Being one of the youngest Grandmasters in the world and successfully opening over 30 studios in which students have become Black Belts made Sergio Barriga a natural - and more than worthy - choice to join a cast overflowing with legends like Cynthia Rothrock and over a dozen other World Champions and Grandmasters in the upcoming film "The Martial Arts Kid".
However, Barriga may have the most unique tale of those with a career of martial arts accomplishment and future stardom.
Eleven-year-old Sergio Barriga immigrated to the United States from Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1971. The streets of Baltimore, Maryland were not kind to the youngster and he sought a way to defend himself from their dangers.
Now years later, his research in the martial arts has led him to his current position: Founder and President of "The United States Shim Shin-Do® Martial Arts Fed. Inc."
Shim Shin Do® is the 1st and only American Martial Art in history founded with a Christian emphasis and a part of the Christian Martial Arts Association, founded and created by Grandmaster Sang Ki Eun, former director of the International TaeKwon-Do Federation under its original founder of TaeKwon-Do, General Choi Hong Hi in 1955.
Quite by chance in 1972, two brothers (Master Chuck Watkins and Master Robin Watkins) were kicking a heavy bag in their back yard (in Baltimore City) and caught the eye of a young - only 12 years old - Sergio Barriga.
Fascinated by their skill, he joined them in their practice and learned that they were successful tournament competitors in Shotokan Karate and Maryland State Champions. They invited him to train, and one year later he achieved an inter level, and was later certified by their instructor.
In 1973, his training continued after he moved with his family to Dundalk, Maryland. He joined an academy near his residence, led by Grandmaster Grooscup and his family, where Judo, Jujitsu, and Kenpo (Grandmaster Ed Parker's system) systems were taught. There, Barriga achieved the intermediate level.
Due to the emphasis of terminology and his lack of proficiency in the English language, he was forced to continue his search.
In 1975, at the age of 15, an incident, which seemed trivial at the time, helped to change the course of his martial art training. He was driving in Virginia and stopped to help a motorist with a car problem.
By 1978, Barriga achieved his 1st degree black belt in Shorin Ryu and opened up his first non-professional academy (named "Eye of the Tiger"), along with Master Pappas, at the Carlos and Edna Dance Studio in Towson, MD. Under Mr. Barriga's leadership, many of the members became champions in tournaments throughout the East Coast.
Barriga continued his martial arts knowledge by also joining with the "Champion's Karate Academy" led by Masters Garcia Davis and Wayne Griffin, and Mr. Barriga's original instructors Master Chuck Watkins and Master Robin Watkins.
In 1980, Mr. Barriga assisted them with the first CKA tournament, which was given at the Dance Studio.
Barriga was soon on his way to being the youngest Grandmaster in the world to receive AMAM "Hall of Fame" award and receiving the Buda International Magazine International Grandmaster of the Year 2005 award.
His list of other accomplishments is vast.
By 1982, Barriga had won over 100 first place trophies and had taken first in forms and sparring at the East Coast Championship (given by Grandmaster Aaron Banks from New York, NY.) and later that year took the Grand Championship at the Maryland State Championships (given by Grandmaster Conde).
Barriga was awarded #1 in the East Coast (Region 10) by Grandmaster Agreela at the Mid-Atlantic Banquet.
With the help of all his previous instructors, Barriga was able to succeed and accomplish many of his goals, but he was not quite content. His search continued.
In order to fulfill an empty gap in his martial arts career, he wanted to finish what he started in 1973 to 1976 with Kenpo and TaeKwon-Do styles, so he continued his training with Mr. Keith Oliver (a law enforcement officer) that taught, TaeKwon-Do and Kenpo styles in Blair, MD.
Despite the gain of self-confidence and achieving many of his goals, Barriga still had not found the truth within himself (spiritually, mentally and physically). He felt that the mechanical movements taught in the traditional martial arts were not practical for self-defense.
