Seeing Red

Steve Cardenas of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers has found his balance.

Steve Cardenas is operating his new dojo Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Yoga a bit differently than most martial arts entrepreneurs. While gym owners typically offer services in many fighting styles, the 37-year-old BJJ brown belt and his business partner, yoga guru Michelle Muench, are strictly using their state-of-the-art 3,000 square-foot facility in Burbank, CA, to focus on their company namesake’s two concentrations.

“We want to try to encourage people to do both BJJ and yoga,” Cardenas says. “The whole name Force/Balance is about the yin and the yang of the two styles. The practice of yoga is complementary for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu because it builds your strength and flexibility, but at the same time, yoga helps you to keep from getting injured, so you’re less prone to aches and pains.”

People will connect with the concept when they step inside the peaceful studio and candy-apple red matted area, but it’ll take folks even longer to realize that their trainer was a Ranger–a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, that is.

Back in 1994, Cardenas was a 20-yearold tae kwon do black belt who was running a school in Dallas, TX, under the guidance of his instructor, Dennis Black. He was very content with his job, too. However, when a friend from a local pizza shop told him that the producers of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were holding an open call in Dallas for actors with backgrounds in martial arts and gymnastics, Cardenas—despite have no acting experience—decided to audition.

Out of 10,000 hopefuls, the aspiring thespian received two callbacks and was flown to Hollywood. The moment he walked off the plane, his life changed forever. “I went out to California, met the producers, and they hired me on the spot,” he says. “They wouldn’t even let me go back home to get my stuff. My folks had to mail me my stuff. It happened fast.”

So fast that Cardenas was thrown on set immediately. Portraying Rocky De-Santos, a.k.a. the Red Ranger, he worked extensively with an acting coach, and, to hide his inexperience, was given little dialogue. “I never had more than a few lines in every episode when we first started, so it wasn’t too bad in that sense. But I didn’t have any idea what I was doing,” he says. “Everything I learned was completely on-the-job training. I had to learn everything about cameras, camera
angles, set rehearsals—I didn’t know any of that stuff.”

He appeared in approximately 180 television episodes and two major motion pictures—1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and 1997’s follow-up film Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. That would mark the end of his career in Tinseltown.

Although most celebrities have a difficult time adjusting to life after fame, Cardenas has managed just fine. In fact, in 1995, he opened USA Martial Arts in Valencia, CA, with his buddy David Dunn and taught tae kwon do. However, in 1997, his life would change again—not because his Mighty Morphin run was over, but because he was severely embarrassed in his own dojo.

“Some kid named Mike Ortiz, a blue belt in BJJ, came in off the street and basically whipped my ass in my own karate school,” Cardenas says with a laugh. “He was like, ‘Come at me with whatever you got.’ So we’re messing around, and I throw a few kicks at him, and he grabs my legs, tackles me to the ground, rolls me over on my stomach, and chokes me out in 10 seconds…in my own academy. That was a major eye opener for me because everything that I’d ever done was standup, and it was all about keeping yourself from getting thrown to the ground. We never dealt with what to do if you ever got there.”

Looking to round out his game, Cardenas began training BJJ under Jean Jacques Machado, and he earned his blue belt. In 2000, however, the Red Ranger was burnt out. Between acting and running his own business, he desperately needed a break to catch his breath. He sold USA Martial Arts and spent the next eight years bouncing around the country. Although he continued to train in tae kwon do, earning his 5th degree black belt along the way, BJJ was pushed onto the backburner, and that didn’t sit well with him.

When he returned to California in 2008, Cardenas was determined to pick up where he left off with the submission art and actively sought schools that specialized in the BJJ. One day, he dropped by Hollywood Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (HBJJ), operated by actor and black belt Sean Patrick Flanery, and he connected with the atmosphere immediately. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t realize that his teacher was a movie star.

“Everybody was so cool,” he says. “There was a lot of great training. Not only that, but Flanery—here’s this cool instructor taking time to actually work with me, and later I find out that he’s this famous actor. For him to take time like that to teach me, I really appreciated it, but that’s how he is with everybody.”

Under Flanery’s tutelage, Cardenas became a tournament sensation. He won gold medals at the 2009 American National Championship and 2010 Jiu-Jitsu Pro Gear Open, and silver medals at the 2010 No-Gi World Championship and 2011 Copa Pacifica. Though he started his career with Machado, he credits Flanery and the HBJJ for his success because “those were the ones who really developed me into the practitioner I am now.”

In addition, within months of arriving at HBJJ, Flanery heard about Cardenas’ credentials as a businessman and instructor, and offered to let him spearhead the gym’s kids program. Cardenas ran the program for three years, but he longed to teach adults, too. After consulting with his new business partner Michelle Muench and with encouragement from The Boondock Saints icon, the two friends launched Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Yoga in August 2011.

Cardenas is in a great place right now. He is operating the new academy full-time and working on getting his black belt from Flanery. The Red Ranger has finally found his balance.

IT’S MORPHIN TIME

Steve Cardenas (Red Ranger) recently opened Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Yoga in Burbank, CA. What are the rest of his cast mates from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie up to these days?

Jason David Frank (Green/White Ranger)—Frank is the founder of Christian MMA clothing line Jesus Didn’t Tap, owns a few Rising Sun Karate Academies, and won his pro MMA debut last year.

Amy Jo Johnson (Pink Ranger)—Johnson has continued her Hollywood career, as she stars in the television drama Flashpoint and the currently unreleased book-to-film adaptation of Tiger Eyes.

David Yost (Blue Ranger)—Yost recently starred in the thriller Degenerate, was a segment producer for The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, and produced the TV movie Jefferson Starship & The Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

Johnny Yong Bosch (Black Ranger)— Bosch has lent his voice to various films, television shows, and video games, such as Devil May Cry and Final Fantasy. He also fronts Eyeshine, a rock band that just released their acoustic album Afterglow.

Karan Ashley (Yellow Ranger)—Ashley launched her own production company, KASH Pictures And Entertainment, and she is developing a sitcom currently entitled Grown Ups!

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