Feb 23

Neil Kirchoefer: From the dojo to the seminary

Another soon-to-be regular feature on our website is a “Where are they now?” feature.

We’ve asked black belts and advanced rank students who were a close part of our martial arts family to reflect on their training now that they are adults. We’ve also asked several students to tell us what they are doing now and how martial arts has contributed to their current life status.

In our first “Where are they now?” feature, we are proud to present an article written by first-degree black belt, Neil Kirchoefer.

Neil’s touching story about our martial arts “family” is something we hope all martial artists and athletes experience, and what Neil is doing right now in life may surprise and inspire you!

It feels like so long ago – freshman year, 2002. I was riding on the bus home from school when I heard from my friend Amanda Dixon about an after-school martial arts program. I had a few other friends who were joining, so I decided to check it out.

Neil Kirchoefer is in seminary school

Neil Kirchoefer traded in his black belt for a white collar

Metamora Martial Arts was in its infancy. The highest ranking student, Adam Ulbricht, was merely a green belt. It looked to me to be a fun thing to get into, and the idea of possibly getting a black belt by graduation was very exciting.

Four years later, in August of 2006, after hours of grueling physical activity, I finally achieved the rank of shodan, or first-degree black belt.

I am grateful for my years involved with Metamora Martial Arts in so many ways.

We were not just a dojo – we were a family. This hit me the hardest during my sophomore year, just after my dad passed away. I remember very clearly the group of my fellow martial arts students as they came to support me at his funeral.

I realized that this martial arts group was about far more than just martial arts – much more than learning the forms and moving up in the ranks. We were a tight community, helping each other out on our road to black belt. I developed my closest friendships in high school through martial arts – friendships that continue to this day.

Through martial arts, I also learned about the value of teaching. I found that teaching karate was definitely the best way of learning karate. After teaching Wansu about thirty times over the course of a couple years, I had it down! I also gained a greater confidence in my teaching abilities, and I am a lot more willing to help if needed.

Today, I’m in a world that is very much different than that of my high school years.

I am now in my fourth year of seminary formation, studying to be a Catholic priest for the diocese of Peoria. Rather than seeking a black belt, I am now seeking a white collar.

Neil Kirchoefer and Amanda Dixon - Arts Day 2005

Neil Kirchoefer and Amanda Dixon – Arts Day 2005

If things go as planned, I will be ordained in May of 2015.

Although it’s obvious that the seminary is very much different than the dojo, I have seen a number of similarities.

The seminary, like the dojo, is a community of close friends who are all striving after the same goal. We are very committed to helping each other out in attaining that goal.

I have also seen that the road to black belt and the road to priesthood are both marked by a great deal of sacrifice.

I had to give a lot in order to achieve my dream of becoming a black belt – long, late hours of training, being willing to take criticism, being able to press ahead when at the point of giving up.

I have had to give up a lot in the seminary life as well. Our busy schedule prevents us from sleeping in every morning or staying out late at night. Our rigorous intellectual formation is always keeping us on our toes.

And, of course, for anyone familiar with the life of Catholic priest, we have to give up the idea of getting married or having girlfriends!

This idea of sacrifice is perhaps the biggest lesson I learned while I was training for a black belt. There comes a time in everyone’s life when we realize that we have to sacrifice something in order to gain something greater. If not, then we would just keep sitting at home all day, turning into a potato in front of the computer of television.

Sacrifices must be made in order for life to be lived to the fullest.

I am so grateful that I learned this lesson in my years of martial arts training.

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