"What I have learned may die with me, but what I teach will become immortal... I know I'm doing something wrong if I can't create better teachers than myself."
A modest comment when one considers that this 9th-degree black belt excelled as both a student and teacher of the eclectic martial art of Kajukenbo for the past 40 years.
As a child, Rapacon was one of the first Filipino-Americans to grow up in the now culturally diverse city of Vallejo, California. Because of the racist attitudes of others towards his mixed ethnicity, Rapacon and his older brother Bennie promptly learned how to protect themselves on the streets with the help of their father, Benny Rapacon. Like most first generation Filipino migrant workers of his time, his father was an avid boxing enthusiast who taught his sons the sweet science of boxing.
"I'll tell you something else about my father. When my mother left, he raised me and my brother all by himself. Mind you, this was at a time when being a single father of two Filipino mestizos was not popular. But he never complained about being stuck with two kids. Although strict and unable to understand the cultural gap we had, he still made us feel like we were wanted and loved - he really stuck with us."
As he grew older, his love for one-on-one contact sports grew. While training with a good friend in Kempo-Karate, Rapacon also excelled in wrestling at Vallejo high school and was surprisingly offered a spot to compete in the World Wrestling Championships at New Delhi, India. When an injury he received fighting in a martial arts tournament sidelined his wrestling career, his coach was furious.
“I hurt my ankle at a karate tournament one day and my wrestling coach told me to quit Karate or I was off the team. So I gave up wrestling.”
It was when he began training in Kajukenbo where Rapacon finally found his niche. As he learned about confidence and respect, the Kajukenbo workouts he received were so tough that Rapacon also had to learn how to raise his threshold for pain.
Aching joints and muscles aside, his ultra-hard training eventually paid off.
"Our training was brutal compared to today's standards... In the end, I realized it was possible to control every muscle in my body to react on command. I felt so fit and able then, I actually thought I could fly!"
Before long, a work-related accident to Rapacon's knee changed everything. The string of failed surgeries that soon followed only worsened his condition. Rapacon's wings were clipped. But fortunately behind every great man is an even greater woman.
"After that accident, I couldn't teach again. For several years I was down physically and mentally. But my wife Rita saw things much differently. She helped pull me through my frustrations to rediscover my love for the martial arts... I knew that I had to find a way to make martial arts revolve around myself and not the other way around."
Rebounding from adversity, the humbling experience had quite an effect on Rapacon as sharing his love for the arts soon became a top priority. He figures he will never become rich teaching the martial arts.
"There are a lot of kids out there who can't afford lessons. But I think a lot of them need the kind of life lessons that our school provides. With my students, I teach by the balance principle. We take one hand and weigh the positives against the negatives in the other... I never lose. Most people don't realize that martial arts training is not all physical."
It equally holds true that not all training in the arts involves learning how to injure others. In becoming a more complete martial artist, Rapacon attended the National Holistic Institute at Emeryville, CA. In 1989, he graduated with a certificate in massage therapy and health education. Then the Loma Prieta earthquake occurred. As an integral part of the on-site San Francisco Disaster Relief Team, Rapacon was dispatched as one of the first massage therapists ever used to help in such a situation.
"That incident taught me how to channel my internal energies and develop my healing touch. But on a much deeper level, I felt and saw how we (as human beings) were connected in spirit. It definitely helped me become a more grounded person."
Through his physical training, mental hardship and spiritual reawakening, Grandmaster Rapacon has since become a role model and mentor for many within his local community. Having worked as a crisis counselor for at-risk youth within Solano County for over 22 years, serving the needs of others continues to be a major theme in his life. A loving family man with 4 children, 13 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren, he has been happily married to his wife Rita Rapacon for 38 years strong! (Aug 2019)