Chris and Eddie

Eddie Noble and I at the YMCA.

Editor's Note: This is part III 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.

Part I: You had me at crane kick
Part II: "I was The Karate Kid"

For a whole year I dabbled in free classes offered at the Mansfield YMCA. The instructor was a nice man. He was very patient and detailed oriented, though I wasn’t painting fences or waxing floors. It didn’t have the mystique of The Karate Kid on the big screen. 

“Something’s wrong here,” I thought. The training was so slow and monotonous. I had a better chance at solving a Rubik’s Cube than learning to fight effectively. I didn’t know anyone who could solve a Rubik’s Cube at that time. I’m pretty sure you had to be a wizard. 

Training ultimately felt torturous to me for the first time ever. 

“I want to kick someone in the face,” I blurted out during class. People looked at me like I just told the Pope to get in his tiny car and buzz off. 

“Be patient Chris. We’ll spar soon. Don’t be disrespectful,” the instructor said with a stern look of disappointment. All I could think was, “This must be some Mr. Myagi stuff!” I wanted to learn secret kicks, death touches, anything remotely mystical and powerful. Splinter, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, seemed a better fit as an instructor for me. I wanted to fight! 

Kids were getting more and more bold in my neighborhood. Two, a few years older than me, high schoolers no less, chased me down to North Lake Park on a Saturday morning. I pedaled and pedaled until my legs turned to rubber. We ended up in the tennis court, just east of the Coliseum. I tossed my bike down and squared up in my stance. 

I whispered to myself, “I got this.” What I really got was a baseball bat to the side of my head. I immediately fell, coiled up in the fetal position with my hands and arms around my head. “Please don’t hit me in the head with the bat again,” was continuously looping in my mind. 

Fortunately, for my future cognitive abilities, they just wanted my bike. After a few kicks to my ribs and back, they walked away screaming a few expletives followed by — “Now what punk? We got your bike!” 

Pride can swell or it can shrink. I had virtually none left as I hobbled back up Rowland Avenue on my way home. I was in seventh-grade at John Simpson Middle School then. The word had already reached most of my classmates in a seemingly eternal 24-hour period the following Monday. I returned to the YMCA that evening ready to quit class. 

I showed up on a mission. More than anything, I wanted to tell the instructor his class was worthless. I showed up early to catch him before the class lined up. As I walked through the door there were two martial artists at the very end of the room sparring. I had never seen them before in class. I asked one of the students, “Who’s that?” 

“That’s Eddie Noble and his student. He’s the best kicker you’ll ever see.” 

This guy was unloading vicious terror from his legs. He kicked the other guy across the room into the brick wall. My eyes lit up. I smiled ear-to-ear. 

“He’s kicking harder than a horse,” I thought. 

Having an ex-Amish dad made me an authority on seeing horses kick people when we visited them in Millersburg. This guy was a walking wrecking machine. When they finished sparring I asked him, “Can I train with you guys?” He laughed. 

“Come by tomorrow after school,” he said in a very intense “if you dare” tone.

Stay tuned for Part IV.

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