MANSFIELD -- Chris Hershberger believes martial arts is about more than belts and competitions. It’s about growing and becoming your best self.
That’s why the owner of Black Belt Pro Fitness hopes his newest book will inspire kids to hop on to the mat.
“Martial arts has been very transformative for me, and I'm hoping that it can be for others as well,” Hershberger said.
His work, Jr. Black Belts: Tournament Time, tells the story of two young taekwondo athletes who use their skills to fight bullying at school and compete on the world stage.
“A lot of the lessons of martial arts are part of the themes of the book -- anti-bullying, self-confidence, how to build assertiveness, discipline,” he said.
The book can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, but is designed for young readers between the ages of 6 and 11.
“If one kid reads that and says, ‘I can be more confident’ or ‘I can stand up for myself’ or ‘I can go do things that will help transform my life into a more positive one,’ than I'm good. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Hershberger has written on health, wellness and martial arts before, but Jr. Black Belts is his first venture into fiction.
“When 2020 hit, I realized that many of the goals we had that year had to change,” he said. “I decided that I wanted to challenge myself and write a children's book because I've written other stuff, but never for children.”
Hershberger said he’s enjoyed the creativity allowed in fiction -- especially the chance to create characters. As a martial arts coach and father of three, Hershberger took inspiration from his surroundings while crafting the story. One of protagonists is named after his daughter Natalie, a national taekwondo champion and Olympic hopeful.
“I really enjoyed it, pulling in different types of people from my experiences in life, the martial artists I've met,” he said. “It was really nice to challenge myself and to kind of expand that horizon of creativity."
Hershberger teamed with Eric Spayde, a student at Mansfield Senior High School, to produce the book. Spayde, who creates advertising at Black Belt as an in-house illustrator, provided the artwork.
“It was a very new experience for me,” Spayde said. “After I got the hang of it, I was able to get illustrations out in one or two days.”
The 17-year-old said the chance to collaborate on a children’s book has opened his eyes to the possibilities of a career in art or graphic design.
“Before this job, I didn't think I'd be drawing as a career. I thought I'd do commissions and have a second job,” Spayde said. “This has really broadened my horizons and it’s made me look forward to the future.”
Hershberger said he hopes to turn Junior Black Belts into a series. He’s already written a second book; Spayde is finalizing the illustrations.
All in all, the experience has been a rewarding one.
“Don't be afraid to be creative, even if it's something that's outside of your comfort zone. Jump into something you thought you’d never be able to tackle,” Hershberger said. “This is not something I ever thought that I would do.”