Since the New Year is right around the corner I figured this would be the perfect time to reflect on how far our school has grown since I began teaching in late 1997, early 1998. Many may not know what I went through to get where I am. My motivation for this article is to give you the exact history of Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo and to prove that hard work, dedication, discipline, patience, motivation and faith will get you to your goals.
I began teaching when I was a freshman in college at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. I put up a hand drawn flier that I photo copied explaining that I was teaching Kenpo Karate. I had six original students come to me and begin taking lessons. Of those six, two have remained with me for the entire journey thus far and continue to train with me to this day: David Monroe (2nd degree brown belt) and Steven Bennett (green belt). These two students are the exact students I love to train because of their dedication and loyalty and they never once chased a belt (belt chasers don’t last long in my school).
I began teaching the six students in two different areas on campus: the gymnasium and the soccer field. We trained in street clothes and in all weather conditions. I did that for 3-4 semesters teaching only once or twice per week (can’t recall which). Throughout those two semesters I accumulated a handful more students. At that point I decided to try to grow a bit and began teaching out of my mother’s garage. I had eight students at the time. When I began teaching out of my mother’s garage (again in all weather conditions) I decided that I needed a name to be more professional. I came up with Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo.
Dojo is a Japanese term that means training hall. I chose a Japanese term to show respect for the Japanese aspect of the system of martial arts I teach (American Kenpo). American Kenpo is an American system of reality based self-defense based on logic and reason and has a mix of most dominantly Japanese (karate) and Chinese (kung-fu) movements, but also includes some Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Boxing. What make American Kenpo stand out are the concepts and principles that apply logic to the equation which has fine tuned the outdated material to make things workable for modern environments; like comparing John L. Sullivan to Muhammad Ali, or black and white televisions with a twist channel changer to the high def color flat screens with remotes that have fifty buttons on them. The founder of the system, Ed Parker, noted that traditional martial arts styles to American Kenpo were like comparing checkers to chess.
Mr. Parker really respected the Chinese and you can find a lot of areas of our system where it’s seen. Early on (1950s), however, Mr. Parker was heavy into Japanese movements, so to show respect for the beginning stages of our art I decided to go with the term Dojo, although when I speak of our school I call it a studio for the same reason Mr. Parker did – that’s where creative miracles happen.
I taught in my mother’s garage for a year or two and then a horrible flood hit Bradford, Pa and ruined my wrestling mats I had in there along with a lot of other things as well. With that said, I couldn’t teach in my mother’s garage anymore. I was at a stand still for about three months not exactly knowing if I’d be continuing to teach. I still had 5-6 students at the time and told them that I would be in contact with them.
I really didn’t want to give up teaching so I went down to a local hair salon (Lisa’s Hairport) because they had a fenced in patio they weren’t using. I asked if I could use that to teach martial arts. The owner was okay with it and I can’t remember what I paid her. I believe it was $50 per month. For two years I taught in the patio in all weather conditions and eventually got up to twelve students.
In the midst of teaching I heard about a big empty room above Gravitz and Associates place so I went to speak with the owner asking if during the winter months I could teach up there. He was fine with it. So for the next winter I taught up there and in the summer we went back to the patio. I decided that it was foolish moving back and forth and asked Gravitz if he’d allow me to teach there all year round. We agreed on $100 per month and I taught three times per week. That was the end of my patio experiences. Please note that up until this point I had taught only adults (including teenagers). I did not teach children. I decided I would attempt to teach young kids and I ended up having only four sign up; after one month I cancelled the program. I didn’t like it. I preferred to teach adults the hard core devastating Kenpo that you can’t teach children (bone breaks, hyperextensions, eye gouges, groin crushing, skin tearing, and more. Total body domination).
I continued to teach at Gravitz for three years eventually getting close to 30 students. We continued to train in street close and when we sparred we did it without protective gear. We did a lot of hard core training. We didn’t start wearing uniforms until the third year of teaching at Gravitz. Keep in mind that up until this point I was not teaching at a commercial studio. It was just renting space and training people. It was a lifelong goal of mine to open a commercial school, but I didn’t think it would be possible in my town. I also believed, however, that God has a plan for me and if it is His plan to make me a commercial school owner then it was going to happen.
