Cartersville resident Michael Wilson finds himself in very exclusive company — count him among just 27 Americans to ever rise to the rank of fifth degree master instructor in the Korean martial art Choi Kwang Do.
"It takes a long time and an amount of dedication that a majority of the people, especially in today's society, just can't commit to," said the owner and master instructor of Choi Kwang Do (CKD) Martial Art and Self-Defense, located at 1239 Joe Frank Harris Parkway in Cartersville. "I've been doing this for about 18 years, dedicated solely to that."
Wilson, his wife and several of his students traveled to England late last month to participate in an international seminar conducted by Kwang Jo Choi, the founder of the Choi Kwang Do discipline.
"We had a lot of festivities, there were training seminars, business seminars, there was a showcase of excellence competition going on as well," Wilson said. "We went to a couple of the local schools in the area and participated in their classes and helped with the teaching. Then, obviously, we had a day that was dedicated to testing."
And that testing was no doubt thorough — before being granted his new rank, Wilson had to pass a six-hour examination from Kwang Jo Choi himself.
"He's out there on the stage, punching and kicking fast like an Olympic athlete," Wilson recollected. "You're watching teenagers do their best to keep up with him, this man who is almost 80 years old."
But the martial art just hasn't helped Wilson, who took over the local CKD gym in 2004, physically — he said it's also been a godsend in treating his diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD.)
"It kind of feeds my OCD in a helpful manner," he said. "It gives me lots of things to constantly focus on and improve on. Even if you've done a particular technique for 10 or 15 years, there's always a way you can improve upon it and do a little bit better."
Name: Michael Wilson
Current City of Residence: Cartersville
High School: Etowah High School (Woodstock, Georgia)
Occupation: Martial arts instructor
Family: Wife Angie Wilson, son Oliver, 2
Daily Tribune News (DTN): How did your interest in martial arts begin?
MW: My interest in martial arts began when I was much younger. I was bullied a lot and we moved around a lot so I didn't make a lot of friends, so I was always a little bit of an outcast, picked on. So I would look at the martial arts magazines they would sell at the 7-Eleven and I was always interested in that type of thing because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, the people that were able to do something about it when people were trying to physically harm them. That's where the spark was ignited.
DTN: What ultimately drew you to Choi Kwang Do?
MW: When I was a kid, for a very short time we were very tight as far as our finances and my mom found a coupon or something and enrolled us in Choi Kwang Do, the original headquarters which was on Highway 5 in Marietta. I think the coupon was for a month and it took them another month to figure out that we were still there and I don't think there were any payments at that time. Once they figured out their error, that was the end of my martial arts training as a kid.
DTN: So how did you get back into it as an adult?
MW: As I got older and kind of understood the reasoning behind it and why it was developed and was an adult and able to support myself, I knew I was going to go back into martial arts, and there was no question as to which one I was going to participate in at that point.
DTN: What makes Choi Kwang Do different from other forms of martial arts?
MW: As far as comparing them, it's really night and day between our art and most recognized traditional martial arts, like Taekwondo and American Karate. How I usually explain it is, first and foremost, our goals here are much different. Most traditional martial arts schools these days are focused almost 100 percent on competition, so your instructors aren't really instructors, they're more like coaches that are egging you on to go here and win the gold trophy. You're practicing for the purpose of sport-competition almost solely, and in here we're practicing more for practical self-defense, improving our health and then, of course, personal development as well. We do have competitions that we hold every once and a while, but we don't really focus much on that. It's just kind of an extra thing we do for people that are very competitive in nature. The other thing that I think really stands us out from other arts is that our art is designed by science. So all of our movements are biomechanically engineered to be correct, in the way that the body is designed to move. The things in other martial arts that deteriorate the body like joint-locking techniques and popping kicks, those have all been eliminated because those things are detrimental to the joints, ligaments and tendons of the body.
DTN: Can you tell us about some of your professional experiences before taking over the local gym?
MW: I had been working on cars for, I guess, about 12 or 15 years. I started as early as possible. Every time I got a slight opportunity I slid right in and started washing cars and got into detailing cars and then I got a job at a tire place and moved up to a premium tire place where they worked on exotic cars. I got an opportunity to work as an apprentice at a General Motors dealership down in Kennesaw so I jumped on that opportunity very quickly ... I was certified by General Motors, Automatic Service Excellence, later certified by DaimlerChrysler and a couple of other organizations, as well.
