Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Often in life, our destinies choose us rather than us choosing our destinies. For Refugio ‘Cookie’ Flores, it seems he was bullied before being bullied was fashionable. He came over to this country without much and grew up being picked on, beat up and made fun of because he was small, and Mexican. Flores moved to Roswell at the age of six. He went to Valley View, Mesa, and graduated from Roswell.
“It wasn’t just the bullying part of it,” Flores said. “It was more about the American Dream and trying to be successful in life. How are you going to be successful without an education? You don’t have the means of getting an education because you have a mother that has seven kids.”
Flores graduated high school at the age of 20. He went to his guidance counselor, who told him he couldn’t go to college unless he paid for it himself. For Flores, there were no grants for him because he was not a citizen of the United States.
Flores’ mother, Ofelia Bravo Madrid, sat him down on a Saturday night and told him, she could work another job on top of the one at Longhorn Fireworks factory, and the bar she tended to at night, that she was willing to get another job to put him through college.
Flores told his mother no. He asked himself how was he going to make it in this world? What was he going do if he didn’t know how to fight physically and to keep what he would get in life.
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“I was determined that no one was going to take what I earned in life,” Flores said. “I saw this kung fu movie with Bruce Lee and I said, ‘that’s what I want to do in life.’ I decided I wanted to be the best at karate. In order to be the best, you have to work out and practice more than anyone else. Even then there is someone who is willing to work out just as hard when they see that you’re working hard.”
Flores was working at the Plains Theater (it is the UFO museum now). Flores started being trained by a member of the movie theater staff. One day while working he took out the trash and looked across the street into the alley on First St. Flores was mesmerized by other karate students taking lessons from another teacher. Flores was intrigued by the way the students were formal and bowed before they went into the entrance at the Okinawa Karate Academy.
“I started at 16 years old, “Flores said. “I was looking through the window and the guy asked him if he wanted to come in. It was very disciplined with bowing and people saying, ‘yes sir, no sir.’ Sir was the only word students said during class. I liked that, it felt good.”
Jose B. Enrique was the karate teacher. Back then he charged $20 a month, which would be ($60) today.
Once his teacher at the movie theater found out he was taking classes at another place Flores was fired from his job at the movie theater.
Flores told Enrique he lost his job and couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. Enrique told him not to worry about paying for lessons — he had seen enough of Flores’ dedication and allowed him to continue taking lessons for free. Three years later Flores would become a black belt.
Once he received his black belt, Enrique told Flores the way to pay him back was to pay it forward. That it would be a student that couldn’t afford to pay him, and that he would have to make the time to teach this person karate.
“The very first student I had was Luis Cabello,” Flores said. “He was my first black belt and one of the best students I ever had. He was the student that couldn’t pay and I had to work around his schedule.”
Flores went from making $80,000 a year selling cars to barely being able to pay his bills. Slowly, everything started drying up financially in his life. Flores felt like God was telling him to do what he did best and start a karate school.
Well, Flores was working 80 hours a week and wasn’t able to provide for his family — he had already filed bankruptcy because of the recession in 2009 and was on the way to doing it again.
God opens doors
Flores needed $30,000 to start his business — he needed mats, equipment, a building to get his business up and running.
Flores went to the bank for a loan and talked to the finance lady. She told him that since they had filed bankruptcy in 2009 when the recession hit, that he couldn’t get a loan. The business manager walked into the office at that time and talked to Flores, and the guy told him that he had been thinking about taking karate lessons. He told him his credit wasn’t that bad and got him a credit card for $5,000.
Flores talked to one of his black belts who was a real estate agent to see if there were any buildings open. His daughter, Andrea Flores, called him about a doctor who was just starting his physical therapy business. Flores called his friend Mike Gonzales who owned the Chaves County Lock & Door.
The doctor told Cookie all he had to do was pay $500 a month out of $1,500 and he could have the back of the office for karate classes.
Eventually, the doctor ended up growing and moved out. Flores started on Mar. 9, 2017. When the doctor left, Gonzales told him to keep paying the same amount of rent, $500, until his business grew. Flores started with five students and was paying $250 a month out of his own pocket.
“When I first started,” Flores said. “My wife, Karla, was working and making most of the money. I was robbing Peter to pay Paul and Paul wasn’t getting paid. Eventually, I started getting more money and then my daughter told me about driving a bus for Hamill Transportation.”
Flores feels like he is one of the best karate teachers in Roswell. With the exception of one or two karate teachers in Roswell, he has taught everyone else teaching karate.
“Martial Arts has made me who I am,” Flores said. “It gave me the jobs, opportunities, the ability to talk to people that I wouldn’t normally be able to talk too, because either they were too high up or had more education than me. But through martial arts, we were able to meet on a certain level.”
Cookie Flores Warriors Karate and Kickboxing and Fitness — Flores is doing fitness for women and men as well as karate.
Flores is a fourth-degree black belt and teaches the style of fighting Chuck Norris used. His last promotion came in 1997. With the style of karate Flores teaches, it is about the physical part of karate, but it is also about the mental and spiritual aspects that karate teaches, to be one in mind, body and spirit.
Flores has been doing karate for 39 years. He also was a drill instructor at the Youth ChalleNGe for two years.
“I have the knowledge and experience to teach them how to be more,” Flores said. “If a person is able to show you how to be more, do and be more, then he is worthy of being a teacher.”
He noted that it takes one to two years to become a black belt. Normally it takes four years in a karate school. The difference is with him, it is a one-on-one session.
He also has a second-degree black belt helping him in Yancy Kendel.
“I have always done it for the love of the art,” Flores said, “for what it’s done for me.”
Flores’ business has grown and he now has 41 students.
“I want to teach people to believe in themselves,” he said. “I want to be so successful in teaching karate that I can do it for free. My dream is paying off.”
Flores graduated at the age of 20, wasn’t a citizen — and is living his dream of teaching karate, showing that one can go far in life if they can get back up after they fall.