Meet the local fighter who says he beat Chuck Norris’ record
The ancient Japanese martial art kata is made up of choreographed movements with weapons—sometimes a pair of sickles, or a long staff.
Todd Dunphy wants to be the best in the world. Well, actually, Dunphy, a 55-year-old Soquel High graduate, thinks he already is. In 2015, he has already competed in 24 martial arts competitions, many of which he’s dominated. One was the Long Beach International Martial Arts Championship, where Bruce Lee was discovered 40 years ago. Dunphy, who sometimes competes against kids less than half his age, finished with 15 first-place awards, 11 second places, and one third place in kata and other martial arts. Often, he had to run from one event to the next—no trouble for a true competitor.
“It’s not that tiring. I’m into it. That’s why I do it,” Dunphy says, reaching for his purple umbrella, which he hands to his girlfriend Miyuki Matsubara. Dunphy, also an avid surfer, says his dermatologist wants him to avoid the sun for two days, so he’s wielding this umbrella for protection.
His story is a wild one—much of it dominated by battles with drugs, alcohol and the law—and a good portion of it based in Santa Cruz County. Dunphy is training constantly, and staying sober after getting out of a federal prison last summer for conspiracy to distribute 75 pounds of marijuana. His brothers Tim and Terry run the Watsonville Tae Kwon Do Academy and the Santa Cruz Martial Arts Academy, respectively.
Dunphy originally wanted to play football for Cabrillo College in 1979, and says he was one of the best in the state. But at the end of summer practice, a low blow from a teammate put him out for several weeks. So he started getting serious about martial arts instead, as his older brothers already owned a studio. Dunphy says his girlfriend at the time preferred that he do martial arts anyway, since it allowed for a more flexible schedule for him to hang out with her. At age 21, he got his black belt.
“I used to fight a lot,” Dunphy says. “I was a bouncer down at Tampico Kitchen down here and at the Catalyst. We were up above the Cookie Company. That’s where our studio was for years. … So, we’d train, and Thursday night was fight night, and we’d fight at the studio, and then we’d go to the Acapulco, and then we’d go to the Catalyst and then we’d cruise the mall and just get in trouble. Forever. It was on, man. We just loved to fight back in the day—me and all my brothers’ students, my friends. A lot of us were bouncers at all these bars, and we’d just get down.”
As Dunphy talks, Matsubara—who has a yellow belt of her own—looks on with curiosity. This is the first time she’s heard his stories of fighting, partying and massive cocaine use.
“I can’t do it anymore. I can’t drink or do any of that shit anymore,” Dunphy says. “It’s been years. Thank God. I’m lucky to be alive, me and half the people I know.”
Dunphy, who wants to become a stuntman, originally piqued our interest when he came into the GT office saying he had broken Chuck Norris’ record at the Long Beach International, one of the longest-running tournaments in the country, on Aug. 14 and 15. The previous record for most first-place awards was Norris, with six, which Dunphy shattered with 15 first-place awards.
Steve Cooper, who runs the Long Beach International, says that although Dunphy may technically hold the record, comparing him to Norris might be going too far. First of all, there are way more divisions at tournaments these days. Also, Dunphy doesn’t get in the ring and fight as Norris used to in his prime. Dunphy’s divisions, while competitive, are more akin to the floor routines at the Olympics.
“For Todd to even compare himself to Chuck is not fair,” Cooper says. “I know Todd very well, and I know Chuck.”
Of course, Cooper, who coached Dunphy on his team in the National Blackbelt League, admits Dunphy is still one of the top five in the world at kata.
Mark Gerry, president of the Martial Arts Masters Association, says that’s a low estimate. He says Dunphy is No. 1, and he calls Dunphy’s accomplishments “unbelievable.”
“His whole life he’s been very, very good at what he’s done. But to do it at this age, it’s almost impossible,” says Gerry, who Dunphy has trained with over the years. “It’s inspiring.” Gerry and Dunphy are checking with the Guinness Book of World Records to see if he owns any world records. Gerry says Dunphy probably owns 15.
Records aside, Dunphy’s main drive these days is to become the new “King of Kata.” The original King of Kata, Eric Lee, was featured on 45 magazine covers and retired in his 20s during the 1970s.
Although he doesn’t compete anymore, Lee still follows the scene closely. Now something of a zen master, Lee is a trove of wise sayings and prefers not get to get caught up in the day-to-day. As far as Lee’s concerned, Dunphy “can call himself whatever,” but Lee sure does like what he sees.
“There’s an old saying. A turtle never goes anywhere unless he sticks his neck out,” Lee says. “Todd is trying very hard, and he’s doing very well.”
THE NEXT KING OF KATA? At 55 years old, Santa Cruz’s Todd Dunphy is turning heads and breaking records in the world of martial arts.