Local Kung Fu Training Group Has Strange Connections to Netflix’ Cobra Kai

Grandmaster Steven G. Abbate. Photo courtesy of Tracey Buchanan.

By Tracey Buchanan

Kung Fu Master James C. Likens never thought twice about his GrandMaster’s legacy until he began noticing strange coincidences watching Netflix’s Cobra Kai with his three youngest daughters.

“Everyone loves the Karate Kid,” said Master Likens, a seventh-degree black belt. “So when we heard about Cobra Kai, we thought it would be fun to watch, being a Kung fu family and all.”

That’s when the strangeness started. “I knew there was an actual Cobra Kai Karate dojo out of Chicago because it was run by one of my Grandmaster’s top students,” said Master Likens. “His name was Steve Abbate, and he was a decorated Vietnam veteran, Marine Force Recon, and the recipient of the Silver Star,” Master Likens said. “He was known for his “no mercy” philosophy and for being particularly brutal on his students, just like the Cobra Kai Master John Kreese in the series,” said Master Likens.

Master Likens got a few opportunities to train under Master Abbate at his Grandmaster John Tsai’s seminars, and Abbate actually signed Likens’ Master Certificate, which hangs on his dojo wall. “When Abbate taught, it was never conceptual,” said Master Likens. “I have video of him from a seminar demonstrating techniques, and he went through about 4 or 5 students in one demonstration,” Master Likens said.

But the uncanny connections don’t end there, as Master Likens’ legacy in his hometown of Indianapolis is one of shared spirit with Abbate’s teachings.

“When I was training students in Indy, I was very concerned with giving them skills that would serve them in an actual street fight,” said Master Likens. Most of my inner circle students were law enforcement like myself, and they needed to be prepared for the average 4 fights a week,” Master Likens said.

But as Master Likens points out, it’s actually the untrained officer that ends up using excessive force out of fear. As a police officer, he was known for his fairness in the street, and neither he nor any of the officers he trained ever went to internal affairs for civil rights violations or excessive force.

“That’s the true meaning of being a peacekeeper, having the confidence to end a fight before it starts because your wits are about you,” said Master Likens. “If you’re afraid, you overreact, but if you’re confident in your ability to handle a fight, that calmness allows for compassion,” Master Likens said.

As a result of this philosophy, several members of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office train under Master Likens to this day.

“Only a trained warrior can choose to be truly peaceful, for indeed it’s all about having a choice. If you have the ability to fight, you can truly choose peace; that is a stance that means something,” said Master Likens. “Training gives you self confidence that ends violence before it begins, and therein is the paradox and meaning behind the Cobra Kai philosophy,” Master Likens said.

Master Likens has taught a hard/soft martial arts philosophy for over 30 years, with two large dojos and one underground fight club during the ’90s in Indianapolis, IN. He has trained MMA champions for the legendary Integrated Fighting gym, which has had several UFC contracts over the years. He also taught defensive tactics at the Indianapolis Police Academy and even did a stint teaching Criminal Justice at Front Range Community College’s Fort Collins Campus.

“After years of training, I strongly recommend a hard/soft style martial art. That’s truly the way to go,” said Master Likens, “It’s that balance that gives you the capacity for peaceful resolution,” Master Likens said.

Master Likens currently teaches a tiny closed-door Kung Fu group but would like to open a dojo large enough to train multiple classes and age groups.

“Bag rounds and cardio kickboxing will certainly get you in shape, but those skills are no good in a fight,” said Master Likens. “I’d like to have a place big enough to do that and the funding to make it happen,” Master Likens said. “If you know a guy, let me know,” said Master Likens with a laugh.

James C Likens was also a Larimer County Ranger for a number of years and recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal during the High Park Fire as well as a Sheriff’s Letter of Commendation for his lifesaving role in putting out an arson fire in the Deer Park neighborhood west of Horsetooth Reservoir.

“I’ve spent 10 years in the Fort Collins area training students, and I finally have the black belts I need to start passing on the lineage,” said Master Likens. “There are some amazingly talented Senseis in other martial arts disciplines here in Fort Collins, and I’d love to give them space to do their thing as well,” Master Likens said. “The American Shaolin Temple has always been in the Midwest and the West Coast, but I say the Front Range is the future of American martial arts,” said Master Likens.


For more information regarding Steven G. Abbat and Cobra Kai, visit: https://www.denofgeek.com/culture/the-real-history-of-cobra-kai/

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