February 21

Tony Herr’s favorite advice: “Do or do not. There is no try”

Sometimes, it’s the little things that our martial artists pick up on and take away from their time with the program.

Old Settler's demo 2008Eureka College student Tony Herr says one of his favorite memories of Metamora Martial Arts is playing ninja ball. He also cites that being the under-black belt sparring champion for two years in a row at our once-annual tournament was memorable for him.

His favorite sparring partner? None other than Mark Craig. “My favorite grappling partner was Sassy (Brandon Sassaman),” Tony said. “He was always a challenge.”

Though having been removed from the program for several years, Tony still thinks back to some advice Mr. Chianakas said that he picked up from another wise sage.

“The piece of advice I still think about is Mr. C. telling me, ‘Do or do not. There is no try,” he said. “I would never be assertive and always avoid straight answers.”

If you’re a Metamora Martial Arts alumni, leave a comment or contact Adam in order to be featured on our website.

February 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.”

November 16

Where are they now? Russel Boulton: What Extreme Kumi-Taku did for me

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.

Russel Boulton in a 2011 family photo

Russel Boulton in a 2011 family photo

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.

Russel Boulton 2004 - Mike Chat visit

Russel Boulton with Mike Chat's assistants during an XMA seminar in 2004

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.

Russel Boulton in 2005, with Thomas Deters and Mr. Chianakas

Russel Boulton with Thomas Deters and Mr. Chianakas during a 2005 picnic at Black Partridge Park

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

October 18

Matt Erik Katch: Don’t let people tell you it can’t be done

Note from Adam: You can follow Matt Katch’s adventures in Japan on Twitter @under_obvious. The 2005 MTHS graduate posts cool pictures from his stay in Japan and has a variety of martial arts experience spanning more than eight years.

Matt Erik Katch, circa 2010

Matt Erik Katch, circa 2010

Part I

I trained with the MTHS program for about two and one-half years, if I recall correctly. It’s a little fuzzy, as I kept coming back while I was taking classes for my undergrad at Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington-Normal. While I was in high school I reached 二級, or in our terms, red belt with two stripes. While at university, I had four years of muay Thai, two years of boxing, two years of judo, and a year of BJJ (done as two classes: one in street clothes, one in gi).

As for the academic side of my life, I studied creative writing, which is what my undergraduate degree is in. I also had focuses in philosophy and Japanese culture; though I can say I re-learned a good deal of the latter of those during the most recent years of my life. I openly admit that in the early stages of my academic career I was skeptical more than anything, and I was very good at getting excellent grades without learning very much. Since Japanese was one of the first things I studied at college, I regrettably lost a good deal of what would have been a doorway for me into the language. However, at a certain point, life started expecting me to know things, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I could tell the difference between smart people and merely clever people. For any of you who’ve watched the TV sitcom Community, there’s a good bit where Jeff Winger says that the thing about being smart is you’ve never really had to study. Being clever wasn’t as great as it once was, and I now spend a good deal of my time legitimately learning.

Part II

What martial arts and Mr. Chianakas gave me was the beginnings of how I learned to be a better person. I can honestly say that I do not like the person I was in high school. And I also believe that without the martial arts program I would still be that person. I’m not saying I magically changed overnight, but what the martial arts – and especially Mr. Chianakas – taught me about what I could do, and how I could do it, has changed the way I live. Some of the lessons I probably should have learned back then, I am still learning now.

I am wary of saying I am ambitious because the contemporary connotations of ambition are not the qualities I value, though I do take pride in the ambitions of my friends. I prefer a model whereby a talent or ability is pursued and refined through use. I prefer to think of myself as driven.

I learned to read Japanese – fairly effectively, still refining – in about a year. That’s two 48-letter alphabets/syllabaries and in my case, around 3,100 Chinese characters. I did it through simple persistence. I’m not telling you this to boast; I bring it up because it is something many people think is impossible, or nearly. It typically falls into that mental category of too difficult or time consuming to be worth pursuing. Japanese students learn their written language over the course of about nine years. And even they learn about a thousand less kanji (Chinese characters) than I currently know. Dedication over time yields results but you cannot give in to the pressures of fatigue. Trust me, they are many, and I’m sure you’ve already encountered some in your life. When we think of five years, ten years, and so on, we have difficulty conceptualizing that kind of time. But what you can accomplish if you wholeheartedly pursue something for a year is amazing. I cannot conceive of what five years of honestly working at something will yield for me, but by that admission, it will be greater than I can imagine. I know that purportedly I’ve been pursuing martial arts for a long time, but never with the dedication I owed myself – to be fair, I was still learning what real dedication was, which is still time well spent.

