By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Tony and Linda Ellrod give new meaning to the phrase “work things out.” Many couples share a common bond, theirs just happens to be karate. They met at Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Center, began dating in 1988 and got married two years later. They have two children, they travel extensively, play tennis and even started a foundation, but they have continued to give back to the sport that brought them together.
“Not only have they been with me the longest, but they’re two of my best friends,” says Blanck, who has been teaching karate in the Palisades since 1982. “One of the best things about their longevity and dedication to the dojo is that whenever I have someone new thinking about joining my classes, their story is the first one I always tell.”
Though he admits it was awkward at first, looking back Tony is glad he and Linda became friends before starting a relationship.
“We did a karate demonstration together at Pepperdine and came back and kind of just started dating,” he recalls. “We were friends and it’s difficult to date a friend, but once you get over that it’s great because you already know the person when they’re not trying to impress you in a relationship. At the end of the day it’s much better, much easier than to meet someone romantically, start dating, then try to get to know them as a friend. If we didn’t do martial arts together either we wouldn’t be practicing martial arts nearly as much or we wouldn’t be spending time with our spouses as much. The fact that it’s something we’re both into and we do together is a great thing.”
“We both had a passion for martial arts—that was a huge thing. I was really into it and so was he. When you share a common interest like that you already have a start. He’s very social and outgoing and I’m pretty social too. We had a lot ofthe same friends so we figured ‘Why not?’ People always ask us ‘So, do you beat each other up?’ And I say ‘Well, we don’t really anymore but in the beginning we used to spar a bit and I’d get a little mad at him because he’d get in a good side kick on me and I’d be like ‘Hey wait a second, I’m your girlfriend and you can’t be kicking me!’ So then I’d get mad and try to kick him harder. Of course when we were younger we could take it.”
Originally from Maryland, Tony moved to Tampa, Florida while in high school and after graduating he stayed in Tampa to attend the University of South Florida. He didn’t know it then, but Blanck was 470 miles north in Pensacola.
“Back in those days martial arts wasn’t common,” he says. “It was a small community. Everyone kind of knew each other and you’d see the same people at tournaments. I didn’t know Gerry well but we traveled in the same circles and we knew a lot of the same people because that’s the way it was. Then when ‘The Karate Kid’ movie came out [in 1984] everything changed. Now everyone was taking karate class for at least a couple months.”
Tony got his black belt in Chito-ryu in 1983 while in Florida, then moved to Southern California in 1985. Blanck had moved to the west coast several years earlier to start teaching Yoshukai, a type of karate similar to Chito-ryu.
“They’re actually sister styles, both came from the same place,” Tony says. “I was stretching at Pepperdine and taking Yoshukan at UCLA. A guy saw me stretching and said he took Yoshukai karate in the Palisades. I said ‘Yoshukai? That’s our sister style.’ So I met Mr. Blanck at his dojo and started training with him. I lived with Mr. Blanck off and on for probably 10 years. We had an apartment together in the Palisades next to the Lake Shrine, then we lived in a house together on Via Santa Ynez about four houses down from Linda’s, although I didn’t know it at the time. Then we lived in Venice for awhile, then she and I rented a condo on Palisades Drive and Mr. Blanck lived with us there for awhile. We bought a house on Sunset and Marquez and he lived with us there, then we moved to Malibu. We marched in the Palisades Fourth of July parade about 15 times, which is a blast because people know us and when you’re in it you see everyone.”
Tony, a seventh-degree black belt, enjoys Yoshukai because it is a hard style martial art.
