February 28

Training with my son, a father-son martial arts experience by Bob Schertz

For some of our feature articles, we have asked parents to contribute their perspectives as to what karate training means for them and their children. For this first feature, we have a unique bonus: a father and son who have trained together for many years. In this article, proud parent and advanced martial artist Bob Schertz discusses the training that he and his son Alex have experienced. Bob and Alex have been a wonderful father-son duo in our program, and it’s an absolute joy to see them training together.

Late September of 2005 my son, Alex Schertz, began his journey in karate. Alex was small of stature but loaded with confidence and a competitive nature. I decided to have him take karate due to his size. I also hoped that at some point it would be something that we could do together.

It was not a surprise that, with the help of some amazing instructors, Alex took to karate. He is very competitive and worked hard for every stripe and with every stripe he wanted another one. As he progressed to his green belt he started asking me why I wasn’t taking lessons as well. I had been so involved in his lessons that I had forgotten how much I wanted to learn karate and have the chance to grow in Karate with him.

After my first lesson Alex came to me and said, “Way to go Dad.” It meant a lot to me that he was proud to see me out there taking lessons with him. As our lessons progressed we started working out together at home doing our katas, ippons, and taesus together. I was a very proud Dad watching him grow and become more confident. One of his first tournaments he took Grand Champion over higher belts and I remember him beaming with excitement that he won a trophy bigger than he was.

When the time came for the US Open tournament in Orlando our Sensei, Joe Chianakas, talked to us regarding the tournament. He asked us if we would be interested in taking Alex. This would be a big step for Alex as he would face World Class competition. He was full of excitement and worked hard every day to get ready.

The first day of the competition he participated in weapons. He place seventh out of fourteen competitors. This was the first time that he had not placed first in a tournament and it was a hard lesson. It was difficult to tell a nine year old child, who was in tears, that he needed to think of why he lost and to come back tomorrow with renewed confidence and do the best he could in forms.

Alex went back to the room and practiced his form for several hours before he went to bed. The next day he went to the ring and found 32 of the best martial arts students in the country and some from over seas. I was worried that the number of competitors would bother him but it did not. When his number was called he presented himself and did the best form he had ever done. I heard one of the judges say “WOW”.

He was in first place up until the last contestant who beat him by 1/10th of a point. He looked at me with a smile on his face and said that he did the best he could and that the other contestant was better that day than he was. After that tournament I knew that Alex had taken a big step forward not only learning to lose but learning how to win. I knew that as competitive as he is that he would carry this forward in other areas of his life.

Both Alex and I have continued to take lessons twice a week and it has provided us with a wonderful experience. I have been injured several times, most recently with a tendon that was torn off one of my fingers, during sparring. It was a serious injury that required surgery and the fusion of a bone in my hand. I was not able to take lessons for 3 months. I have even had to give up breaking due to the injury.

Alex noticing that it was hard for me not to be taking lessons asked me if I wanted him to stop, until I was able to come back. I was very proud of him for asking me knowing that he offered to give up, even temporarily, something that he enjoyed so much. I told him that I wanted him to continue and I would be back as soon as I was able.

Since then we have continued with our lessons and have advanced to different belt levels. Alex should get his black belt this year. Getting to all of the lessons has been difficult due to basketball, soccer and baseball.

Alex is an athlete that excels in every sport he tries and I can give credit to karate for his success. The discipline and confidence that he has learned in karate has helped him mentally in every sport. The countless hours of lessons has also given him physical strength that most kids his size do not have.

However, what matters the most is the hours that we have spent together learning a life long skill that will benefit both us as we go forward. When Alex leaves for college, his hopes are to be a third degree black belt and mine are to be a second degree. No one can ever take away this time we have spent together and my hopes are that he will someday do the same for his children.

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.

February 16

Why I Teach by Master Steven Aldus

If you are new to martial arts in Peoria and central Illinois, you’ve probably heard of several names in the area. One of those names is probably Steve Aldus.

Having been in the martial arts for 42 years and a teacher for 37, Mr. Aldus wrote to Metamora Martial Arts that he is a multi-disciplined martial artist. He holds many dan (black belt) rankings with experience in karate and tae kwon do, among other arts.

Though, Mr. Aldus said, “I am a Chinese martial artist first and foremost.” He teaches hsing-i ch’uan (Hopei) and old Yang style tai chi ch’uan. In addition, he teaches Chinese weapons, chin na and shuai jiao (Chinese wrestling). Mr. Aldus ran his own school for eight years, but now instructs in Peoria at Cat Ching Do on Tuesdays and with Preston Jackson the Contemporary Art Center on Saturdays.

I owe Mr. Aldus more than he knows; he has inspired me more than he knows.  When I was a little boy, I lived a few houses away from him and was best friends with his son.  I have fond memories of watching Mr. Aldus train in his basement dojo.  The grace, power and mystery of his moves hypnotized me, and I knew that someday I wanted to learn martial arts.  If I had not had the opportunity to watch Mr. Aldus, befriend his son, and have my child mind intrigued and captivated by his martial arts talent, I may never have started training.

