Shawn Yennie teaches martial arts in three local schools and urges those interested to signup – with no consideration to age.
Shawn Yennie teaches martial arts in three local schools and urges those interested to signup – with no consideration to age. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

Shawn Yennie’s goal is to get belted.

And…he does it for kicks.

“I started my journey as a white belt in the spring of 2003. After training for five years, I was able to test for my black belt in the fall of 2008,” related Yennie. “When I started my training, I was 21 and was looking for something active to do. I had been involved in or tried most other sports, but after growing up with movies like ‘The Karate Kid,’ I was always wanting to get involved with the martial arts. What piqued my interest was the one-on-one combative nature, but after beginning my training, I found that the practical self-defense and character development through developing self-discipline and self-control were way more rewarding.”

It’s been years since “Karate Kid” was on the silver screen, however, he has persisted in his pursuit of martial arts practice. “I currently train and teach as a third-degree black belt in the Korean art of Tang Soo Do. Tang Soo Do is an open-hand fighting system with traditional roots that stem back 2,000 years. This system is best described as ‘maximizing the efficiency of the individual, while developing the whole-person concept through development of physical, emotional and spiritual qualities,’ or ‘self-mastery’. I also hold the rank of a level two Ki Gong practitioner. Ki Gong is best described as Korean Tai Chi and focuses its efforts on the overall health and wellness of the individual. I also train and teach as a fourth-degree master instructor in the Korean art of Haidong Gumdo. Haidong Gumdo is a Korean sword art that is best described as having similarities in Japanese Kendo, or the Way of the Samurai.”

Yennie has advanced to the point that he’s attained instructors’ skills, but he maintains that that’s not the finished product and that he’s still a student.

“Roughly only 5 percent of individuals who begin their journey in the martial arts make it to black belt. It speaks of the lack of perseverance and indomitable spirit in most individuals. Training in the martial arts is meant to challenge you in every way, and when most people encounter roadblocks or personal challenges along the way, the easy way out is to quit. Those who are able to overcome these challenges find a new ‘can do’ attitude and ultimately, this leads to a new level of self-confidence and the discipline to stay focused and diligent in their development.”

He elaborated, “In the martial arts, we have a saying, ‘Cho Shim,’ which means ‘beginner mind,’ or always training like a white belt and approaching everything with an open mind and a clear conscience. If your cup is perceived as ‘too full,’ you will never be able to learn and advance your skills.”

That means he’s got plenty of room left to aspire toward bettering himself, both physically and spiritually.

“Tang Soo Do, Haidong Gumdo and Ki Gong are all physically demanding, with the focus being personal growth and self-mastery. Each system has its own set of strength, agility and coordination drills and workouts. All the drills we do are tailored for the individual and are meant to focus on areas of need. Physical fitness is a major part of what we do. We push ourselves and students hard with calisthenics and strength and conditioning drills that focus on pushing our limits past previous expectations so that when we ultimately encounter a self-defense situation, our physical stamina allows for maximum results.”

Spiritually, he’s ventured beyond safety. “I have been challenged in many ways along the way, in personal training and professionally. The biggest challenges I faced were as a natural introvert becoming more extroverted. Training in the martial arts demands the ‘whole person’ concept, with seven tenets and five codes, along with 14 attitude requirements. You are instilled with a sense of honor, loyalty and obedience for yourself and others…and you reach a point in your journey of self-cultivation that you realize no one can harm your physical or emotional well-being. This discovery ultimately leads to the understanding that your goal now becomes protecting others from harming themselves by unknowingly threatening your well-being.”

Yennie is proprietor of a martial arts school in Chatfield, Spring Valley and Grand Meadow that allow him to teach students who aspire to do more than just watch “The Karate Kid.”

“In 2009, I took over as the chief instructor and owner of Academy of Martial Arts Spring Valley. When I took over, there were six active students. After changing the name of the school…and opening up two new locations in Chatfield and Grand Meadow, in 2018, we currently boast over 100 active students.”

Yennie feels most people have a desire to want to leave this world better off than they found it. He said martial arts schools in general should be embraced for the efforts of striving to achieve ultimate character development for the youth and adults in communities.

“Passing on to the new generations a 2,000-year-old fighting system comes with a responsibility not to lose the traditions and lineage that have made it so great to this point,” he said.

But becoming too serious about how one passes on a tradition to youngsters can thwart their interest in said tradition.

“We emphasize fun in our program. Whether it’s fun drills, games or obstacle courses with the kids, we find fun in all aspects,” he said. “Ultimately, each person will have their own idea of fun and will have their favorite activities, whether it be competition, sparring, breaking boards or blocks, or possibly weapons training. There are always opportunities to learn from your students. Keeping an open mind to new ideas is what helps build great leaders.”

Yennie, who is married and has three daughters, commented that now is the best time for anyone who’s interested in getting belted in the martial arts to take it up.

“I think the martial arts in general always carries a certain stigma…most people have a preconceived notion that the martial arts are only for kids, or that it is too violent or aggressive,” he said. “Most people also want to wait until they are in good shape before starting their journey, but waiting until you are in good shape is like waiting until you are smart enough to start school. Ultimately, the benefits of training in the martial arts personally or as a family are far too great to miss out on.”

Yennie lives up to his own words through his actions – he makes time to further his martial arts every week, even though he’s rather busy.

“Besides owning three martial arts schools, I also own a residential construction business and also a rental property businesss,” he said. “When I do get free time, I prefer to spend it hunting, fishing and doing basically anything outdoors, but at this point, I could not imagine not having martial arts being a major part of me and my family’s lives. The benefits are too great to go without.”