ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Doug Marcaida has become known by millions for his catch phrase, “This blade will KEAL!”

By that he means Keep Everyone Alive.

He says it regularly as a judge on the History Channel show, ‘Forged in Fire,’ in which contestants make bladed weapons.

Marcaida was born and raised in the Philippines, but moved to Rochester when he was 17. His journey took him into the Air Force, then over to Rochester Regional Health as a respiratory therapist, and eventually onto the small screen, where he’s attracted a large following.

Adam Chodak interviewed him about his sharp rise to fame.

Adam Chodak: How did you get to Rochester and given your fame, why are you still here?

Doug Marcaida: When I first migrated to the U.S. my family was already in Rochester, this was in the 80s. So my mom chose Rochester and came over here and it was a total culture shock for me to be here as an immigrant. I didn’t know anything about it here, but I always revered “the West.” One day we’re going to go there. The land of opportunity.

But then when I first got here and I started working at TJ’s Big Boy when they used to have that there, a buffet, I worked my way up. But then I started to feel a version of racism, they’d call me immigrant, like “why are you taking our jobs,” and I felt like, whoa, what do I say?

I was only 17 when I got here, so at that time, I said, “you know what, I’m going to serve this country and if I serve this country, no one can ever question my right to be here.” So I joined the Air Force. And I was in the Air Force for 8 years. I did the logistics for the first 4 then I jumped into the medical field, which is what I always wanted to do. Then when they were starting to downsize the military I had a chance to get out, and I did, because I was already working in the medical field and my mother was a patient with her asthma at Rochester General and she knew the people, so she said “why don’t you come over here and apply over here,” so I said, “OK, let me do that.”

So I came back to Rochester. And the reason for that is, having traveled around with the military, I appreciated the green of Rochester. I appreciated the four seasons. Autumn is my favorite. I was in Mexico in the desert and they all have their different beauty, but I like the four seasons and I like the suburban life. And Rochester felt like home for me. So I came back here and the rest is history. I’m still here.

AC: Has there been any temptation to move out to LA or NYC?

DM: There is a lot of temptation to do that, but this is home. I have my roots here now. I married a Rochester native here. Her family adopted me here. My roots are here and as long as my roots are here there’s no reason to move, everything I need is here.

AC: You were introduced to martial arts at 16 years old. When you first got into it did you know immediately you loved it or did that happen over time?

DM: It was something that I got into because I had a troubled childhood and I always got into trouble at that time and finally my father goes, “you’re getting into your teens now and you’re going to take some martial arts.” And I was like, “alright, I’m going to kick ass now, with style!”

No. It calmed me down.

This particular martial art which is Kali, which is a Filipino martial arts, I saw in the Philippines, I never studied it, I took everything else, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, everything else besides that because I was afraid of knives. I was afraid of weapons. It wasn’t until I joined the U.S. Air Force that, in my time in there, I met a guy who was actually a practitioner, and he wasn’t even using weapons. He was using his hands and everything and he was throwing me everywhere and I was like “oh nice, is that Aikido or Jiu Jitsu? What are you doing?” And was like, “it’s called Kali” and I was like, “I’ve never heard of that,” and he said, “oh it’s Filipino martial arts.”

“Wait a minute, I’m Filipino, what are you talking about?” And then he said, “well, you should know about the weapons,” and I was like, “I know, where are your weapons?” And he pulled out the butterfly knife and it scared me again and he was like, “no, no, we’ll show you how to use it and by using it you know how to be safe with it.” In other words, he told me, face your fear.

The thing that I feared the most, I faced it and I was liberated and then, I didn’t realize, I got addicted to it. It became a passion. So all of a sudden, I’m now searching my own cultural martial arts that I could have learned when I was a kid, but I wasn’t ready for that. I was about 25 when I finally searched it and then I searched it and the rest is history. I fell in love with the art.

AC: And you developed your own form of the art…

DM: Well, as I was on my journey of trying to study the art, I went through different teachers, so I could form my own form because everybody teaches differently, even within each individual system.

I studied under four different instructors who were first generation from the grand master, then I graduated to the grand master, and he taught everybody differently. And I traveled the world to learn that. And it got to the point where eventually I had a little bit of skill and I started to teach it all over the world.

Students were in different places and they wanted to learn it so because of the video – I started celebrating what I did on YouTube – I started putting up a lot of early videos out there before a lot of people did – a lot of my teachers didn’t like that, saying I was giving away all the secrets and I was like, “I’m just celebrating what I’m doing.”

A lot of people started calling it Marcaida Kali. I didn’t put any name to it, but they wanted to do so so it identified with me and at the same time they were using it for commerce. If I call it this art, no one will come, but if I call it by your name, people will come. And that’s how it was born.

