When Ken Dunbar was a kid, he dreamed of becoming a ninja.
But while other kids were watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and dreaming about becoming Leonardo or Raphael, Dunbar wanted to be Master Splinter.
“There’s something I’ve always liked about being a coach, a teacher, a mentor,” said Dunbar, owner of Glacier Combat Arts in Centralia. “There’s something good for the soul in helping people develop themselves and become a better person than they were before.”
Dunbar’s Glacier Combat Arts: Sila Voli West is one of several new additions to Centralia’s Fairway Center. Though it just opened to the public on July 1, its roots in teaching martial arts to local students run much deeper.
Dunbar was born in the Vader area and graduated from W.F. West High School. When he was young, his family moved to Lacey for a time, where he was first introduced to martial arts by kids at his daycare. At the time, Dunbar’s parents were adamant that they did not want him taking part in martial arts, but he had other ideas.
“I always wanted to be in martial arts from my earliest memories,” Dunbar recalled.
When Dunbar was 11, his parents finally relented and he first trained in taekwondo for four years. When he was 14, Dunbar met someone who trained with mixed martial artist Royce Gracie, which inspired him to become interested in the still-new world of Ultimate Fighting Championship and mixed martial arts (MMA). Dunbar joined a school that taught kajukenbo, a hybrid martial art that mixes karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, Kenpo and boxing.
After high school, Dunbar studied at the Art Institute of Seattle, where he helped establish a martial arts club. Members came from various training backgrounds, which Dunbar said was helpful for his own journey.
“It was really cool because it was still the infancy of MMA so there was this budding, a sharing of information that went on,” Dunbar said.
After serving in the Marine Corps in radio aviation, Dunbar was searching for something to do and decided since he knew martial arts, he would become an independent coach. His first team trained with him under very informal circumstances.
“I used to put black mats in the front yard of my parents’ house and we’d train there,” Dunbar recalled.
Their first competition was the Northwest Fight Challenge, where they did not do well. But Dunbar made an important connection with Brian Johnson, who owns a kickboxing and martial arts facility in Lacey. In an unprecedented move, Johnson invited Dunbar’s team to use his facilities to train. Dunbar said Johnson and Kano Melvin, a jiu-jitsu black belt from Johnson’s gym, became mentors to him. Among other lessons, they taught him there was still much for him to learn before he could be an effective teacher himself.
“Those two men taught me to be a coach,” Dunbar said. “They have done more for me than anyone outside my family.”
In 2015, Dunbar moved to Rochester and decided to strike out on his own and teach out of his home. At first, Glacier Combat Arts failed to gain traction because no one wanted to pay to train at someone’s house. So, Dunbar pivoted his plans and made Glacier Combat Arts a club. Slowly, he began to gain a following until eventually sessions were jam packed. In January, Dunbar decided that he wanted to go professional and told all of the club members he would be starting a local school.
“They all said, ‘Yeah, we’ll pay. You’ve done enough for us,’” Dunbar recalled of the club members’ reaction to the change.
Glacier Combat arts signed a contract with the Fairway Center in March and made changes to the space, including adding locker rooms, a weight room and safety mats. The school officially opened July 1. The “Sila Voli” part of the business’ name refers to a training method based on continuous improvement and dynamic cross training between different disciplines. Classes offered include Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Sambo, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, judo and historical European martial arts. Glacier Combat Arts offers classes for kids ages 4-9, tween classes for ages 9-12 and adult classes for those 13 and older.
Dunbar said the focus of classes at Glacier Combat Arts is self-defense first and competition second. He said he wants the school to emphasize real-world applications for the martial arts instead of being what some jokingly refer to as “McDojos” who focus more on moving people through the ranks quickly, rather than teaching them useful skills. He noted that many martial arts schools no longer offer sparring, pressure testing and functionality testing to students. These are the areas Dunbar emphasizes because he believes they are what make students better.
“They learn they’re a lot stronger than they thought and they can deal with chaos and danger a lot better than they thought they could,” Dunbar said.
Glacier Combat Arts also takes part in the Adopt A Cop BJJ, a nonprofit organization that allows active duty patrolling police officers to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu until they reach blue belt status. Such training can dramatically reduce the number of on-the-job injuries for officers and excessive force incidents.
Glacier Combat Arts: Sila Voli West
Location: 1724 S. Gold St., Centralia
Online: Glaciercombatarts.com or @GlacierCombatArts on Facebook