Opening its doors in 1988, Tomball’s ICON Martial Arts Academy is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, owner and grandmaster instructor John Cantu said in an interview March 10.

“It doesn’t seem like [35 years],” Cantu said. “It does not seem like it. ... When I opened up the school, I never felt so happy in my life. I love going to work on Mondays.”

Cantu began his martial arts training as a kid in 1969 and, after getting very sick in the late 80s, decided to open his studio.

“I think late ’86 or the first part of ‘87, I decided to look at my life,” Cantu said. “[I was] probably about 26 or 27 at that time.”

When he opened the studio in 1988, Cantu said he just decided to go for it.

“I didn’t have the traditional martial arts school opening because [there were] so few back in those days,” Cantu said. “And I just kind of did it and walked away from my career.”

ICON Martial Arts was originally located in Prairie View when it first opened, Cantu said.

“After about nine months or a year, I’m going through my registration forms, and I noticed that they were pretty much mostly Tomball people,” Cantu said. “So I opened up in Tomball.”

Occupying several spaces in Tomball over its 35 years, ICON Martial Arts now takes up around 5,600 square feet at 27620 Tomball Parkway, Ste. A4, Tomball, Cantu said.

“After 35 years, I’m as excited about coming to the school as much as I [was] day one,” Cantu said.

With around 20 instructors, ICON Martial Arts teaches hundreds of students, holding around 40 classes per week, Cantu said.

There are classes for children and adults, with leadership training classes held three times a week. ICON Martial Arts also holds four self-defense seminars a year.

Cantu also said he has sat in for hundreds and hundreds of blackbelt tests.

“The only thing I regret is I don’t remember all of them,” Cantu said. “There’s so many.”

Cantu said some of his former students are now parents who bring their own children to the studio.

“I feel extremely proud and blessed that I get to be a part of so many lives,” Cantu said.

To celebrate 35 years, ICON Martial Arts will be holding a free celebration event at the studio on April 8 from 1-4 p.m., which will feature games, food, mini classes, demonstrations and prizes, Cantu said.

Cantu also said the event will include an Easter egg hunt.

“Everything’s free,” Cantu said. “Everything’s done for the kids.”