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Grand Master opens up free martial arts clinic

The Samoan islands have been known to produce quality athletes and dedicated military soldiers. But in the world of martial arts, Tuiatua Tigi Asuega Mataali’s name is synonymous with greatness. The man is a legend.


Decades ago, in his prime, ‘Tigi’ — as he is called by those who know him well — achieved the status of Black Belt World Champion, a title he held from 1956 until 1964 when he retired, undefeated.


Tigi was born on Feb. 24, 1938 in Pago Pago and moved with his family to Laie, Hawaii when he was 13. He developed his talents in the world of martial arts at a young age, and was taught by Master William Chow, the founder and grand master of the Kenpo Karate Federation.


His career took off from there.


After traveling the world, Tigi has returned home to open a free martial arts clinic for anyone who is interested — age five years old and up. The classes will be held every Tuesday and Thursday beginning April 1 from 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. at the Ottoville LDS Chapel Cultural Hall.


Since retiring in the mid-60s, Tigi has become a skilled instructor of karate, teaching world famous icons including Robert Culp, Sean Connery, Tom Cruise and Bill Cosby.


His skills landed him in Hollywood, where he served as technical advisor for several James Bond flicks and two TV series: I Spy and Hawaii Five-0.


In 1968, at the South Bay Karate Championships in Santa Monica, California, Tigi received his 7th degree black belt by splitting — with a single blow - three blocks of ice weighing 1,200 pounds.


In 1975, he set a new world record at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas by breaking 3,000 pounds of ice. Tigi took it a step further and broke 9,000 pounds of ice and to date, he says he is the only karate expert in the world who can perform this feat.


To get a better understanding of Tigi’s rise in the world of martial arts, one has to go back to the mid-70s. The highest level that can be achieved in karate is that of a Master Red Belt. One criterion for this level of achievement is killing a wild animal with your bare hands in a series of five blows or less. For the challenge, Tigi opted to go with a wild boar and after several years of intensive training and meditation, Tigi successfully accomplished this last qualifying step in 1975.


“The wild boar was chosen because of its fierceness and because no other candidate had ever selected the wild boar in qualifying for the Master Red Belt,” Tigi said.


After it was all said and done, Tigi added yet another accomplishment under his belt and elevated himself to the title of Grand Master of Kaja Kenpo.


Among his most prized possessions are an Olympic Silver Medal he won in Mexico City, Mexico in 1968 and an Olympic Gold Medal he won in Montreal, Canada in 1976— both for karate and judo for the United States.


After a stunning performance on KNBC’s Sunday Show during which he demonstrated his skills that have earned him the nickname “The Iceman,” Tigi established himself as a “must-see” and the Canadian government made arrangements to bring him to Ottawa where he performed before the largest audience ever gathered for a Karate Tournament there.


A few months later, Tigi opened several schools in Canada and was induced by the government to instruct a special undercover squad of the Canadian Mounted Police in karate and self-defense.


Tigi performed at the Los Angeles Coliseum during the half-time show for the LA Rams and “it is believed this show was seen by more spectators that any other martial arts performance,” he said. In addition to the 52,000 people who were in attendance, the game was nationally televised.


As a result, six other NFL teams requested to have the same show for their own games and in 1977, Tigi made his way on to the grandest stage of all when he performed during the half-time show of the Super Bowl that year, in New Orleans.


During the summer months from 1974-1976, Tigi had a regular show at Caesar’s Palace and Circus Circus in Las Vegas, performing his ice-breaking routine and other demonstrations set to music. And if that wasn’t enough, the guy was invited by former US President Jimmy Carter to show off his ice-breaking abilities at the White House for the Inaugural Ball.


Tigi is involved with many charity organizations. He was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame Museum in Los Angeles, California, and served as chairman for wrestling, TaeKwondo, judo, swimming, fencing and archery for the 1984 Olympic Games in the City of Angels.


Locally, he served as special assistant to former Governor A.P. Lutali from 1986-1989.


Now that he is back home, Tigi serves as president of the Mataalii Kenpo Karate Association, affiliated with the Rising Sun Kaja Kenpo Karate Judo TaeKwondo Association.


“I want to establish martial arts here in American Samoa,” he told Samoa News earlier this week during a one on one interview.


Classes start next Tuesday and are free of charge. “The goal is to help young people, to teach them how to be strong both psychologically and physically. I don’t aim to make them into bullies but instead, give them the skills needed in order to protect themselves,” Tigi said.


He added that those who attend his classes need to have As and Bs on their report cards. “They have to be outstanding students,” he said, adding that those who do not meet this requirement can still attend the program, and he is willing to help them bring their grades up to “a satisfactory level”.


“My program is focused on education. Strong ming, strong body,” he concluded.


The martial arts clinics will teach discipline, responsibility, respect, balance, coordination, and self reliance.


Anyone interested in signing up themselves or their children for the classes can call 731-7829/256-2740 or email <> for more information.