The Face of Malibu by Johanna Spinks

Joey Escobar

Joey Escobar is recognized as one of the top fighters in the world. He is an International Grand Champion, seventh-degree black belt master in Tang Soo Do (a Korean martial art), holds an eighth-degree title black belt, has taught Tang Soo Do for more than 30 years, and is a boxing and kickboxing instructor. 

Escobar has owned Joey Escobar’s Malibu Martial Arts for more than 20 years. He also helps run his family restaurant, Casa Escobar, in Malibu. He’s lived in Malibu for 45 years and just returned from his annual two-week motorcycling trip, where he rode more than 1,300 miles to Baja California and back.

The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man whose goal is “to make good citizens in the community instead of fighting machines.” 


Tell me a little about how you first got into karate.

I started out watching it on television. My dad was a professional boxer. I was an athletic kid. This was the time when “The Green Hornet” came on television. I wanted to do karate. My parents enrolled me and once I got into it I took to it. I’ve been doing martial arts for the last 45 years.


What was it like to have Chuck Norris be your first trainer? What did you learn from him?

It was in the late ’60s. Things were a lot rougher. Discipline and respect [were] driven into our head. But it was a lot of fun. I had dyslexia as a kid, still do. I grew into martial arts and it helped with that as well. He’s a great guy. He taught me that you could have a sport like this and enjoy it too. It’s strict and disciplined, but can have fun and passion with it too. It’s not just about beating people up. Most people in martial arts are the sweetest and most compassionate people I’ve ever met.


You have a very impressive background and list of accomplishments in boxing, karate and kickboxing. What would you consider your biggest achievement?

I’ve been teaching in Malibu for about 20 years. I have 200 black-belt students. My biggest achievement is when a father comes up to me and says his son is a doctor who was one of my black-belt students. It feels so good to be a part of these children’s lives and to see them be successful. That’s where my ego comes in. All my championships and awards don’t compare to that. It’s so rewarding to see these kids succeed in life. Their coaches and teachers love them because they know how to take criticism and deal with someone being sharp with them. My biggest compliment I ever got was when one of my students’ parents told me that if anything ever happens to them, that they want me to raise their son.


Have you or anyone of your students ever used their karate skills to save a life? What is the most important lesson in self-defense?

Yes, because they know right from wrong. They haven’t gone out and become superheroes. But just by avoiding situations. I’ve done self-defense classes with girls at Malibu High School. I teach them to be aware and how to do the right things in dangerous situations. My thing is making good citizens in the community who can protect themselves instead of fighting machines.


What prompted you to open the restaurant Casa Escobar?

Our family has been in the restaurant business for 60 years. My grandparents and parents were in it. It’s in my blood. My father is retired now so me and my sister and our families are running the Malibu restaurant Casa Escobar. It opened in January of this year … The response in Malibu so far has been good. We have a big local crowd that comes in.


What is your favorite thing about Malibu?

The beauty of it and the people. Malibu changes people. People mellow out once in Malibu. It’s still a family community. I’ve lived in Hawaii too and it’s kind of the same thing. People try to change Malibu, but Malibu changes them first.


If you could change one thing about Malibu what would it be and why?

I would make stronger litter laws. Malibu is a beautiful town. Outsiders are always coming in. If we could tighten up with people not littering, it could keep its beauty. Also, if people from outside of Malibu could not make decisions for Malibu.


How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?

She’s awesome. She’s my neighbor. She lives two houses down. It was great and very relaxing. I’m not the type of person who could stand still but she made it very easy. 

Johanna Spinks does portraits on commission and also teaches classes in portrait painting. She may be reached at or 310.384.7029.