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To Protect and Serve: Police Officer Teaches Self-Defense

(This article was written by Beth Marie Cantu and appeared in the April 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine.)


Jose Gonzalez in his police uniform. Photo courtesy of Jose Gonzalez.

Meet Officer Jose Gonzalez, a man whose life journey seamlessly blends the worlds of law enforcement and martial arts, creating a unique and impactful approach to community safety.


From a young age, Gonzalez harbored a dual passion for martial arts and law enforcement. Raised in a family with a lineage of service in law enforcement, his path seemed destined. Gonzalez knew early on that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of those family members, but he states that it was the influence of martial arts that shaped his understanding of discipline and resilience.


Driven by a desire to serve, Gonzalez pursued a path not only as a police officer but also as a martial arts instructor. With a 4th-degree black belt in Shito-Ryu Karate, a first-degree black belt in Iaido (Japanese sword art), and an apprentice black belt in Kobudo (traditional weapons), his expertise in traditional martial arts and the sense of discipline it brings form the basis of his teaching philosophy.


Gonzalez’s journey in martial arts began under the guidance of dedicated instructors who not only honed his physical skills but also instilled in him the importance of mentorship and pedagogy. To Gonzalez, his instructors were more than just teachers, they were role models who helped further reinforce the value of giving back to the community. “It has been great to be able to take over and be an instructor for my students and try to do the same for them [as my instructors had]: to try to create a positive environment, be a good role model, and try to help people find their own path,” Gonzalez states.


At the Harlingen Police Department, Gonzalez additionally serves as a training officer, instructing fellow officers in essential skills, such as baton techniques and other defense tactics. Drawing parallels between law enforcement training and martial arts instruction, he emphasizes the practical application of skills and the importance of understanding their rhyme and reason.


Yet, it’s his commitment to empowering women through self-defense that truly sets Gonzalez apart. Collaborating with Rio Grande Valley South Texas Karate and Harlingen Parks and Recreation, Gonzalez spearheads monthly women’s self-defense classes, offering a holistic approach that extends beyond physical techniques.


Participants from the first self-defense class. Photo courtesy of RGV South Texas Karate.

In these classes, women aren’t just learning strikes and escapes; the classes also focus on situational awareness and creating what Gonzalez refers to as a “witness-rich environment.” Recognizing that self-defense is as much about prevention as it is about reaction, he equips women with the tools to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Moreover, Gonzalez ensures inclusivity by adapting lessons to accommodate women of diverse abilities and needs. “We’re not trying to stand toe-to-toe with anybody,” Gonzalez says. “What we’re trying to do is create an opportunity to get away… to get you out of that situation in the best way possible without the larger chance of injury or worse.”


Gonzalez emphasizes the importance of building confidence through shared experiences. In karate, self-discipline and confidence are nurtured through camaraderie and support. By fostering a deeper sense of community through mutual encouragement, he creates a safe space where women can develop both their physical prowess and mental resilience. “The first step is always the hardest,” Gonzalez chuckles. “It’s really hard to say ‘hey, I’m gonna go try this…’ but the majority of the time, people come in and enjoy [learning these skills] and find a passion. They want to continue and learn something new and add to their experiences in martial arts and self-defense.”


For Gonzalez, the intersection of martial arts and law enforcement isn’t just a career; it’s a commitment to serving and protecting his community while empowering individuals to take control of their own safety. As he continues to inspire and uplift through his dual roles, Officer Jose Gonzalez embodies the timeless values of courage, compassion, and dedication.


If you or someone you know is interested in joining Rio Grande Valley South Texas Karate or women’s self-defense classes, reach out to Gonzalez via the Rio Grande Valley South Texas Karate Facebook page or via email at rgvkarate@gmail.com. Women aged 12 and older can register for the self-defense courses, which are held at Rio Grand Valley Arts Studio, 1025 W. Jackson Ave. in Harlingen.

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