A loyal student of Rodriguez, Leon, a junior at Central Union High in El Centro, thought something needed to be done to keep the association running. So with the support of Rodriguez, fellow students and family, Leon decided to take charge.
"I've always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I started," said Leon, a second-degree black belt. "When I decided to take over, all the parents backed me up 100 percent. They were very eager to start so their children could continue their training."
The reason the parents were supportive of Leon was his vast experience in tae kwan do. Having trained for 10 years, Leon earned his first black belt when he was in seventh grade and his second-degree black belt two years ago.
He studied under Rodriguez and developed a bond with him. It was that father-son-like relationship that Leon thinks is the main reason he always wanted to be a teacher.
"When I first started I just looked up to the main guys … the teachers. I would look at Mr. Rodriguez with wide eyes because I always wanted to be like him," said Leon. "He and I became really close and I even consider him like a father."
It is through that relationship with Rodriguez that Leon says he gets his strength to continue day in and day out.
"Sometimes I start to feel depressed and feel like I can't do it anymore," said Leon. "But then I'll talk to him and he makes me feel better and just gets me up."
As the SWAMA instructor, Leon already has found some success. On Oct. 6 four of Leon's students competed in the Jimmy Kim Tournament in Long Beach and earned medals.
Adam Moreno, 11, and Jose Moreno, 9, both competed in the green-belt division and medaled in the sparring and forms competitions. Yellow belts Tito Montaño, 6, and Mark Smith, 8, medaled in the same events.
Along with coaching his students, Leon had time to participate in the tournament and earned gold medals in both sparring and forms.
While he was happy with winning his own gold medals, he said he was happiest with his students' performances.
"I was extremely happy with how they did. When they're out there, they're representing me. And to see them do well because I was able to teach them, really makes me feel happy," said Leon.
"When I first got my black belt, I thought that was my biggest accomplishment. I thought that it wouldn't get any better than that. But for me to see my students be successful and do well, that is my biggest accomplishment. Getting my first black belt doesn't even compare," said Leon. "I can get a black belt on my own physical and mental skills, but it takes a lot more skills to teach. When they look at me the way I used to look at Mr. Rodriguez, that's when it's all worth it. That's why I love teaching."