But Rangel said it wasn’t until he was seriously injured at age 30 during a professional martial-arts competition that he found the road to true success.
“At that time I was treating martial arts disrespectfully,” he said. “I was out there to win trophies only. I was boastful, prideful—anything you can imagine.”
Then a blow to the face shattered his nose.
“It was cauterized 14 times and it wouldn’t stop bleeding,” he recalled. “If I leaned back, I was suffocating myself in my own blood. I couldn’t hold my own kids.”
The blow also shattered his worldview. Or perhaps healed it.
“When my nose was shattered, all the friends I thought I had weren’t around,” Rangel said. “I let my family down, but I?promised my wife (Melinda) that I would go to church that weekend for a healing-type service. I did not believe in faith things like that at all because I thought it was hokey. But I walked to the front and they prayed for me.”
Two days later Rangel went to the doctor to prepare for reconstructive nose surgery.
“They unpacked my nose—and I was completely healed,” he said. “I’ve never had surgery. God restored it.”
It was at that point that Rangel became, in his words, “radically saved” by giving his life to God. Today, 16 years later, he defines success differently than he would have then.
“It’s impacting people in a positive way, knowing the love of your family, spending every waking moment serving God and loving my family,” he said.
Sense of direction
The experience changed Rangel’s life, but also the direction of Ultimate Martial Arts, a training center he opened in Newton in 1992.
“What sets us apart is that we’re a Christian martial arts center,” Rangel said. “We’re the only one probably within 100 miles. What we’ve done is taken out a lot of the Eastern methodologies. We start our classes with prayer, have prayer requests, and finish with prayer.”
But the business isn’t necessarily about recruiting people to become Christians.
“We try to use solid foundations,” he said. “We don’t push any one religion—we just basically help them with a solid walk.”
Martial arts discipline builds the framework for a successful life, he said.
“It teaches you basic principles—to be courteous, and so you learn how to be courteous to other people; to have integrity, knowing right from wrong, and if it’s wrong, change it; and perseverance to never give up, never quit.
“It also teaches you to have great self-control—not just in the gym setting, but outside of it because you don’t use martial arts in a destructive or negative way. It’s always to promote peace. To know you can use it means you don’t have to use it.”
Though he’s been teaching martial arts in Newton for 18 years, Rangel still encounters public misconceptions about it.
“A lot of people think it’s just about fighting, it’s aggressive or violent and if you teach your child that, they’ll go out and use it,” he said.
“But it’s quite the opposite. It teaches kids to use self-control, to have focus and concentration in the classroom, to have self-discipline, the desire to achieve higher academics.”
Another misconception Rangel said he runs into is that a person has to be in above-average health to participate in martial arts, or that the essence of martial arts training is competitive fighting.
“People think you have to be able to jump, be in shape, or something like that,” he said. “This is about building your self-esteem, self-confidence and about building your body physically, mentally and challenging yourself.
“You’re only competing against yourself, not against others,” he added. “You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be muscle-bound. You can be any shape or size.”
And almost any age. Rangel’s youngest student is 4 years old and the oldest is 66.
It speaks to the disciplined life promoted by the martial arts that Rangel has found time and energy to invest in enterprises other than tae kwon do and Ultimate Martial Arts.
Born in Wichita and raised in Newton, Rangel went to Dodge City Community College on a wrestling scholarship after graduating from Newton High School, then transferred to Emporia State University.
While at ESU, Rangel enrolled in the ROTC, thinking it would require only a few extra classes in military science. Instead, it took him to the Persian Gulf, where he saw combat duty during Desert Storm.
In 1991 Rangel returned to Newton. He opened Ultimate Martial Arts the following year in the basement of a chicken hatchery on North Main. It has outgrown that space and two others before settling in a 10,000-square-foot space at the Chisholm Trail Mall.
Meanwhile, Rangel and a partner also acquired a medical diagnostic business, which they expanded into 28 clinics across Kansas before they sold it in May 2006.
The following month, Rangel signed on as an adjunct instructor in physical education at Bethel College, where he taught physical education classes for four years. A year later, he added responsibilities in admissions and student recruiting, which lasted until earlier this year.
“I had a very successful three years of recruiting there and four years of physical education there,” Rangel said. “But I walked away from that, and decided to focus on our marital arts business.”
But he wasn’t content with that for long.
“I discovered I really missed working with kids and impacting lives at the college level,” Rangel said. “So I started researching and looking for colleges that had admissions openings. I went back to Bethel, but the timing wasn’t there.”
Rangel found what he was looking for a few miles down the road at Tabor College.
“I’ve been blessed to be part of a team that set an admissions record (this fall), bringing in solid numbers,” he said.
One reason the college set an enrollment record this fall for the third consecutive year is that Rangel and the admissions team helped bring 68 transfer students to campus.
“I coordinate any student anywhere in the United States that would like to transfer to another college, whether that be from a junior college or they’re not satisfied where they’re at,” he said. “They call me and I help them to figure out the admissions process as far as finding out their transcripts, their financial aid, all that stuff.
“We package it together and point them in the right direction. It takes the stress off the students and helps the college to make ties with that student.”
Rangel said he couldn’t be happier in his new role.
“I love it,” he said. “They met me with a handshake and a smile, and it doesn’t matter where you’re at, you’re wearing that with pride.”
“And I like the community,” added Rangel, who lives in Newton with Melinda and their high-school-age children, Jenna and Jared Christopher.
“I’ve been able to walk downtown, I’ve gotten to eat in several of the restaurants. You can tell that the community and the college go hand-in-hand.”
Closer to home
Rangel’s greatest source of satisfaction—and a testimony to the martial-arts approach—may be their two children, both of whom are certified martial arts instructors.
Daughter Jenna, herself a two-time national champion in martial arts with a 48-1 record in full-contact competition, is drawing national attention for her work through Girls2Girls, a self-defense DVD that teaches girls to reduce the risk of attack by using realistic self-defense strategies.
The program started as a curriculum her father developed while Jenna was younger. The program gained energy in response to the 2007 rape and murder of 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm in Cowley County.
Jenna has since made safety presentations to groups across the state and nation. Recently, Nickelodeon, the cable-television network, has expressed interest in highlighting it.
“I guess my success would be more seeing my children following in these footsteps and with open arms and open hearts to serve people in a Christ-like manner,” Rangel said.