I am predominantly a fighter by nature. I like fighting. When I was attending MTHS, the martial arts program was more focused on the acquisition of knowledge than implementation. Really, early on, this is what you need as a martial artist, especially since it gives you time to enjoy a great variety of things about the martial arts that you might never appreciate if you skip straight to an octagon and a steel cage. Of course, I had almost no patience at the time, which didn’t often go so well.

Let me say that I understand what it’s like for those of you who want a bit of a scrap, and now and then Chianakas sensei does curb the class more towards our type; still, remember that patience and honing your abilities is key, so that when you need a kick it isn’t there because you know it’s the right time to throw it, it’s there because you do it. My strikes don’t come because I want them to — they do so because it is the right time. If this is how you feel, you have an advantage because this extra energy is easy to channel into making your tools (bones, muscles, sinews, endurance) into the sharpest things in anybody’s shed. Get a punching bag. Run. Cycle. Lift weights. All these things will help you ease that excess energy and the desire to fight, and they’ll make you better at what you do. A large part of being a good fighter is about turning off a lot of the thinking and letting your training take over. One of my favorite quotations has always been “we do not rise to the level of our aspirations; we fall to the level of our training.”

Part III

This closing segment that Joe has asked me to prepare comes at an interesting point in my own life. Contrary to the confident impression I have often tried to give, after graduating from university I was mostly aimless.

I moved to Japan, where I have been working for the last two years. I made many new friends, and now have many friends from all over the world. But I was no longer refining those skills I had spent most of my life in pursuit of. Everything I did was off and on with long lapses of going through the motions without any real progress.

It is only now after a little over two years I can say I am back in the swing of writing, and that I have re-dedicated much of my life to the pursuit of physical health and fighting ability, becoming a better person as well as a better fighter. We can all falter, and for me it was very difficult to find my way back, to uncover the same kind of energy I had once had.

By the end of college, I would run for two hours in the morning, go and swim a kilometer to cool off, go to class, lift in the afternoon, and then go to boxing and muay Thai in the evenings. And yes I did have friends, and if you must know, a special someone (I drank a lot of coffee and didn’t sleep much). With work I don’t have quite the same amount of time, but I have regained my feeling for the nuances that I loved so much. I understand my passion again, and don’t simply go through the motions. I think a martial artist’s life is prone to doubt the same as any other life generally is. I think the key is to find those things that you enjoy most about whatever your thing is. Forget the big picture – it only brings extra stress and concern – and focus on what your passion is; once you have your passion back, the big picture will be an adventure again.

For the time being, I am living in Japan (and perhaps there will be more on that later). After I finish here in a year or so (the jury is still out), I intend to pursue my master’s and eventually a doctoral degree. I’ve been looking at schools in New York, California, and Ireland – I have this thing about sitting still.

I want to close on a note about the way we think about our futures and career-life. I know I was inculcated to believe in the need to start my career as young as possible, and I’m sure that has little changed in recent history. Every once and awhile, you need to think like a kid again: astronaut, president, marine biologist. It sounds a little cheesy but I bring it up because what I want to do isn’t on that list. Ideally, I would like to write, and as an accompaniment to that, I want to be able to keep on the move. I get a sense of unease and need to be getting on with things the longer I am in one place. Everything is out there: that’s why they call it everything. And I would still believe that after Japan my only choices were schooling or finding a more stable career path, except that I now have many friends who feel as I do. Friends who taught English in Japan for 3-5 years and now are teaching in Korea, Spain, China, a friend of mine moved to be with his girlfriend in Brazil, and so on.

Whatever your pursuits, your dreams, whether it be a career, the world, loved ones… don’t let people tell you it can’t be done. There’s nothing cocky or arrogant about truly believing in yourself. People will always be telling you that something you want to do is impractical, but if you have figured out how to make it work, what other incentive are you waiting around for?

September 28

Where are they now? Amanda Dixon tells us who she is

Amanda Dixon is Metamora’s third student promoted to black belt, having tested for 1st degree in 2005. In 2008, she earned her 2nd-degree black belt. Amanda was eager to assist in the grade school programs throughout her stay with us, volunteering to lead Metamora Grade School for the first several years we were there.

Amanda racked up numerous awards, including Bushi-do and Best Assistant Instructor in 2004, our first-ever Most Improved Student in 2002, the 2005 Best Black Belt Instructor as voted by the students, and more.