His search led him to well-known martial artists such as General Choi Hong Hi, Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, Grandmaster Aaron Banks and Grandmaster Ed Parker.
In 1984, a bright light appeared on the horizon, as a former director of ITF arrived in Baltimore, Maryland and leased the Carlos and Edna Dance Studio, where Mr. Barriga had been teaching since 1978.
Grandmaster Eun's first question upon meeting Barriga at Carlos and Edna's home was "Do you love the lord?".
Barriga would become the Founder of Shim Shin-Do® (a registered trademark No 2.068.698), started developing the art in 1984 after he had experienced a variety of martial arts. W
When his instructor, Grandmaster Eun (former director of the International Tae Kwon-Do Federation under its Founder, General Choi Hong Hi and Founder of the Christian Martial Arts Association in 1984) introduced Grandmaster Barriga to the same concept that the legendary Bruce Lee had.
Focusing on natural, relaxed and effective movements and - most important - using what he felt works for a partial approach to realistic self-defense.
Barriga decided to take what he had learned from all of the previous martial art styles that he had trained in, including the art of Shim Shin (at the time not Shim Shin Do because an art is not an art until all is created up to 5th Degree level), which was being developed by Grandmaster Barriga and Grandmaster Eun.
By 1988, Barriga, with the help of his Maryland Black Belt instructor, was able to finalize all of the combinations (muscle memory researched by Barriga), forms, drills, self-defense and breaking techniques.
In 1988, Barriga tested for Shim Shin and Original TaeKwon-Do, under Grandmaster Eun and the guest of honor Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi (former chief instructor of the International TeaKwon-Do Federation).
After an extensive six Hour test on June 18, 1988, Barriga had achieved a 4th Degree Black Belt in Shim Shin and was certified by the New Life Black Belt academy in the Christian Martial Arts Association, as well as a 4th Degree Black in TaeKwon-Do under the American TaeKwon-Do Federation.
Because Grandmaster Choi had called his art Choi Kwang-Do and his spiritual emphasis was much different (Tao Buddha) compared to the Christian Martial Arts Association, Grandmaster Eun decided to retire from the martial arts and left Grandmaster Barriga as his successor (the ONLY AMERICAN to ever become endowed with credentials from an oriental Grandmaster).
Due to his integrity and respect for the martial arts and his Instructor, Grandmaster Eun still asked Grandmaster Barriga to assist Grandmaster Choi with his business in the development of his art.
Barriga decided to honor his Grandmaster´s request and help Grandmaster Choi. By 1990, Barriga had achieved the following certifications in CKDMA International: Chief Instructor, Exclusive Director of MD, South America´s Exclusive Director and 4th Degree Black Belt.
By 1992 Barriga had become Vice-President of Choi Kwang Do Martial Arts International, due to different types of investments (including biomechanical research set up by Grandmaster Koo), as well as appearing on front-page covers and magazines wordwide.
As a result of his dedication, Grandmaster Choi presented a plaque (one of many) to Grandmaster Barriga stating his appreciation for his "ongoing support, dedication and martial art spirit, in furthering the art of ChoiKwang Do".
Barriga - as well as other well-known Grandmasters and Masters (Master Tommy Cho, Founder of Ho Shin-Do) - had contributed to the development of CKD.
By the end of 1992, Grandmaster Choi wanted Barriga to further contribute knowledge to his art, such as his research on muscle memory and development of combinations, drills sparring and self-defense, which Grandmaster Barriga had created and Grandmaster Choi had experienced in 1988 at the Maryland examination.
However, Barriga refused and departed and Barriga lives his Grandmaster Dream. This was a true turning point for Barriga. He was about to quit his life-long dream due to the lack of respect and integrity found in today´s competitive world of martial arts.
However, after a lot of prayer, he realized one thing. Philippians 4:13 says "I can do all things though him who strengthens me". Therefore, his journey continued as he decided to finish what he started in 1984 - Shim Shin - which today has become... .Shim Shin-Do®, "The Art of the XXI Century".