Monday, July 23 , 2018, 8:13 am | Fair 67º


Local News


Luis Munoz Embraces Santa Barbara Bar Life With Fitness Club

Former gang member and homeless youth has started a fitness group using bars workout equipment at Dwight Murphy Field

Luis Munoz and Drew Janssen attempt to perform a flag on the bars at Dwight Murphy Field during a Sunday workout.
Luis Munoz and Drew Janssen attempt to perform a flag on the bars at Dwight Murphy Field during a Sunday workout. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk gallery.]

Santa Barbara is known for its downtown bar life, where anyone 21 and over can easily find a drink from a plethora of alcohol offerings. 

But 24-year-old Luis Munoz wants nothing to do with that scene. He spends his time at a different kind of bar, the ones at Dwight Murphy Field on Santa Barbara’s Eastside.

Every Sunday, Munoz gathers with about 30 people at the park, where they do muscle-ups, chin-ups, dips and contort their bodies in a variety of amazing ways. 

They occasionally even pound each other’s chiseled stomach muscles while hanging on a bar, to activate the mind and body. Munoz calls his gathering of friends and workout buddies Santa Barbara Bar Life.

“These bars have really changed my life,” Munoz said. “They have really converted me.”

Munoz started the club in 2013, after a bad day and night — several of them in fact, going back to the day he was born. Munoz said he grew up homeless, with his father and brother, living out of an RV, traveling up and down the Southern California Coast.

He is a self-described former alcoholic who was jumped into a Santa Barbara Eastside gang when he was 14.

Luis Munoz offers motivational words to a young man in training at Dwight Murphy Field. Click to view larger
Luis Munoz offers motivational words to a young man in training at Dwight Murphy Field. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Munoz recalls and regrets many of the decisions from his youth, including his violent acts while in the gang. One time he was arrested for assaulting a youth who “bumped” into him, breaking his jaw and knocking out some of his teeth.

“I was just filled with testosterone and hate,” he said. 

Munoz as a youth spent time in Los Prietos Boys Camp, a juvenile probation program, and graduated from the high school there, Los Robles High School.

Munoz eventually left the gang thanks to help from his mentor, the late Matt Sanchez, a former gang member who dedicated his life to helping youth escape gang life.

Back in 2013, Munoz said he was drinking all day and night, battling depression over the state of his life and still reeling from Sanchez’s death in 2012.

Munoz said he woke up after a night of drinking, hopped on his bike and rode to clear his head. His outing took him to Dwight Murphy Field, a place he remembered visiting with his father as a kid. 

He saw some people working out on this bars and “a flame just ignited in me that day.”

Munoz, his younger brother Anjelo and two other friends started going there every Sunday. They loved how they could work out on the bars for free and enjoy the outdoors.

They recalled similar bar scenes in Santa Monica and Los Angeles and they looked up bar fitness on YouTube to learn and teach other about the activity.

On a recent Sunday, mostly shirtless, muscular men exercised on the bars while cheering each other on.

Luis Munoz, 24, started Santa Barbara Bar Life in 2013 to encourage young people to work out on bars, rather than drink at them. He hosts a free workout program from 10 a.m. to noon every Sunday at Dwight Murphy Field. Click to view larger
Luis Munoz, 24, started Santa Barbara Bar Life in 2013 to encourage young people to work out on bars, rather than drink at them. He hosts a free workout program from 10 a.m. to noon every Sunday at Dwight Murphy Field. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Everyone is welcome at the free workouts, Munoz said, and everyone is accepted regardless of the initial physical ability.

“We couldn’t afford a gym membership,” said Danny Ortega, 28. “Does that mean we can’t be active?”

Ortega is one of the Bar Life originals. He comes out every Sunday and often brings his 4-year-old son Mason with him. 

Ortega said he also struggled with alcoholism and depression. The bars changed his life too. It was a place where he felt accepted. He enjoyed the feeling of working out and it crossed over into his diet. He started to care about what he ate, exploring juices and other healthy foods.

Instead of drinking, he gets together with his friends to talk diet and fitness.

“I wanted to get healthier,” Ortega said. “This is what saved my life.”

Unlike a traditional gym, Santa Barbara Bar Life doesn't sport an array of men and women wearing designer fitness apparel. It's not a pick-up scene and no one is zoned-out on a treadmill in the corner.

Munoz encourages people to detach from technology. He recommends that people stay off their smart phones and avoid head phones while working out. Only a radio plays in the background. 

“I want people to motivate each other, talk to each other,” Munoz said.

He is the well-respected leader of the group and at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he stands out, even in a large group of other young, muscular men.

Luis Munoz, Simone Templeton and Mason Ortega do push-ups during a bar workout. Click to view larger
Luis Munoz, Simone Templeton and Mason Ortega do push-ups during a bar workout. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

On his pecs is a large 805 tattoo, which he said he got when he joined the gang. He has an eagle on his stomach, which covered the name of a former girlfriend.

On his arms are a bear, a shark and a dragon — all symbols of his inner id. He has high testosterone, he says, and a burning desire to lead.

Behind his ears is ink that is less dominant in its message. Behind his right ear are the letters "ST," which stands for "suicidal tendencies." Behind the left ear is a razor blade with blood. Both tattoos symbolize his attitude at one time of not caring about himself or others. 

“Either I was going to attack you or you were going to attack me,” Munoz recalls of his attitude.

Munoz’s younger brother Anjelo, 20, has always been surprised by his brother’s gang involvement. The two boys grew up as surfers and skateboarders.

Even though they were homeless, he said, they were thoughtful, respectful and laid back. It never made sense for his brother to join the gang.

Anjelo took up Jiu-Jitsu and was a grappling champion in high school. He’s given up his fighting career for the bars, saying he loves it more. 

“Just by coming here, hanging out on the bars, it can change your life,” he said. “This has changed my life completely.”

The same is true for one of the few women who are part of Santa Barbara Bar Life — Simone Templeton, 20, who was invited by Munoz.

“These guys are my family,” Templeton said. The UCSB student recalls how when she first started to attend she would tell Munoz that “I can’t do it,” about some of the activities.

He told her to tell herself, “I can’t do it — yet.”

She likes the camaraderie. She said many of the people who attend Bar life have overcome adversity, so it’s a shared experience. 

“We've all been through hardships,” Templeton said. “We know we’re not alone. We’re more connected.”

Luis Munoz would like to one day start a nonprofit out of Santa Barbara Bar Life and see more bar facilities built across the city.  

He’s currently a full-time Santa Barbara City College student, majoring in economics, and hopes to transfer next fall.

His ultimate goal is to open a fitness center and teach other people how to believe in themselves.

He hears the voice of his mentor in his head.

“I want to do for people what Matt Sanchez did for me,” Munoz said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Barbara Bar Life Dwight Murphy Field Workout from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

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