“There’s hard style and soft style,” he explains. “Kung Fu is typically soft style using a lot of circular motions whereas karate uses more hard striking. I like it because the traditional fighting is much like you’d see in MMA. No pads, you kick with your shins a lot, you use your elbows, you use your knees. I also like the fact that there are a lot of different aspects to it—there’s sparring, there’s kata (forms), there’s weapons and there’s breaking. Some people are great at one and terrible at another or love one and hate the others and I’m fairly well rounded so I love it all. There’s speed breaking, which is breaking boards. You set them up like you have six opponents and the idea is to go through them all as quickly as you can. Then there’s heavy breaking which is cement, baseball bats, rocks, ice, anything you can think to break. You can really hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to trust that your not going to hurt yourself in order to go 100 percent and hit it as hard as you need to hit it to break it. We did a demonstration at The Jonathan Club and I was breaking rocks with my hands. I must’ve broke 10-15 rocks and if I didn’t know what I was doing it would’ve killed me. You don’t really practice heavy breaking. If you’re going to do it, do it in front of people. That’ll give you adrenaline. You practice the techniques you’re going to use, but there’s no reason to break four pieces of cement with nobody there.”
Linda began learning karate at the age of 15 and got her black belt five years later.
“I started across the hall back when the health club was there,” she recounts. “It was in 1982 and I remember I walked around and saw a karate class and I was like ‘That looks like fun.’ So I started taking classes. Mr. Blanck moved over here, then he moved to Ebsen Studio (now Village School), then he moved back here [in the basement of the 881 Alma Real Building]. I’ve been taking karate ever since that time.”
The Ellrods have two children with severe mental retardation from microcephaly. Nevertheless their daughter Kristina has been training with Blanck for 15 years.
“I never thought she could do something like this but one night when we were out casually dining with Gerry I said ‘Why don’t you start giving her some private lessons because I think she would take to it better from you because we’re her parents,” Linda recalls. “So she started and it took her a year to learn to block but now she can do all sorts of things in spite of the severity of the disability she has. So Kristina is also in our karate family. Our son Alister is too severely impaired to be able to follow a command.”
Linda was born in Colombia and lived abroad for the first 12 years of her life, but she considers Pacific Palisades home.
“Right before I moved to the Palisades I was living in Venezuela and before that I lived in Brazil and Thailand. My father was a management consultant so he was moved around quite a bit. He was working on assignment in Peru when he met my mother. He married her down there, they started traveling and while they were in Colombia I was conceived and born. Finally, my dad got tired of moving his family all around the world and decided he just wanted to move to California, get a Cadillac Seville and live by the beach. He bought his house, bought his car and stayed put. It was more affordable to live here back then.”
Linda, now a fifth-degree black belt, went to sixth grade at Marquez Elementary, near where her parents still live. She attended junior high at Paul Revere, then went to Palisades High, where she played on the girls tennis team coached by Bud Ware.
“The Palisades has been like my hometown,” she says. “I used to work at Bay Pharmacy (now Pharmaca). I have lots of friends who are still around. I do everything here. We live in Malibu but don’t frequent Malibu businesses hardly at all.”
Tony graduated from Pepperdine and started practicing law. After a few years, in 1994, he and four other lawyers split off, took another 10 people and started their own firm downtown, Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester. They now have about 175 lawyers in seven offices, located in LA, New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego.
“I’ve had a dojo there at the office when it’s open and I’ve had it since its inception,” he says. “Probably 10 of our attorneys have gone from white to black belt.”
Tony and Linda married at Pepperdine and the reception was at Riviera Country Club. In 2010, they and some other parents of special needs children created the Aurelia Foundation, which operates day programs for special needs individuals who have aged out of the school system called Creative Steps. They now have about 80 clients.
Linda competed in the Miss Palisades Contest in 1986 and came in second place. She joined the surf club at UCLA and traveled to competitions from San Diego to Ventura.