To Mr. Aldus: I thank you for being a real inspiration.  As an adult martial artist, I have frequently received your kindness, advice and further inspiration.  Thank you.

One of the features of this blog is asking other martial artists their opinions to create an open forum in order to share knowledge and ideas.

In this first guest post, we asked Mr. Aldus – among other things – why he teaches. Here, nearly unedited, is his response.

Why do I teach?  If you ask different instructors, you will get many different answers.

I teach for various reasons. Fundamentally, I teach to pass on the knowledge unselfishly imparted to me by my instructor, Sifu Li. Teaching Hsing-I Ch’uan is my way to honor my Sifu and all who have gone before him. Teacher Li presented a gift of martial arts to me and I am obliged to pass it along to others. This ensures our martial art lives on through future generations and is not lost.

I have a deep love and appreciation for martial arts and my hope is others will develop the same appreciation through my instruction.

Through teaching others, one receives satisfaction watching the students as they grow and succeed. Their success and growth as martial artists benefits them in life, not just in the kwoon, dojo, or dojang.

Teaching martial arts defines my strengths and my weaknesses. As I work hard to shore up my weaknesses and improve my strengths, I convey this to my students. To see an instructor working as hard as the students on his or her martial art training can be an inspiring lesson.

One of my favorite teaching moments came when I was asked to sit on a testing board. A friend (who I will call Sensei or Master Miller) was testing a large number of his students for black belt. I had visited Master Miller’s school many times and interacted with all of the students testing that day.

Many weeks prior to the testing, a sheet listing the names of the students testing for black belt was posted. After class, on the same day of the posting, I overheard many of the students scheduled for black belt testing complaining about one student up for black belt. They couldn’t understand why this student (who I will name Henry) was testing.

As far as they were concerned, Henry wasn’t up to black belt testing standards. Sometimes Henry forgot or had trouble with parts of his forms, wasn’t able to kick as well as the rest, his self-defense was lacking and on and on.

I approached the students and said to them that they should be concerned about their skill sets and not about what Henry does or does not know. If they thought Henry wasn’t up to testing standards, they should help him out.

“Remember, we are family,” I said.

I looked at them and asked, “Do you have faith in Master Miller’s decisions and do you respect your instructor?”

They answered, “Yes.”

“Then why are you questioning his selections for the black belt testing?” I asked.

I quickly added, “Instructors many times will make decisions based on information known only to him.”

They lowered their heads.

I said, “Let’s make a deal. You help Henry to be the best he can be for this testing and I won’t tell Sensei about this episode, okay?”

Embarrassed, they weakly said, “Yes, Master Aldus.”

The day of the testing arrived. I was asked by Master Miller to speak to his students prior to the testing. I said it would be an honor. I went into the dressing room where they were nervously waiting. I asked them if they were nervous and they all said yes.

All save one.

Henry smiled widely and said with pride, “Master Aldus, I am not very nervous.”

I said to Henry, “Wow, I thought you would be. Why aren’t you nervous, Henry?”

“Because I am testing with all of my friends and they helped me get ready for my testing. I am ready, Sir.”

I said with pride, “Great! I am proud of you, Henry.”

I looked deeply into the eyes of the rest of the students and said, “I am so proud of each and every one of you. You showed today that all of you deserve to be testing for Dan rank. Give your all and leave nothing behind. Good fortune to you all.”

The testing started and continued for the next six hours. Henry struggled, but was buoyed by his fellow students. At the end of this grueling test, the students’ uniforms were soaked, their bodies ached, their minds exhausted. Yes, they were happy it was over and proud to have finished.

The Board retired to a back room to render their decision. The students later said that waiting for final decision seemed longer than the actual testing.

After much deliberation, the Board returned to give their decision. But, before giving the results of the test, Master Miller had something he wanted to say.

Master Miller said, “Henry has given me permission to pass on some very personal information.”

Master Miller took a deep breath.

“Henry has multiple sclerosis.”

The students looked absolutely shocked, they had no idea.

“Henry informed me two years ago and asked me not to tell anyone,” Sensei continued.  “He didn’t want anyone to know because he was afraid the students would treat him differently or take it easy on him. He is not afraid anymore.”

“I would like to thank all of the students who helped Henry. I am very proud of everyone testing today. You all proved today that you are deserving of the rank of first Dan. You all have passed and are officially first-degree black belts and members of our martial arts family from this day forward.”

The students approached in single file to accept congratulations from each Board Member, with Henry leading the way.

Henry shook my hand and said thank you. I told him great job and congratulations. I was very happy for him. As each of the other students stood in front of me, I said congratulations and I was very proud of them. Each student looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you, Master Aldus.”

Every student had tears in their eyes, and so did I.