Basically I put it together with the best of the best in terms of how I can present, it in terms of I can have students actually get good with it. Because a lot of times people will copy a system and I’m like “don’t look at the system, look at the students,” because if the students are good then that’s a good way of learning it. They can actually replicate what’s being taught. And that’s what I did. I took a lot of things from different teachers that I can replicate what I was taught.

AC: And you were doing this while being a respiratory therapist…

DM: While being a respiratory therapist. I worked nights, so it was a passion for me. So every day I would teach. I used to have a school in a space I was renting and it took so much time. So I converted my garage into a training place and I’d invite students in every day and on weekends I would go back to that school and I’d have long classes where everybody would show up. It’s got to be part of you.

AC: You put the same outlook into Kali that others put into Tae Kwon Do, which is basically about protection…

DM: On my website we have motto that says “it’s not about how many you hurt, but how many you protect.”

I’m a weapons designer. I’m a practitioner of the weapons. But that doesn’t make it bad. It’s who uses it. As my teacher says, “it doesn’t matter what’s in your hands, it’s what you do with it.” So in that model, it’s about teaching responsibility and the consequences for what you do.

Now in life everything is about choices. I choose to do this, I choose to do that. Are you aware of the consequences of your choices? So I take all that from, am I aware of the consequences of using any weapon?

People may look and see work with weapons, and I say no, every day we work with knives to feed us, every day we work with a knife to cut rope to tie stuff around, so as a tool nobody is afraid of it, but if it’s a weapon everyone freaks out. But again it’s about how you view the use of it, and that’s how I look at it. It doesn’t make it bad.

So martial arts teaches us know the consequences of your actions and avoid issues to begin with and that’s what I try to teach.

AC: How did you transfer your love of Kali into actually making the blades?

DM: I call it my cycle of knife, like cycle of life. At first I learned about knives, I learned about the weapons because it was something that I feared. I learned to get over that fear. Then in the arts, the arts taught me how to use it so that I could be safe with it and how to use it in combat so that you can defend against it, and then later on I started designing knives because a lot of my students were actually in the field of combat like military and law enforcement that dealt with edge weapons. So they always ask me, “so what knife do you carry?” And I say, “no, what knife should you use?” And that made me think maybe I should design a knife made for what I do.

I became a knife designer, and then of course when I started making knives for different companies I eventually fell into ‘Forged in Fire,’ which is about making the knife, which is about forging your own knife. So I learned about it, I got over my fear, so now I’m learning how it’s used, design it, now to actually see what forged knives are about and that almost completes the cycle because blade making and forging is all throughout history. So I had all this and then it just added a soul to what I was doing by showing how knife is made because forging blades is very spiritual and it’s also something you can see from different cultures all over.

So we connect with people and I’m part of a show that has once again made the younger generation literate with their hands again, enough with the computers and technology, they’re making stuff with their hands. We’re bringing back the old to be functioning in the present.

AC: How did you get linked up to the TV show?

DM: When the idea of the TV show came out they had a master bladesmith in mind, a weapons recreationist, and then they said we need an end user. They saw my videos online and they contacted me and and they said, “oh, you can talk let’s have you on the show.” But I represent the end user.

Also, one of the things that people don’t often realize is that we are dealing with weapons that are really dangerous and that to be using them and testing them the way we do, it causes a lot of injuries. It’s very dangerous. Safety is number one for what we do. So being used to doing that all the time I’m able to avoid issues when they happen, when you’re testing a blade, because remember one of things people don’t understand or they don’t know is that the first time I pick up a weapon is the first time I ever pick up the weapon, and I have to test it.

This is a competition for money. In the real world, if I pick up a weapon, I have really versed myself in the use of this weapon. I’ve used it so many times, just like a gun, I have everything dialed in. I know what I feels like. I know how far I should be and everything else, not a in a testing world of a TV show because these are prized works.

AC: What has that experience been like for you?

DM: One of the biggest takeaways I have from that is that I’ve created memories. I’ve got a TikTok channel to talk to the younger generation and they tell me, “you’re the guy from that knife show” and everything else, “I used to watch that with my grandfather when he was alive, I used to watch it with my dad, it’s a family show.”

We’re over 268 episodes. We’re going to the 10th season. When families tell me they watch it with their families that means that I’m part of that memory that they’re going to have, and I love that part.

AC: Do you have a favorite blade?

DM: So everyone asks me that. And the same answer is who’s your favorite child? (laughs) You and everybody else. It’s whatever I feel like carrying for that day. I designed these for different functions and it’s the same answer, what’s my favorite knife, a sharp one. What’s my favorite weapon? I am the weapon, everything is a tool.