“Those were pretty much the three things I did: surfing, karate and tennis,” she says. “I never graduated from UCLA. I got through three years but was dismissed because I was having too much fun. It was maybe the biggest regret of my life. So I worked for about a year, then tried to figure out what I was going to do. I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field. On my own I went to nursing school for two years, got my diploma, passed my boards and became a nurse. I worked in nursing for about seven years until I had our daughter, then I decided I needed to focus on her. I never went back. I just couldn’t do it. I was lucky enough that Tony’s income was enough where I could focus on the kids and their needs. I comprehended all of the medical terminology. I’d go to doctors appointments and I’d understand everything. So I always thought about when they do go away. We’re actually getting ready to move Kristina (now 26) into her own place with support. Alister (19) is in a boarding school right now. He’ll be there for probably another year. We just bought a duplex in Westchester and the front unit is for him and the back unit is for her and another special needs child. We’re hoping to have them both living there by 2021 but COVID-19 has delayed everything. I’ve always thought about going back to nursing, but I like to travel so much it’d be hard to have full time job.”
Tony and Linda love spanning the globe and hope to do more of it as empty nesters.
“Her mother is from Peru, so we built a house on the beach north of Lima,” he says. “We go there a couple times a year.”
“I’ve traveled a lot more than he has because my dad was going all over the world so when I was younger I had the opportunity to see a lot of different places,” Linda adds. “I’ve been everywhere except for Canada, Iceland and Antarctica. Pretty much everywhere else—all of Europe, Russia, India, Africa, Egypt, Japan, Korea, South America, Mexico, Caribbean, Australia, you name it. When I first met Tony he’d only been to the Bahamas and Hawaii so in the past 30 years he’s been out of the country plenty of times. He’s walked to Brazil from Argentina, he’s been in Peru, Cancun, Caribbean, Germany, England, Vienna, Scotland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia and he even went to Austria for business.”
In recent years, Linda has discovered a new passion: swimming.
“Swimming is a big thing for me,” she admits. “I don’t really surf anymore. Swimming is what I do probably No. 1 right now. If you were to ask what’s my main sport right now, I’d say swimming. I’ve done two triathlons but because my knee is kind of messed up from running and from all the twisting we do in karate. I can’t run anymore, so I don’t do triathlons anymore but I did Santa Barbara twice. I’ve been the swimmer as part of three triathlons—Malibu, Ventura and Catalina—but again, I was only the swimmer. Other people did the other parts. I really, really enjoy swimming. It’s something that’s easy on the body. I especially love swimming in the ocean and right now the water is so warm. There’s something about being out there on the waves that’s very similar to karate. When you’re out in the water swimming you’re in your zen and you go into what you’re doing and don’t think about anything else. In fact, I swam this morning before coming here to do karate. I train with Tower 26 with Gerry Rodrigues, who is awesome! He made me from not a very good swimmer to a much faster swimmer in three years.”
Tony and Linda also play tennis and are especially fond of Live Ball.
“We started playing Live Ball together 20 years ago at the Palisades Recreation Center,” he says. “We used to get up really early to play so we went to the staff there and said ‘Look, if you can get us a pro we’ve got seven people who will play every Saturday at 7 o’clock!”
The couple also enjoys teaching karate to aspiring black belts.
“Pre-COVID I’d teach at Mr. Blanck’s dojo every Saturday morning but now I’m just doing privates,” Linda says. “Even though we’ve been in it for a long time we both keep active with it. Tony probably does more karate than I do because he actually practices at home but it’s nice to do something during this pandemic. Zoom has been working out real well because there are students who live far away who wouldn’t be able to actually come here physically, so now they’re doing Zoom classes with us, which is great. We use the lights at the park on Thursdays. We have bigger crowds, more teenagers and younger students. We’ll have maybe a dozen of them but we can space out and physically distance outside. We pretty much just teach black belt classes here… like this morning was an advanced black belt virtual class and tomorrow in the park will be an all black belts class. I also teach kickboxing.”
The Ellrods are grateful for the joy and discipline karate has given them and they could not imagine a better environment in which to grow.
“When Gerry moved out here he was the only black belt teaching Yoshukai,” Linda says. “He was the first one to bring it out to the West Coast so we were the only school for Yoshukai, which was really nice. I’m proud to say I was one of his first students.”
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