Editor's Note: This is part I of a four-part series on Thriving in the Martial Arts. Written by Chris Hershberger, he provides a first-person look at how he went from being a "poor punk kid" from Mansfield to an Olympic Taekwondo All-American coach.
The year 1984 conjures up many diverse thoughts for Gen Xers. It might simply remind us of a powerful, yet profoundly prophetic book. Or, if you’re into electronics, the original Apple Macintosh personal computer was first sold in 1984. If the Mac wasn’t your gadget of choice, you might have been caught strutting down the street with a boombox hoisted on your shoulder. You didn’t care how heavy it was. The “jams” busting out of those gargantuan speakers meant everything to a hip 80’s kid.
Now imagine you’re a poor nine-year-old punk growing up in an increasingly violent environment surrounded by many people who have made it their mission to punch you in the face — just because they can.
Welcome to Rowland Avenue 1984.
Babcock’s Donut Shop — later Dimitri’s, now closed — was conveniently 103 steps from my porch. I knew this because I counted them. I used to joke (half-joking, better yet) with my mom and tell her, “I love Little Debbie mom. Please give me a quarter! She’s 103 steps from my heart.”
One blistering hot August day, about halfway through my 103 steps, I was confronted by a much older teenager. He boldly shouted at me, “Betta give me that dollar!”
A dollar to me was equal to four Nutty Buddies. A glass of whole milk accompanied by those wonderful crisp peanut butter wafers topped by a thin layer of melt-in-your- mouth chocolate, was, for a lack of better phrases — to die for.
Well, I didn’t die, but the black eye and bloody nose would make me rethink the value of my beloved Little Debbie. “Was she worth it?” I thought. Getting “sucker punched” from behind while arguing with a teenager did not bode well for me. The pounding I took from the two bullies was quick and I felt powerless and more importantly, dollar- less.
Just a couple of weeks later I scored a free movie pass from a generous mother hen at church. I was helpful and likable at church. She was always nice to me. I didn’t know at the time that single act of kindness would change my life trajectory.
“The Karate Kid?” I thought to myself.
“Ghostbusters looks good! We should see that,” my friend said. The Kingsgate Cinemas had sticky floors and uncomfortable seats. Nothing compared to the plush recliners we see today. Going to the movies was an oasis of escape for me. I needed to make this count.
After convincing my buddy The Karate Kid was where it’s at, we settled in near the back of the theatre.
“Who is this mystical Mr. Myagi?” I was immediately perplexed. Seeing a complete dork in Daniel LaRusso learn to fight in mere weeks really buttered my toast (I ate a lot of toast with butter and sugar on it as a kid).
The second I stepped out of that dilapidated theatre I was a crane kicking fool — all over. Two steps, crane kick. In the parking lot... crane kick. I was crane kicking all the way past Kingwood Center. By the time I reached Jolly Pirates Donut Shop, I had thrown at least 500 crane kicks. My hamstrings felt like burning logs.
That day in 1984, I fell in love with martial arts. The seed was firmly planted for what would blossom into a lifelong passion for me and thousands of future students.