated 25 years of business.

In that time, 58 of their students have achieved black belts, a rank in skill and discipline that takes from six to 11 years to earn. They also have brought 29 major karate tournaments to Belen, awarded $18,000 in scholarships, raised $32,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and, this year, contributed nearly $1,150 to the Belen Area Food Pantry.

Their story is about focus and dedication. It has taken them to the top of their discipline, including national and world championships and, for 12 years, representing New Mexico in the United States Karate Alliance.

Two Navy brats, moving all over the world, they ended up high school sweethearts in Key West, Fla. She was a beach bunny and competitive swimmer. He lettered in all varsity team sports. They married when they were 17 and, in 1978, came to Belen.

Settling down was important to Cindy. Richard quickly became finance manager at a Pontiac dealership. After seven years, when she knew they weren’t moving, they started a family. Little did they know this was to change their lives forever.

Their son, Michael, was 3 1/2 and wild about “The Karate Kid” and TV’s “Ninja Turtles.” Cindy took her little boy to a Tai Kwan Do class and watched. When she returned, the teacher invited her to join the class.

Within a month, the entire family — mother, father, son and daughter — was training together. That was in 1985.

By 1988, their commitment to martial arts was sealed. Karate replaced Tai Kwan Do and, as instructors, they established the business, Goju Ryu, which means “Hard/Soft” in Chinese.

In 1991, they moved to their current location. Awards, certificates and newspaper clippings, many yellowed with age, fill the walls of the dojo, or training hall, along with autographed photos, artwork and motivational statements.

“The more you sweat in peace. The less you bleed in war,” hangs on the wall opposite a section devoted to the memory of their daughter, Air Force Capt. Tamara Long Archuleta, a helicopter pilot who died in 2003 on a rescue mission in Afghanistan.

Trophies are everywhere. One is 7 feet tall; more stand on a shelf like a platoon of soldiers at attention.

“Block soft. Think big. Hit Hard” reads like a mantra. The advance-retreat of karate suit the Longs. “It’s like a dance,” Cindy says. “It’s beautiful … graceful — but has a deadly technique.”

Students come from Albuquerque and beyond. Richard talks about one woman who drives 89 miles to Belen, one way, to come to the dojo. She fell and broke her arm. Doctors put a steel plate in her wrist. Two days later, she was back in class.

They’re teaching children of the children they first trained.

“Now we have a third generation coming,” Cindy says.

They want to take karate for many reasons.

“Some of the small kids walk around with all this energy. They think karate’s cool,” she says.

Others come because they’re picked on at school or maybe have discipline problems. Others want to learn self-defense; some just want to get in shape.

Body, mind and spirit are the tenets. “Karate builds self-esteem, confidence. It’s empowering,” she says, with a swift kick for emphasis.

Of changes they witnessed over the years, Richard says, they used to be harder on their students.

“We were a lot more physical when we were younger. We learned that’s not necessarily a good thing.

“Now we start slower and make (the students) stronger,” he continues. “We’ve become wiser.”