September 18

Where are they now? Jessica Duffy, Metamora’s fourth black belt, checks in

For this installment of “Where are they now?”, we feature our fourth black belt from the Metamora Martial Arts program, Miss Jessica Duffy. In this “Where are they now?” article, Jes gives us an update on her life experiences post-martial arts.

When looking back at my experiences in the club and while training, it is not the intensity of the workout or physical injuries that I remember the most – although I will never forget my black eye.

Jessica Duffy, 2006 MTHS graduate

One of the most valued experiences I took away was the sense of camaraderie that I felt with my fellow students. Although there were some times when we did not get along, we were a team in every sense of the word.

Whenever we were at a tournament we cheered the loudest and at that moment we were our competitor’s biggest fans. The time we spent on bus rides to tournaments and seminars helped to cement our bonds to each other and let us get to know each other as people as well as classmates. I still keep in contact with many of my former fellow students and still maintain those friendships that formed almost eight years ago.

College for me was a little different. I started out at ICC for two years and then transferred to Valparaiso University in Indiana. However, the actual student experience was a little different than the campus tour promised it would be, so I transferred back to Bradley University after one semester. While at Bradley, I joined Kappa Delta Sorority and Habitat for Humanity.

My sorority experience was amazing. I know there’s a saying that people do not want to have to pay for their friends and that sorority girls are just vapid narcissists, but it was not like that at all. My favorite part was the philanthropy work we did around Peoria, which included adopting a Girl Scout troop and helping them complete their badges.

In Habitat, we went on spring break trips to build houses in Albany, Ga., and the greater Miami area. Talking with the volunteers and future home owners really helped to open my eyes to the extreme conditions that they had seen, including a family that had not had a home of their own since Hurricane Katrina.

These experiences have stayed with me and have helped me to become more aware of similar situations here in Peoria and Normal.

In May 2010, I graduated from Bradley University with a bachelor of science degree in Marketing.

Jessica Duffy, Mr. Chianakas and Thomas Deters at the 2005 US Open

Jessica Duffy, Mr. Chianakas and Thomas Deters at the 2005 US Open in Orlando, Fla.

I would like to say that choosing and staying with my major was easy. However, I did fall into the statistic that says a college student will change his or her major three to four times during their college experience. If I could advise current high school juniors and seniors about anything college-related, it would be that you should choose a major in a subject you love, not one that you think will cookie-cutter you into the perfect job – unless you are going to be a doctor or an accountant…that’s different. I chose a major that I thought I had to do and if I could do it over again I would have chosen differently.

A major is something you identify yourself with your entire life, not just the four years where it seems to consume your

life. While I lived and breathed advertisements, focus groups and statistics research in college, I would have rather been thinking about events in history and art and the permanent marks they have left in the culture of mankind.

Also, for all those who complain about how they do not want the slacker in a group project to bring down their grade, the team aspect you learn does in fact come in handy later in life. That is probably the best thing I learned at college and I use it almost every day.

I did not get a “real” job right after college and I still do not have one. After working at a coffee café during the summer, I started work as a resident supervisor for a sorority at Illinois State University. This experience was very profound for me personally in that it showed me what I don’t want in life. It is very easy to think of the things we want in life but rarely do we realize what we don’t want in life until something opens our eyes. While the work was easy, I could not stay in a job where I was not able to be myself.

A few weeks ago I wrote an email to my boss, essentially telling her, “Thank you for the opportunity but I can’t do it.” Pressing the send button was one of the most liberating feelings of my life. I think that after college you have to do jobs you might not especially like, but not at the expense of sacrificing yourself.

I currently work at Eastland Mall for American Eagle Outfitters and ULTA Beauty, though I am still very active in my search for the elusive full-time job. I am a member of the alumnae association of Kappa Delta Sorority for the Bloomington/Normal area.

(Note from Adam: Jes told that since she wrote this article, she has found that full-time job as an assistant manager at American Eagle.)

I look forward to moving back to the Peoria area very soon and the new opportunities this might bring.

Ms. Duffy graduated MTHS in 2006 with her 1st-degree black belt. She also trained briefly in Shotokan karate at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Jessica brought a lot of fun and energy to our program, traveling with us to Japan in 2003. She was a fierce competitor during her high school career.

May 23

Where are they now? Clay Blum reflects on the discipline in martial arts training

In this “Where are they now” feature, Clay Blum reflects on his martial arts experiences. Blum started training in karate in 2006 and was dedicated throughout his junior and senior year in high school. He also placed second in forms at the 2007 US Open World Karate Championships, one of the biggest martial arts tournaments in the world.

At first, my martial arts training began a mild fascination that quickly grew into an insatiable appetite for everything martial arts-related.

In a matter of weeks, I went from a fairly lazy, inactive, average student to a very active one whose grades were improving markedly.

In a few years, I went from a novice white belt to a more educated, more disciplined brown belt with a greater understanding of what martial arts is really about.

Clay Blum performs Anaku

Clay Blum performs Anaku in 2008

I trained for about three years and eventually my life of work and school made it too difficult to attend regularly. I wish I could still attend, but I have taken away from my experience several trophies, and most importantly, life skills that I will never forget. I am thankful I was able to be a part of that group and that my instructor was so influential and really cared about his students.

While I have been inactive for quite for some time now there is not a single day that goes by that I do not think about everything I have learned from my instructors, Joe Chianakas and David Hawkey. My skills have certainly diminished to a degree, though I still practice what I remember when I can.

However, I will never forget the ultimate characteristics I learned from them: discipline and self-confidence. It is these two attributes that have gotten me to where I am today.

Even after several years of training my instructors would still have us practice a form (kata) we learned as a yellow belt, which was very early on in training. I thought it was of little benefit at first until I realized that, even after three years of practicing it, the form was far from perfect. The idea behind it all was to hammer the idea that nothing we do is ever perfect, and thinking that it is perfect will breed laziness.

The discipline I learned in karate was my favorite part of karate every day I went to class. I never wanted to sit cross-legged on the floor during our “lectures” on karate history. I always hoped that we would have to sit zazen, a traditional posture that was usually uncomfortable. I enjoyed pushing myself to sit for as long as I could like that.

Eventually, that aspect carried over to my daily life. I began to actually do my homework and study. It was the same idea – push myself to do something I really don’t want to do because it is good for me.

That discipline has gotten me to where I am today. I am currently employed at Caterpillar in a part-time office job in a division where my hard work will eventually help propel me further in the company. Of greater importance to me, I am attending Bradley University as a Communications major (another influence from my instructor) and have scholarships due to my high GPA.

I could not have hoped for that if I had never become fascinated by karate, and ultimately moved from just loving the physical hard work it required, but loving the discipline it instilled in me. Studying karate has made me a better person and has changed my life for the better.

Even if I can’t attend classes, the lessons I learned will always stick with me.


February 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.