Feb 13

Keeping the faith and the fire: Larry Stephens reflects on his time with Metamora Martial Arts

In an email sent out last month, I asked Metamora Martial Arts alumni to respond to several questions I had. The idea was to build a social media gathering point for our 10-year anniversary.

The first respondent was Mr. Larry Stephens. Mr. Stephens was with our program for several years. I’m not exactly certain of the dates, but I want to say he was with us from roughly 2004-2008 – sir, please correct me if I’m mistaken. A sparring expert with a background in tae kwon do and the Filipino arts, Mr. Stephens a tremendous asset to our program. He taught many sparring classes alongside Mr. Brian Beaver, and also was the chief instructor at Riverview Grade School for several years.

“Ten years, huh? Wow,” Mr. Stephens replied.

“Huge congrats for the program and most of all for and toward Joe (Mister C) who brought this to life. Though my time with MMA was short, the memories will last a lifetime.  More importantly, so will the lessons I myself learned, such as…

  • The time Mister C made the anouncement to myself and a few others that Sunnyland was going to be closed and Metamora Martial Arts was to become a not-for-profit venture for the sake of the Art and the many students coming through the Metamora School System. At the time, his announcement struck a raw nerve in my heavily-capitalized frontal cortex. However, I went along with it in the hope of learning new styles and becoming part of another martial arts community in this country…and came out of that program with some very powerful lessons that I carry to this day.
  • We instructors have a responsibility to give back to future generations all (and more) that we can, all the time.
  • Give back to those who need it, not necessarily those who can afford it.
  • Change lives for the better.
  • Never stop seeking out knowledge and personal growth.
  • Strive to find harmony in mind, body and spirit.

I mentioned Mr. Beaver earlier, another pivotal figure in Metamora Martial Arts history. Mr. Beaver, another TKD expert, exposed many students to an art other than karate for the first time. In 2004, he began offering tae kwon do classes at the Sunnyland dojo and would continue to do so until we parted ways in 2005. He has since opened his own dojo in Bradford, Kyumson Martial Arts Academy. Mr. Beaver hosted a tournament a group of us attended in the summer of 2010.

Mr. Stephens, too, is thankful for Mr. Beaver’s contributions to our program.

“Master Brian Beaver was placed in my path and opened so many doors for me personally. Besides the gift of shattering concrete, Master Beaver helped me take the steps I needed to take spiritually, and continues to walk with me to this day, though we are separated by over 600 miles. That man is my closest friend and I am honored and very fortunate to have met him. Kyumson Martial Arts of Pittsburgh owes much to thank Master Beaver.”

I asked Mr. Stephens about his martial arts school in Pittsburgh. I never would have dreamed the response I received.

“Most of our teens come from the Juvenile probate system in Butler county of PA, meaning that most are … troubled. Drugs, abusive parents, homeless, the list of ills seems endless at times. We work through those issues by keeping fast to the Arts and holding these kids accountable.

 

One young lady, who was known as a ‘garbage pail’ because she took anything and everything she could lay her hands on to get stoned, was in her fourth week working with us, and had been clean for that long. Before one Saturday morning class, I arrived early and saw her smoking outside. We talked a bit and I didn’t say much about the smoking. She then went through 90 minutes of hard-core kicking drills and step-running that left her in a puking, sweaty state of disrepair and despair. I collected her to walk her back to the juvenile center. She wouldn’t look at me and her answers to my (often annoying) questions were monosyllabic. I had a pretty fair idea of what was going on in her head, so I threw out this gem: ‘Did you know I actually smoked cat litter once?’

 

She looked at me with eyes wide. ‘No way.’ And then I told her about it, a brief interlude into my sordid past, which she connected with right away. That was two years ago and she is now a bright-eyed beautiful lady working her way through community college and holding a red belt. I often think that my words on that day were divinely inspired — no way I could have come up with that by myself. It’s part and parcel to what I said about giving back.  We have to live it, work with it, commiserate, be compassionate, most of all be humble and care.

 

That’s the kind of stuff we do here, Adam, and the roots for this…ministry… evolved from what Mister C began and what Master Beaver inspired. We change lives, by the grace of God. And if that’s not cool enough, I’m absolutely positive that we’re not the only ones inspired by what Mister C began.”

Finally, Mr. Stephens reflected back on those he helped during his time with Metamora Martial Arts.

“And then there are all of you students who have moved on to seek out their life’s calling. What you have given back to me personally is incalculable, and I pray that we have given you at least a smattering of values to carry with you throughout your lives.  I’ll remember the names and students long after I’m done with my martial arts career: Amanda, Daisy, Jessica, Jason, Adam 1-eye and Adam Bocklermania, Joe M., Matt Katch, just to name a few.

Blessings to all of you and blessings to Metamora Martial Arts. Keep the faith and keep the fire.”

Adam Bockler

Sensei Adam Bockler is a 2nd-degree black belt in karate and the owner of Metamora Martial Arts. He's been in the martial arts since 2003, and has received instruction in tai chi chuan, Hsing-i chuan, judo, tae kwon do and XMA. Sensei Bockler was inducted into the 2014 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Karate Black Belt of the Year. He is the communications manager for Float Mobile Learning.

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