Karate of The Woodlands – Still kicking after all these years with a new Grand Opening
THE WOODLANDS, TX – A Woodlands area mainstay since 1990, Karate of The Woodlands is celebrating the opening of its doors at its new location in the Panther Creek Shopping this upcoming weekend, and owner/founder Rick Prieto sat down with Woodlands Online to discuss the dojo’s history, the next generation of karate masters, and his long-standing partnership with Chuck Norris himself.
Karate of The Woodlands has moved from its previous location on Research Forest to its new facilities at 4775 W Panther Creek, Suite 210 and is opening its doors to the public for a free grand opening community event from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Members of the public of all ages are invited to come and enjoy fun, prizes, martial arts classes, demonstrations, and enrollment specials.
When it comes to martial arts, Prieto has the skills, experience, and awards. He is a 9th degree black belt in karate, a 2nd degree krav maga black belt, holder of a brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and is additionally trained in muay thai, tae kwon do, tang su do, boxing, wrestling, and sho to kan. 2023 marks the start of his 55th year in martial arts.
Both Prieto and what would become Karate of The Woodlands had their roots in California, more notably Hollywood. Ever since he saw the 1971 film Billy Jack as a young man, he delved into the discipline and chose a lifelong path to being a student – and later master – of the martial arts. Prieto later shared screen time with Norris in the 1979 movie A Force of One, shot in San Diego. It was, as the cliche goes, the start of a beautiful friendship.
“Chuck campaigned for both Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., and wanted to translate that support into being able to institute martial arts schools in the inner cities of California,” said Pieto.
Once that initiative was in place, Pieto moved from California to Virginia, where he spent seven years running the Chuck Norris Karate Studios there. In those early years, Prieto worked closely with Norris as well as Pat E. Johnson, who also was a martial arts expert and friend of Norris who choreographed the fight scenes in the original Karate Kid.
Chuck Norris’ keen eye for talent kept him and Prieto working closely over the years. “Chuck and his brother Aaron and I did shows together, where I learned a great deal of heavy stunt experience,” said Prieto.
The obvious admiration Prieto has for Norris is definitely not one-way. Norris himself said of Prieto, “Rick has added a lot to the films I’ve done over the years.”
Even after Prieto eased out of the Hollywood life and segued from being a performer to a teacher, filmdom kept calling. Prieto and Karate of The Woodlands was featured on a February 2021 episode of the television series My 600-lb Life that featured Conroe resident Michael “Mike” Blair, who had used martial arts as an outlet to weight loss in the past but had fallen out of the discipline. Producers of the show contacted Lacey Walker, operations manager of Karate of The Woodlands – as well as Prieto’s daughter – and asked if the dojo could give one-on-one, private lessons to Blair for the episode.
“They ended up doing two episodes on Michael; one featuring his time with us, and the other a follow-up later,” said Walker. “The positive change in him – due in no small part to his discipline to the martial arts – is profound.”
Karate of The Woodlands teaches ‘The Chuck Norris System’ of martial arts, something that Prieto holds in high regard. “Martial arts not only allow you to develop on a physical level, but it also hones in on how your mind works, teaching you control, discipline, and self-defense.”
Prieto believes in going beyond the mere academics of martial arts and teaching real-world scenarios that use a mixed version of martial arts that Norris basically invented. “You learn mixed martial arts for survival,” he said. “There are tigers and there are paper tigers; and the latter are not street-ready. Especially when teaching young students, other schools and dojos teach rules for tournaments. Here at Karate of The Woodlands, we teach self-defense first. Only when that’s covered do we work on tournament styles.”
Beyond karate, Prieto and his staff teach jiu jitsu and krav maga. He stresses that there is no age too young to commence learning the discipline. “I like to point out Carson as a success story,” said Prieto. “He came to us as a quiet, eight-year-old kid. Today, he’s a twelve-year-old black belt.”
Karate of The Woodlands holds classes Mondays through Saturdays. Classes are available for children, teens, and adults in the beginners, advanced beginners, intermediate, and advanced levels, including a ‘munchkin’ class for ages three through 5.
To learn more about the grand opening, click on this link.