By MIEKO BEYER
Just two months ago, martial arts teacher and stunt performer Yoko Hamamura’s passion for teaching and performing almost came to a total standstill. After a stunt injury cracked his head open and led to four cranial surgeries, it was uncertain how soon the bright, hard-working Hamamura would speak normally again, let alone teach classes or do stunts.
“It was very scary, I couldn’t move, speak or walk the right way,” Hamamura recalled.
However, in early June 35-year-old Hamamura miraculously came back to his school to teach his first class since the injury. The class went well and Hamamura has been back almost full-time ever since.
“My cognitive ability came back really fast,” said Hamamura. “The doctors said I was way ahead of schedule.”
It was a devastating experience for someone whose life revolves around physical fitness and teaching, but with his recovery ahead of schedule and his passion for teaching back on track, Hamamura feels solid about the future.
“I’m taking my time and continuing to grind. I’m not going to do any big falls or big hits on the movie screen just yet but I will do actor training right away and teaching. I’m almost back to normal, just not as strong,” he said.
After his surgeries at UCI Medical Center, Hamamura had cognitive, occupational and physical therapy as well as in-home therapy. It was a fight scene requiring him to fall on his back that led to the head injury — he ended up hitting his head instead and fracturing his skull. The fracture caused bleeding that came back after an initial surgery and then necessitated additional surgeries to address fluid buildup.
Once the last surgery was complete, Hamamura’s recovery went smoothly, but having four surgeries within four weeks was a harrowing journey, even for someone as fit and strong as Hamamura.
Now that his recovery is going well, he can focus again on his business, Point of Impact MMA, 542 W. Katella Ave., Orange, CA 92867, a gym he founded three years ago. Hamamura is known to his students and to people in the entertainment industry for his speciality of teaching everything.
“What makes me stand out is that I can teach everything from stunts to wrestling to boxing to jiu jitsu, which is also what makes the gym successful since we teach a variety there as well.”
Born in Tokyo, he moved to the U.S. at the age of three and grew up in Orange County. His father worked selling American golf clubs in Japan and moved the family to Los Angeles for work. Always active as a kid, Hamamura played soccer and did karate but didn’t start training in mixed martial arts until 16, when he began learning Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu. He graduated from high school in Tustin and went on to study at CSU Fullerton before transferring to College University of Redlands in order to accommodate his martial arts training and competition schedule.
It was actually an injury that sparked his MMA career. After tearing his ACL while playing soccer he was unable to work out for a year, which triggered a low, depressing period of time for the young athlete.
“Martial arts was what I came to in order to feel like myself again,” he said. “It’s more of an individual sport where you have to be your own coach and go in daily.”
After quickly picking up MMA, he soon found himself thriving in the sport, fighting first as an amateur and then as a professional. At the same time he also taught, managed a gym and held a bartending job while finishing his degree. A business major, he used his college thesis to study opening a martial arts school.
“I was finishing up college and getting married,” he explained. “Fighting wasn’t making a lot of money, so I found investors and within two years of graduating found a place to rent and in 2018 opened up.”
His business partners happened to also be stunt coordinators in movies and TV that he had known for many years. He had always hoped to work with them in entertainment and it took seven years of training in order to get their blessing to work in their industry.
“A lot of fighters think they can be movie performers, I wanted to show my partners that I was willing to work at it,” he recalled.
His hard work paid off — the first film he worked on was “Birds of Prey,” where he had a fight scene with the lead actress, Margot Robie. He went on to work on many other projects, TV shows like “Magnum, P.I.” and movies like “Sweet Girl” on Netflix, “Dune,” and “The Gray Man” starring Ryan Gosling. In addition to fight performance and stunt work, he also lends his talents to training actors. He’s worked with Jason Momoa and Gosling to teach them fight scenes and movement needed for action film performance.
The secret to his success managing multiple careers as both a teacher and performer has been in laying a solid foundation at Point of Impact. Now 11 staff members strong, Hamamura is able to take on long film project work and have full confidence the gym is being run perfectly while he’s away. The gym also features a class that showcases their Hollywood connection — a cinema fight training course that teaches how to fight on screen.
It’s been a jam-packed three years for the young entrepreneur, from finishing his professional fighting career to opening a gym to starring on the big screen, but he’s perfectly at home amidst all the hustle and bustle of both his career and busy school, which is open most days from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and on two days from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The gym’s main attraction is their cardio kickboxing class in addition to offering adult Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu classes and kids’ MMA and kids’ jiu jitsu programs. They also have a Champions Club for teaching martial arts to kids with autism, which Hamamura proudly notes is going very well.
Point of Impact didn’t happen overnight, and Hamamura worked hard to make sure the gym would be a success. “The first year and a half I was at the gym 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. hustling and grinding on the business plan,” he said. “Finally I have staff members I fully trust who know what to do, they’re just amazing and it allows me to go work on movies.”
The fledgling gym underwent hardship like so many other fitness facilities due to forced closures under COVID-19 safety precautions. Mandated to close for four months, they immediately sprang into action to offer services to their members by offering “POI LIVE” online HIIT classes for their members. As soon as private lessons were permitted they also were able to provide fitness service to their members as well as training facilities to professional athletes.
Despite the hardship caused by COVID-19, the gym managed to reopen successfully with rigorous adherence to all safety precautions, maxing out at a certain number of people per class, spreading out all participants six feet apart and mandating temperature checks and masks. Now that they’re able to fully open up the gym as California opens, they’re staying strict to keep everyone safe but looking forward to what’s to come.
Point of Impact will celebrate its three-year anniversary on July 23. It’s an achievement Hamamura is very proud of especially in light of facing both a nearly fatal injury and the pandemic this past year. They’ll be offering special deals in celebration of the milestone, one to three months free for signing up for six- or 12-month programs in cardio kickboxing, POIMMA Unlimited or Kids Team Impact.
For more information on how to sign up for classes at Point of Impact, visit www.poimma.com or call (714) 681-1760.
Photos by MIEKO BEYER