The National Magazine of the Successful American Latino: Kung Fu-kicking good: Hector Echavarria: actor: Los Angeles, CA

Kung Fu-kicking good: Hector Echavarria: actor: Los Angeles, CA – Face

Patrick Ridgell

Every time Hector Echavarria enters a room, he’s the toughest guy there. You can trust us on this. Ask any one of the hundreds of guys Echavarria brawled with as a kid on the tough streets of Corrientes in Argentina, where fighting was a way of life, sometimes against men that were 20 years older. They’ll tell you.

And there are the 11 consecutive World Kickboxing championships to prove it and numerous world titles from the World Kung Fu Association and the United States Karate Association, and not forgetting his induction into the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2000. He is a Kung Fu Master and has taught martial arts all over the world. Truly, Echavarria’s achievements could fill the yellow pages.

But Echavarria, a budding actor, is not your everyday tough guy. He fits the stereotypical ogre mold like a right shoe on a left foot. He does not grunt sentences in monotonous drones or display that pit-bull effervescence that make barroom brawlers so, well, enjoyable.

Echavarria, rather, is articulate and engaging. He laughs freely and frequently. He takes ordinary questions about his goals and his beginnings and his future, and answers thoughtfully with insight and anecdotes.Like this one:

One day, on a trip to the United States, he signed autographs, posed for pictures, and offered a kick-boxing tip or two to dozens of fans at airports in Argentina and Paraguay. Then he boarded another plane and flew to his final destination–Miami. There, a stranger approached him, and Echavarria naturally assumed the man wanted an autograph, too. Instead, he asked if Echavarria knew where the Delta terminal was.

“All of a sudden it hit me.” Echavarria thought. “Nobody knows me here.”

This happened several years ago, after Echavarria had established his celebrity in South America not only athletically, but also in the hit show Brigada and in martial arts videos. You can’t help but think stardom will find him here, too. There’s a lot of talent there. But he also has quite a tale to tell.

“Martial arts saved my life,” he says.

Asthma so cursed Echavarria as a child, his parents had to take turns rocking him at night just so he could breathe. They sought help for their son from acupuncture and the first Shaolin monk to flee China, Grand Master Tung Kuo Tsao. Even though Echavarria was four years old, Kuo Tsao recommended he learn Tai Chi Chuan because it would further assist his breathing.

Echavarria was a natural and excelled. He quickly moved on to Judo and Jujitsu by age six. He learned Tae Kwon Do later.

Echavarria, previously, was a gangly kid who almost drowned trying to learn to swim. By 14 he was adept at Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kung Fu. Suddenly he was a crane fighting a snake. He was a powerful tiger jumping from a mountain.

“You have to understand that with martial arts comes powers,” Echavarria says. “You become a powerful person–somebody who can kill somebody else with a strike or a blow. And with power, you need to have responsibility. Otherwise, you just can become a very bad person.”

Echavarria remembers how people back home fought over anything. He fought on the street for pay. One time when Echavarria was 14, he cracked a guy’s ribs, and that fight prompted police to warn him he’d land in jail soon if he did not find an outlet for his skills.

“I went and started thinking about the whole thing, and I said, ‘I have this energy, this power that I can use. Maybe I can use it in a better way.’ So I said, ‘OK, I’m going to become a professional fighter.’ I was actually one of the youngest professional fighters ever–14–when I fought my first professional fight in Argentina.”

Meanwhile, Echavarria’s family maid took him to the theaters every Sunday.

Batman, Spiderman, and Superman especially thrilled him. Movies left Echavarria mesmerized and puzzled. “The thing that intrigued me the most is they were in English,” he says. “I was like, how come we don’t have anything like this in Spanish? Why isn’t there a hero out there who’s Spanish?”

At 14 in 1983 he ventured to the United States for the first time. He trained and thrived under Grand Master Robert Trias. Eventually, Ed Parker, who was Elvis Presley’s bodyguard and the man who put Bruce Lee in movies, discovered Echavarria. He had a sort of showmanship that began in the ring, but translated to the screen.

While looking for a place in Miami to open a gym, Echavarria bumped into Miami Vice publicist Carol Meyers, who asked him if he wanted to act. She got him a television audition, and Echavarria appeared in the 1986 season premier of Miami Vice. Not bad for a guy who learned English basically by reading martial arts magazines.

A little later an Argentine producer saw Echavarria act in a self-defense video and cast him in an action film, Exterminator 1. It, along with its two sequels, holds the record for highest grossing winter release movies in South America. Then Brigada ran in South America, Europe, and the Middle East from 1992 to 1997.

Echavarria figures with the fast increase in the United State’s Latin population, this country is a good place for him to seek more success in acting. Martial arts will continue to help.

“Through martial arts you express yourself in a combat situation,” Echavarria says. “Expressing yourself, you can see how you react to certain situations, and you can understand yourself. That’s the only way you can improve yourself, so martial arts and acting are pretty much the same.”

Like Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, Echavarria’s challenge exceeds merely becoming known in the United States. He wants to expand his roles and eventually produce movies. More, he hopes to open a few doors for Latinos in this country.

“Hopefully, I’ll rid my culture of prejudice and classification,” Echavarria says. “They always put you ‘there.’ Like you’re the bad guy. Sometimes they even want you to put more into your accent. Could you make it more Mexican? Could you make it more Latino?

“I think that by breaking that, then, you allow other people to come in.

“The first time I came here. I did everything from killing rats, cleaning bathroom floors, bussing tables. They always put you ‘there.’ It’s so hard to get out of ‘there’ because they have you ‘there.’ It hurts. I know. I’ve been ‘there.’ We’re way better than that. I’m not saying we’re way better than anybody else. But we’re just as good as anybody, and we need to be there, and we all need to do it. It’s not going to just happen. You have to make it happen. I’m hoping I can help that happen.”

Echavarria, who is currently working on Billy Hatchet written by Ron Shusett of Alien and Total Recall fame, said, “My biggest weapon is my heart. You can say whatever you want, but you can’t touch my heart. I’ve already set in my mind what I deserve. You don’t have to give it to me. I’ll get it. You fight to the end to get what you want. Yeah, that’s the only way.”

Patrick Ridgell is a sports writer for The Provo Daily Herald in Utah.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Ferraez Publications of America Corp.

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