DTN: What motivated you to take over the local business back in 2004?
MW: I was pursuing my career as a mechanic at the time. I had quite a few certifications under my belt. I was decent at what I did, but I have obsessive compulsive disorder, which means I was overly-thorough at a particular job that is 100 percent commission. So someone who is overly-thorough doesn't make money. When other people are moving on to the next job and the next job, I'm double- and triple- and quadruple-checking that first job. It got to a point where I needed to do something else but I had invested all of my time and my life into one career that I was attracted to at a very young age. I had a decision to make — I could either keep turning wrenches, go get a job at McDonald's or I could do the only other thing that I was educated to do, which was martial arts.
DTN: How many classes do you have here and about how many students do you currently have on your roster?
MW: We have about 60 students at the moment. Year-round, we offer about 20 classes a week, and that's on a Monday-through-Saturday schedule. We basically teach every day but Sunday.
DTN: What makes Choi Kwang Do such an ideal form of self-defense, and what are some of its other benefits?
MW: Even though what we do is a lot different from what a lot of the other martial arts are doing, at the core it still has the basic, traditional values of respect and discipline, so all of that is there. The only thing you're going to miss versus those arts is sore joints and aching muscles.
DTN: What was it like not only getting to meet the founder of the discipline, but getting a chance to show off your skills to him?
MW: It's incredible, just the skill he has and how much time and effort he's put into the art and all the movements. This is his life, and nobody works as hard at Choi Kwang Do as he does, and it compounds that that he turned 76 in March … it's a real testament to the training we do. In other arts — if the founder is even still with us in the living world — if you see them demonstrating something, it's usually very slow and it's just like a technique but you don't see them up on the stage just constantly going, [with] patterns and speed drills and just doing all the things the young people are doing as well.
DTN: What are some of the long-term health benefits of Choi Kwang Do, and how has the martial art helped you with OCD over the years?
MW: It helps me focus my OCD in a productive manner because I can work hard and become better at things I've been doing for a long time while at the same time learning new things. And of course, all of the different patterns and speed drills we learn helps your cognitive thinking and your memory, as well. As I get older, I'm less likely to run into dementia and Alzheimer's and things of that nature. Physically, I'm turning 42 in August, but I don't feel 42. I get out here and kick and punch with all the kids and I'm energized and I feel good, no aches or pains anywhere, or arthritis. I went to a Taekwondo-sponsored event one time and everybody there that was probably over 25 had knee braces and elbow guards on and they looked like bionic people because they had destroyed their bodies. I'm lucky in what we do that I'm not destroying my body and having to rely on all these medical devices to hold me together.
DTN: What are your long-term business plans for Choi Kwang Do?
MW: A lot of school owners around the country want to steer the wrong way with that. They get a little bit of success and then they decide they want to open up multiple locations because they think if this is successful, how much success could I have if I had six of the same thing that was also successful? The way I see it, when we're here we form bonds with our students, and if we try to put ourselves in too many places at once, you kind of lose that bond and it starts to become more like a coach-athlete relationship, which really hinders students in their progression. They need a set of instructors that care for them and want to see them improve and grow. As far as we're concerned, we're just going to focus on one location. We want to grow it and impact as many lives as we can while we're here.
DTN: What's your favorite thing about operating the business, and what's it been like serving the Bartow community for almost 15 years now?
MW: Having a business is really good for someone like myself, because I wasn't the best employee. Because of my OCD and things I liked to do things a certain way and I don't like it when people tell me "no, you cannot do it like this, you have to do it my way." I had a lot of problems with that and it led to me losing a lot of jobs in my prior career. But when I'm here, I can do things the way I see fit and there's no one to look down on me or talk down to me. I can do what needs to be done without having to modify the way I do it to fit somebody else's idea of the way it should be done. I really like helping people. We've seen thousands of students in the almost 15 years we've been here and we've had so many reports from thankful parents that tell us "my kid is paying better attention and their grades have improved and they're not lashing out in anger or violence like they used to." There are just so many reports.