M alia Bernal doesn’t look her 57 years. In face, she looks better now than she did at 20. She maintains that has translated into better kung- fu. If I were to put on my kung-fu uniform and compete in a tournament, I’d win because my kung-fu is better today that it ever was, she explains. My stances are fantastic, my kicks are better, I am better focused and I’m stronger. After teaching for so many years, you become better developed and muscular.
Of her rock-hard abs and well-defined legs she notes, I have always said that I would enter my first bodybuilding contest when I am 60 years old because if I can win it at 60 then I deserve to win!
Starting from Scratch
That spunk has served Malia well in her years. A divorce from husband and sifu Al Dacascos polarized the martial arts world, partly because of
Al’s decision to strip her of her third-degree black belt and demote her to white belt. I was the only white belt out there, competing in black belt divisions and winning, she recalls. The demotion didn’t slow her down; it just made her change paths. After living in Germany, she returned to the United States in the early 1980s, relocated to Los Angeles and started a kung-fu cardio gym, long before anyone ever heard of Billy Blanks’ Tae-Bo. One of her private students was Diane Norris, former wife of
Chuck, who hired her to accompany the couple to the West Indies during their vacation. It was a move that would change Malia’s life forever. I fell in-love with the easy-going attitude; the stress factor of L.A. Was easy to leave behind, she remembers. After Diane and Chuck left,
I made the decision in a short two weeks to move there permanently. I left my boyfriend of the time, called my boys, told them I loved them and
I left for the islands. I lived there for about three years, teaching kung-fu and running my restaurant. Then Chuck called me to do the movie,
Sidekicks and I returned to L.A. When I returned, I realized that I missed the bustle of city life, she adds. The islands were good to me but it was time to move on. J returned to the West Indies, thinking about selling everything and moving back when a friend from years ago called and offered me a job that would be a challenge of a lifetime — working as a welder helper on the Alaska pipeline. I love challenges and to be victorious in a ‘man’s world’ is the ultimate triumphant. I did it for two years. Six weeks of schooling then I spent the rest of the time on the line. I was the only woman. I helped to pave the way for others to prove themselves. I am very proud of that accomplishment. I worked very hard to prove myself. I push me more than anyone else would or could.
Two years on the line was enough and by the early 1990s, Malia was ready for new tests in her life and it would come from an unlikely source. Francisco Ramerez was someone I knew from the 1960s during our competition years and after I chose not to do a seminar at a local kung-fu school, he handed my friend his business card and asked that I call him. I thought about it for a while then called him. Frank and his family were in the bail bond business and the more I learned about it, the more interested 1 became. I tested my tenaciousness by taking the bail bond test, which I passed on the First try. I love the excitement of the hunt. I used to fight them, now I hunt them. But I don’t tell my children about my work. They would get nervous for my safety but I also carry a gun at all times and 1 know how to handle it. It is nice to have a back-up to my martial arts. I think guns should be part of martial arts. With guns being such a part of our society, we need to learn how to defend ourselves more adequately from them. I have had people approach me to do self-defense seminars for women. I ask them, have these women had prior martial arts experience? No? Then send them to a firing range with a qualified instructor because I can’t teach them in lour hours about how to defend themselves. I would be giving them a false sense of security. What I can teach them is awareness and learning about weapons and respect for them.
Getting Her Man
Malia is a constantly changing personality, never staying in one mode for too long. I love my job as a bail bondsman but 1 always keep several irons in the fire. I never rely on just one thing in life. Right now, I am writing a book … part fiction, part non-fiction. Plus, I am preparing to open a restaurant in the San Jose, Calif., area. Life has no guarantees but 1 am happy. In this world, age, has nothing to do with it. It is only over if you say.it is. It is nor over because you have all the options to do whatever you want to do. If you fail at something, it is because you are a quitter or you didn’t have the guts to get-up and try. You learn from your failures. You don’t give up.