Note from Adam: For those of you unaware of the term, extreme kumi-taku is the name designated to our particular system. Mr. Chianakas named it because kumi-taku means a combination of many, as we incorporate other styles into our karate training. Extreme Kumi-Taku Martial Arts (EKTMA or XKT, depending on how you want to slice it) was also the name of the dojo Mr. Chianakas operated in Sunnyland from 2004-2005.
I owe so much to the Metamora Martial Arts program. The fun, focus and therapy that was provided for me has certainly kept me from making life mistakes and has enhanced my skill set for the career path I have chosen. The program is an outlet for many in search of guidance, often for those which conventional school sports hold little appeal.
Sensei’s heart-felt approach to the art has changed the attitude of tough guys coming in just to learn to beat people up to that of bushido, and given those meek of voice the spirit to stand tall and speak with pride. EKTMA students can be recognized on the tournament mats, speech team room, musical stage or sales floor by the confidence in their step, command of voice, and courteous demeanor. Sensei and his leadership team are keenly aware that there is a world and a life outside of MTHS and the dojo walls, and they do the best to prepare students to meet it.
I knew of the program my sophomore year at Metamora, but I was recovering from a broken ankle and could not participate. My best friends were active – and successful – in the program. While I was cautious and did not understand it, I did support them. My need to join did not arise until November of my junior year. I was struggling with a lot of stress (family, relationship, music, studies, and future education) and could not contain my frustration. I was a loose cannon in search of a target, which was not a healthy approach to high school. My friends urged me to come to karate, and my English teacher noticed that it might do me some good, and prescribed this action, too. Of course, it helps that he was also the martial arts instructor, so he was slightly biased.
After a long run in crisp Midwest autumn air I returned to the school, clad all in Metamora red, and found myself standing in room 200 where class one was about to take hold. I was tired, but mad for no particular reason, and I dove into the study, certain I would fail, or hate it, or be turned away. None of the above occurred. I struggled with the stances. I did not get the Japanese. I did give it my best, and Sensei worked with me, guiding me, correcting, and praising the effort, power, and potential he saw.
I was hooked. The forms were puzzles for my brain to solve, the actions meditative but practical. The conditioning my body craved, and consumed the foul energy that had been building within me. The camaraderie was on par with the connection found in the many other activities I engaged in.
Then I found sparring. Oh, what a wonderful thing. I used to box. My older brother and I went for about a year or so to a converted garage that served as a gym, and took lessons from a Tough Guy champion who was training his hockey-playing sons and their buddies. It was fun, but not well directed. Having only been 13 at the time, my coordination had not caught up to my power, and I became a bag that hit back – hard.
After breaking a few noses and knocking my own brother out, we stopped attending. What I found in kumite was peace. If I was mad, I was terrible. I was not fast enough. I was not thinking ahead. I would get beat time and time again by students that were not in good shape, not very quick – and if they were, I was defeated in a minute or less. If I entered the circle with a light heart, a smile, and freedom I was good. I got better. It became my number one competitive event, and the boxes of trophies can attest to the success. I also craved a challenge. In many sessions, I wanted to fight the higher ranks, teachers, and Sensei himself, so I could lose, learn, and come back again.
I played basketball, ran cross country, marched sousaphone in the band, and lifted regularly, but martial arts got me in the best shape, pound for pound, in my life. I was better balanced. I could jump higher, even dunk the basketball for about a year, and felt great, despite the bruises, sore muscles and ligaments. My flexibility was just about ridiculous and coordination was improving weekly. My busy lifestyle led to me pioneering the PE waiver for the program. I was academically over extended, but needed one more PE credit for graduation. Sensei and I came up with a plan and presented it to the office, and they used me as the guinea pig. The XMA, sparring, spring runs, and self-defense lessons were impressive enough that one of the wrestling coaches began coming to study, and helped endorse the waiver credit. This system has kept many students from enduring the haphazardness of the average PE class and allowed them to feel the team affect afforded to the organized athletics.
This program’s success in a very conservative community is something of a marvel. Many adults opposed the concept, fearing it would cause a wave of Eastern or pagan beliefs and poison their youth. I feel that one of the best benefits of the program is the cultural education and support of free thinking. The roots of these arts are thousands of years older than modern Christianity and older than this country, which was founded on the principle of free expression and practice. EKTMA has given a window into another way of thinking and living, which has been integrated in my personal philosophy and increased my respect for those with another way of life. Such open-mindedness is appreciated by communities overseas.
The program’s trip to Japan and my 2008 trip to China gave me proof enough of the acceptance of open-minded Americans and the thankful attitude many have when we do not judge by what we do not understand. I had to break down my fears and cautions to join the program, and when those prejudices were discarded my life was enriched and curiosity peeked, helping inspire my global travels and studies. Many students have spent time overseas, and some quite extensive, teaching, serving and building communities. Each of us has been an ambassador of this fine nation and a representative of our unique community and life-skill program.
In college, I became a resident assistant. I helped manage the educational, social, and civic well being for 150 students in a $4.5-million facility for Millikin University. Having been an assistant instructor for Metamora Martial Arts, a senior TA for Sensei, and an education major, this seemed to augment the skill set I had and fulfilled a service drive instilled by my church and scout troop.
This was not a sunshine-and-daisy-filled job. Messes, tears, and paper work were frequent occasions, but every now and again this included a fight. The skills taught to me by Sensei gave me the ability to defuse these situations with a variety of techniques – often with no serious injury incurred by anyone. Sometimes it was words, other times proximity, creating space, or using a lock, block, or sweep to incapacitate one or both combatants.
Now, as a teacher, fights happen from time to time as well. In the high school or the grade school, my presence has helped avoid injury and created the chance to solve problems rather than exacerbate them into re-occurring out-bursts. To do so without hurting students, and therefore facing legal action, was a skill developed as an assistant working with the grade school programs. Students need to see the reality and practicality of maneuvers and strikes, but it does them little good if they are hurt and cannot continue to study. Developing control and speed is key to this success and Sensei was a master at it, inspiring others to do the same.
Now, as an adult and professional, the skills, abilities, and focus taught and inspired by the Metamora Martial Arts club has instilled in me a sense of quiet confidence. In social and professional situations there are times when one could be goaded into making overly aggressive actions that could have serious consequences. Knowing what I can do keeps me from needing to prove it, and helps hold emotion in check. An objective eye helps rational thinking prevail and keeps rules of engagement clear. Pride is a foolish thing to get in trouble over. “If you must fight, then you have already lost,” Sensei used to say. “At that point it is your job to lose less.”
I regret not joining the program sooner. If I had, I may have reached black belt. College and work have gotten in the way of continuing my studies, but my appreciation and respect for the arts has only increased over the years. I am very pleased to see the program reach its tenth anniversary in 2012 and am very happy for all still actively involved.
I regularly say to those close to me that I miss the hours spent training, and returning to martial arts is something I will do, as real life settles and I understand my place in it. I thank Sensei Chianakas, Sensei Hawkey, the black belt core and many clinicians and volunteers for the lessons learned and opportunities provided over years and I wish them continued success in the future.
Russel T. Boulton
Middle School Choir Director at Peoria First United Methodist Church
Assistant Instructor and red-black belt as of 2005