Everybody was kung-fu writing

Whether it’s practicing martial arts or writing about them, Sacramento’s Jose Paman has got the chops

“That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” Jose Paman shows how it’s done.

“That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” Jose Paman shows how it’s done.

SN&R Photo By Anne Stokes

He strums through the plastic covered pages of a heavy binder, eyes eagerly scanning every detail of each neatly cut-out glossy page, remembering the people and events that inspired dozens of articles penned “by Jose Paman.”

“Here’s another one,” Paman smiles. “Lair the Serpent. This was a two-part article that won me Kung Fu Magazine’s ‘Writer of the Year Award’ in 2007.” The story profiled a well-known martial artist Paman first met in 1980. When he met him again in 2005, “he barely remembered me. Later, I said ‘Hey, let’s do an article on you because there is a whole generation who doesn’t know who you are.’”

Most Sacramentans have probably never heard of Paman, but he’s no stranger to martial-arts aficionados. When it comes to popular writing on the topic—in addition to hundreds of magazine articles, he’s written two books—or his expertise in arnis, a form of martial arts from his native Philippines, Paman is at the top of the heap. It took hard work, determination and a touch of luck for Paman, whose interest in martial arts and writing began when he was just a skinny kid growing up in the Philippines.

“I was a really small guy, shy and timid, never got into team sports,” he recalls. “But since I was skinny I got my share of getting picked on, and by the time I was 11 I knew I had to do something about this.”

So his father, who grew up in the slums of Togo, decided to teach him survival skills, with the help of Paman’s uncle, a judo champion. In 1971, he entered formal training in karate and arnis. He’s now a recognized expert in the Filipino martial art form. He points to another article, this one an interview with him about his training in arnis. “This was a Q-and-A they did on me,” he says. “It was kind of a different experience for me; I’m used to being the one asking the questions.”

Paman became interested in writing around the same time he took up martial arts. “Going back as far as fourth grade, I recall going to the library, looking at the books and thinking, ‘What does it takes to become an author of a book?’” he says. It took a major geographical change and years of work to fulfill his dream. In the late 1970s, his family emigrated from the Philippines to California, “the land of opportunity.” The move was difficult for the family of seven, which went from living in a very comfortable home to sharing a cramped two-room apartment. They also had to deal with being foreigners in a not-so-accepting environment.

“It was probably rougher for us [then] because there isn’t the cultural awareness we have now,” he says. “But our folks told us, ‘Don’t grow negative and keep your eye on the goal.’”

Paman did just that. He finished college, found work as a fraud investigator and started a family while continuing to explore his interests in martial arts and writing. In the late 1970s, he was ranked second in the state for karate in his weight class, and in 1979 he took third place in the state tournament.

Writing success paralleled his achievements in martial arts. Paman got his first break after he came across an advertisement in a martial-arts magazine looking articles from first-time writers. While he was excited for this opportunity, he wasn’t sure how to write technical articles. As luck would have it, shortly after he saw the ad he read an article in Readers Digest aimed to help inspiring authors write for publication.

“It took off from there,” he says, holding the latest of three binders filled with years of his work. Despite the fact that English isn’t his first language, he’s written in dozens of martial arts magazines and published two books—Ngo Cho: Southern Shaolin Five Ancestor Kung-Fu and Arnis Self-Defense: Stick, Blade, and Empty-Hand Combat Techniques of the Philippines.

What’s next for Paman?

“I want to write science fiction,” he says.

If hard work and determination have anything to do with it, no doubt he’ll succeed. The once skinny kid who dreamt of being a writer will be displaying his work at a book signing January 19 at Barnes and Noble in Citrus Heights.