A World Champion Heart in Morongo Valley
By Ray Rodriguez
When Joshua Tree Voice was made aware that a World Boxing Council (WBC) referee lived in the area, we had a few “must ask” questions. We were excited when Julio Arana Jr. agreed to meet us at Miracle Field in Yucca Valley, across from the Boys and Girls Club.
Arana has an outstanding sports history. He was born into martial arts. The son of a black belt, he began studying karate at the age of 4. He continued the ensuing tough, disciplined road to competitive success, winning two World Championships. When he decided to retire from competition, he transitioned into his current role as a local Karate, combat sports instructor, and world class boxing referee.
Meeting Arana, his wife, Karey, and their 20-year- old special needs son, Cody, for the first time, I suddenly saw this champion in a whole other light. The same fists that won two World Karate Championships for Julio Arana Jr, gently open to caress his son Cody, as they prepare for the Miracle League opening ceremonies in Yucca Valley. This is a league for children with special needs and their ever supportive, mutually enthusiastic, families.
While Arana’s accomplishments in combat sports training and competition may be viewed as either impressive or brutish, depending on the beholder’s perspective, after spending time with him, it’s clear these disciplines have prepared him to light the path for anyone wishing to improve their life’s journey. In addition to sponsoring baseball, Arana provides free martial arts training to special needs children. He effusively lists the benefits which include increased physical fitness, coordination, and confidence that comes from accomplishments: “Training can really help kids living with Down Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, paralysis or amputees. All competitive sports have an element of danger. Qualified instructors prioritize safety, with protective equipment, training, and most importantly, never put a child into a competitive situation beyond their abilities. Unlike some perceptions, danger to youth is minimal. But let’s understand the huge benefits: training doesn’t just build a stronger more capable body, it builds inner confidence, character, and respect for others, including opponents. Today’s kids spend a lot of time on social media, and it can take a mental toll. Online bullying is also a real problem. Training can prepare kids to deal with both cyber and real-world issues in a healthy manner.”
JTV: “Does your wife, Karey, share your enthusiasm, or does she cringe her way through the day?”
Arana: “She has long supported my efforts, and regularly participates in tournaments as a timekeeper (he beams with appreciation for Karey’s support). She’s the one who gets to ring the bell!”
JTV: “Is it because of your competitive success that you became a referee for such a prestigious governing body, or did you have to train for it?”
Arana: “The competition certainly helps me understand ring movement and the competitive element, but I was mentored and trained by Marty Denkin. Marty Denkin is considered the Godfather of modern boxing refereeing, with over 1500 matches and hundreds of title fights. He was even featured as the ref in a Rocky movie. I also studied refereeing with Dan Stell and his Stellar University Combat Training Course.”
JTV: “Professional Boxing happens at such a fast pace, how do you follow all the action, or is it sometimes as much a blur to you as is it is to the fans?”
Arana: “Actually it’s just the opposite,” he shared. “Because of my proximity to the fighters and the angles I can access, the sport has a slow-motion element to it. It’s much easier to follow up close and in the ring. When fans watch on TV, they are only seeing two camera angles and an overhead shot. But in the ring, our training allows us as many as 12 different angles as we move with the action, so it’s much easier to follow, and up close, the sport actually slows down.”
JTV: “What are the most common fouls and are they hard to catch?”
Arana: “The most common fouls are head butts, rabbit punches, and low blows. Fouls are pretty easy to see and are a very dangerous part of professional boxing, so we take them seriously. Head butts can cause cuts, concussions, or daze a fighter and set them up for a big shot. Rabbit punches are a little tougher to spot because they are small quick taps on the neck or back of the head as fighters break out of a clinch. They are incredibly dangerous because of the spinal element and can even cause death. Low blows are often misunderstood by viewers based on where the fighter is wearing his shorts or belt line, so what can look like a low blow on TV is often a perfectly safe shot.”
“Where can we watch you referee bouts,” I asked?
“I host youth tournaments in Desert Hot Springs and Banning,” he answered. “But most of my WBC refereeing is in Tijuana, which has a huge boxing culture… lots of fights, and can draw 1000s, especially televised live bouts.”
Whether you are fortunate to find Julio Arana Jr. on the Miracle League baseball field, training kids in martial arts at his Confidence Dojo, or on TV refereeing world class professional boxing, be assured that fitness, safety, respect for self, for the opponent, and love, are all lessons being taught from the cadence of his champion heart.
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