Various Recreational Activities to Unite Christian Families

Family bonds through martial arts
Aug 09, 2003 06:13 PM EDT

If it's true that praying together helps families stay together, the Conn family of Van Buren should be in good shape.

They not only pray as a family, but they exercise as one, too.

And they combine the two activities at the Christian Martial Arts Ministry held in the their church's gym, 1810 E. Bradford Pike.

"We wanted to do something that would benefit our family mentally, spiritually, and physically and something that was goal-oriented," said Andrea Conn, who with her husband, Mike, and their children, Emilee and Gabe, are members of Grace Community Church and have studied Tae Kwon Do for about three years.

The non-profit martial arts school they attend was founded in 2000 by Executive Director David Kelly and is open to everyone, whether they attend a church or not.

Kelly, 26, has a degree in ministry from Indiana Wesleyan University, said he began studying Tae Kwon Do after seeing a martial arts demonstration when he was 13.

"In 1990, a man who was an ordained minister came to our school who was a Black Belt," Kelly said. "The main thing he helped me resolve is I had a lot of self-esteem issues, and fear issues."

Kelly is a full-time supervisor at the Grant County Community Justice Center and puts in 30 to 40 hours a week running the school. He and his wife, Maria, who is a co-senior instructor, have had martial arts businesses in the past. But now, as a non-profit operation, they only ask students to make a pledge to donate what they can afford.

"We really wanted to see people come to know Christ. We didn't want people to be limited by money," David Kelly said.

During the school year, about 100 students attend classes at the school Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The school's board of directors has 12 people, many of whom are black belts and help teach the classes, as do the Conns.

Mike Conn, 45, is a pipe fitter at General Motors and had only played softball before becoming involved in martial arts. He is now able to break five boards, is 40 pounds lighter and just became a black belt, as did their 11-year-old daughter, Emilee.

"It was a great accomplishment because after three years of hard work, I had finally reached my goal to be a black belt," said Emilee, is the youngest student to attain a black belt under Kelly's instruction so far. However, her brother, Gabe, 8, will try to break her record by testing for a black belt next year.

Mike Conn is proud of his family and his own achievements. He credits the teaching method for some of their success.

"Every move is taught to you in such a way that you don't have to be athletic," he said. "It's all about control -- controlling your body, controlling your emotions."

Andrea said all ages work side-by-side in the classes that are divided into groups according to ability.

"There's a man who had five (heart) bypasses," Andrea Conn said. "His goal was to have a black belt by age 60. He met his goal. I wish I was as fit as he is. Rodney Howard is an ex-green beret."

Howard, 48, another of the ministry's participants, served in the armed forces during 16 of his 20-year military career and works at Hemmick's Hardware in Van Buren.

"It's fun to do the exercises and I like the challenge, but the fact that we are there as Christians is most important. There is no macho attitude (that) I've seen in other places. They are there for the fellowship," he said.

So, what is the secret to board breaking?

"It's a push-pull thing. It's the way you shift all your weight and energy. You use certain places at your feet, hands and elbows," Andrea Conn said. "It takes 80 pounds of pressure for each board to break. ... We buy pine wood at Lowe's or wherever we can get it cheap, and saw it to measure 1-inch by 10-by-12 inches. You have to hold it a certain way. You have to hit it with the grain. It shows how strong the human body is. If you miss, you know it because it hurts and it doesn't break."