MUSCATINE, Iowa–In high school, Jesse Valenzuela tried martial arts, but did not stick with it long enough to make much progress. At the time, he did not realize the seeds it had sown would blossom later in his life.
In 1994, after Valenzuela had started his career, married, and had kids, he and his whole family decided to take taekwondo. Together, they worked through the ranks and obtained blackbelts. With the blessings of their instructors, the Valenzuela’s opened their own studio, which they ran in the Muscatine Mall for many years.
After retiring from running the studio and working at HNI, Valenzuela wanted to try something else and took a job doing security work at Muscatine High School. Valenzuela had always liked working with kids of all ages, and had fond memories of doing demonstrations at each of the local schools to get kids interested in martial arts. “I enjoyed the reactions of the kids and the questions they have about what it takes,” he recalls.
Wanting to bring the benefits of martial arts to students at Muscatine High School, Valenzuela approached Muscatine High School Principal Terry Hogenson about starting a martial arts club. He received the approval he needed, and the club has grown since the start of the school year.
Students participating in martial arts club need no prior experience. They simply need to sign up to participate a semester at a time during Muskie Time, and keep up in all of their classes so that they do not need to make up work or attend tutoring during that time. During meetings, Valenzuela teaches students the same things he did in his studio classes, including terminology, the pledge and tenants of taekwondo, commands, forms, and board breaking. As students develop their skills, they also participate in controlled sparing. Throughout everything the students work on, Valenzuela works to instill discipline in the students and to help them recognize the importance of respecting others and behaving honorably.
So far, Valenzuela has seen students make a lot of progress. “They’re working really hard,” he said. “They’re working on forms and they’re working on board breaking to prepare for their first test Nov. 19.”
At the Nov. 19 test, students will have the opportunity to try and earn their white belt. Students may invite friends and family members to watch the test to show the skills they have developed so far. Students who continue with martial arts club in the future will have the opportunity to test for higher level belts as well.
A creative way to introduce students to martial arts and to give students looking for a place to belong at school something to look forward to, Valenzuela believes martial arts club has already started having a positive influence on the students that participate in it. “They are a good group of kids–they’re learning quickly and I can see them changing,” he beamed.