One night as I went in to teach Mr. Gravitz stopped me to tell me he was moving out of town and was closing his business down. In that same sentence he said, “You have ten days to get out of here.” It came from left field. I had no clue that was going to happen. So once again I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue my love of teaching. After all I had gone through I had to seriously consider whether or not I was going to keep pushing.
In shock, I decided to drive downtown and I saw this little place for $400 a month. I thought to myself, there is no way I can afford $400 a month. I’ve been paying only $100 month for Gravitz. I decided to look at it, however. It was extremely small, but it might have been my only option. I told the guy I would think about it. Later that day I was driving down East Main Street and got to a red light in front of the Mini Mall. I looked over and saw signs on the windows that said “For Rent.” I told myself that would be the perfect place for a school. I immediately began doubting and saying, “There is no way I could run a commercial school.” Something told me to go in and check it out anyway. I went in to the flower shop to ask who owned it because I wanted to look at it. Serendipitously the owner was there.
The owner showed me around and I loved it. It was 1300 square feet of open space. I knew it would be the perfect location. I asked him what he was charging monthly. He said $750 a month. I told him I couldn’t afford that because I was paying only $100 per month and I had only twelve students at the time. There was no way I could take that big of a hit. I thanked him and left. As I drove away in my Mustang (that I no longer have) I just began thinking. I really wanted that place. I immediately told myself that I would get more students because it was going to be a commercial school and the front windows would attract attention. I decided I would go down to a local bank and see if I could get a $4000.00 loan to be able to pay the first couple months plus security deposit up front and buy more equipment. They said they would give me the loan. I immediately called the owner of the building and told him I would take it.
He told me to meet him at a certain time that night and pay him the first month’s rent and security deposit and he’d give me the keys. This was the middle of March in 2004. I asked if he’d allow me to get the place ready for the next two weeks and not begin charging me until April, which was when I would officially open. He was fine with that.
So after all the hard work I finally had the start of a commercial business, but it was no walk in the park. I ran it part time for two years as I also worked full-time as a social services caseworker for McKean County Children and Youth Services. In May of 2006 I resigned from CYS to run Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo full-time (the only full-time martial arts school in the history of Bradford, Pa to date and currently the only full-time martial arts school in McKean County).
We have been at our current location 443 East Main Street, Bradford, Pa since March 2004 and it has taken those six years to get our studio looking the way we wanted it. We slowly got new equipment and new mats. We changed the way we approach our programs numerous times. In 2008 we expanded at our current location. Our expansion included tearing an entire wall down, cutting a doorway and putting a window in (on another wall), and putting up a couple more walls. Now, what was the training space, changing room and my office is now just the training space. Our expansion included building an office, and two changing rooms (male and female). My rent went up, of course, but I feel it’s still a good deal.
After all the moving and hard work we are finally at our final resting grounds and we will continue to grow as a school. We are comfortable at our current location and all the work has paid off. We aren’t going anywhere. I want to thank all of my students who work hard to become all they are capable of becoming. I want to thank all of the parents who are a part of our school. As you know, your child will grow only through the triad to success: YOU the parents, ME the instructor (and my assistants) and your CHILD all have to be on the same page and we all play an important role to your child’s future. If one of the points of the triangle (triad to success) is off it will be difficult to provide your child with the best education and to ensure your child will become all he is capable of becoming.
About the author:
Michael Miller is an expert in self-defense, personal protection, personal development, and fitness. He has been involved with martial arts for over twenty years and currently holds a 4th degree black belt in American Kenpo (one of the leading systems of self-defense), and also studies and teaches boxing, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems and Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu (no Gi). He has been featured several times in Inside Kung-fu and Black Belt magazines as an authority in his field. He can be reached through his web site at www.millersdojo.com, through e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 814-368-3725.