Here, in her own words, is Amanda Dixon.

“Who do you want to be?” is THE question that most high schoolers are presented with their freshman year. Who you spend your time with, and more importantly what you do, will shape your life.

Amanda Dixon at her 1st-degree black belt party

Amanda Dixon with Kaisey Donner and Rachel Growth at Amanda's black belt ceremony in 2005

I was presented with this question eight years ago when I first started school. It was something that I had to spend a little time thinking about. What defined me as a person? What did I want to accomplish over the course of these four years? I wanted to be a part of something, and to form a community with the people around me. I wanted to do something that would benefit my life, and teach me something. I also wanted to do something unique. I also wanted to something I could succeed at. At the point in my life I really wasn’t much of a leader so I really didn’t know where to begin my search.

Luckily for me, a friend of mine heard about the martial arts club at the high school. It sounded like a good idea, so I decided to tag along and che

ck it out. I don’t really remember a lot of specifics about my first class, but I liked it enough to keep coming back. By the end of the first month, I was hooked.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those weekly classes played a major role in shaping my future and I was accomplishing my goal; I was learning. During classes, I learned all typical movements: how to punch, how to kick, how to block, and how to defend myself. I learned how to spar, and how to use my opponent’s momentum against them. I learned the forms and how to say the words in Japanese. I learned how to do my forms against attackers, how to explain exactly what I was doing and, more importantly, why I was doing it. I learned how to explain to a six-year-old how to do the same things. I progressed through the ranks and at the start of my senior year of high school I tested for black belt.

Six hours of forms, fitness tests, verbal tests, self-defenses, and sparring matches later I passed my test. Never in my life have I been as tired as that day. For three years, I had been training for that test and now it was all worth it. The moment my sensei tied t

hat belt around my waist, he told me that was just the beginning. That day is when my new journey began. Now I had to apply my knowledge and do something with it.

That was the new question of my life. What was I going to do with all that I had learned? Well, what did I learn? I learned the aforementioned things, but what else had I gained over the past three years?

I’ve realized over the past years what exactly I gained from my years in martial arts. I gained a community. To this day, some of my karate-ka remain my closest friends. We’ve spent countless hours training together, sweating together, laughing together, and growing together. I also gained confidence in myself, and in my ability to be a leader. I spent much of my time teaching younger kids martial arts, and thus was able to grow in my abilities as a teacher. Teaching is something I fell in love with from the start, and becoming a teacher became one of my long-term goals. So with all of the knowledge that I had gained I decided to pursue this passion. This was my way to use everything I had learned, and to give it back. I taught weekly classes for a grade school during my first two years of college, and then took a break from martial arts to go earn my bachelor’s degree in education.

I am now a certified teacher for elementary education, and am applying those skills in Honduras. I had a strong desire to mission work after I graduated college and was accepted to work at a Catholic orphanage in rural Honduras. I’m the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, as well as the new karate teacher. My karate teaching skills are a little rusty, but they are definitely resurfacing. I just started teaching martial arts classes, but the kids are excited about learning. One of the goals we have for this new program is to teach the kids discipline, and to show respect to others.

Amanda Dixon teaching students at Karate Camp 2007

Amanda Dixon teaching students at Karate Camp 2007

I have given them the same rules that were given to me when I began learning martial arts. They have to do their homework, they have to do well in school, and the absolutely cannot use what they learn on each other. The other goal, of course, is for them to have fun and to just be kids. Most of our kids have had hard times in the past, so it’s so great to see them just simply being kids. It’s really exciting for me to watch them get excited about who can kick the highest, or who can yell the loudest. These classes are a good place for them to get out their extra energy, and so they can be a little crazy. I hope they continue to enjoy learning, and hopefully light a fire in their hearts for the martial arts.

So, to finally put an answer to that question that I pondered over so many years ago. Who I am? I am a 23-year-old volunteer at Farm of the Child, a Catholic orphanage in Honduras. I am a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher and I teach 20

kids math, English, and science every day. I am also the new karate teacher, and am hoping to give them a small piece of what I learned and of what I will continue to learn. I want them to learn the forms, the punches, the kicks, the stances, and the techniques.  However, most importantly I want them to learn the other stuff as well. I want them to learn discipline and how to work for their goals. I want them to learn to have confidence in who they are, and what they can do.

I was always told that after you receive your black belt the real journey begins. I have found a lot of truth in that statement. It’s quite amazing for me to look and see where my journey has taken me, and where it continues to take me.