Returning the Favor Through Taekwondo

Thanks to Joseph Hernandez, hundreds of children, teens, and adults over the last 25 years have learned the sport of taekwondo, couched in Christian principles, at the Salvation Army’s Plymouth, Mich., Corps (church).

Joe began studying taekwondo, a martial art combining combat and self–defense techniques with exercise, at Wayne State University in Detroit. He joined an on–campus student club while he was working on a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; he’s now an architectural engineer and an eighth–degree black belt with the rank of grand master. He needs only one more degree to reach the top echelon of the sport.

Joe is proud of his Hispanic ancestry and family roots in Texas that date to the late 1700s. His father was born in Mexico City and his mother in Detroit, where Joe attended a prestigious Catholic high school and excelled in art and architecture. Four generations of his family have faithfully attended the city’s oldest church, St. Anne’s.

A devout Catholic, Joe teaches taekwondo with a healthy spiritual twist. He concentrates on taekwondo’s techniques rather than its Asian religious philosophies and symbolism.

After the birth of his first daughter in the late 1980s, Joe took a year off from martial arts but became increasingly concerned about wayward and troubled youth in his suburban Detroit community. Joe hoped to provide youth the same spiritual and physical disciplines and direction he learned as a young man in the church and through taekwondo.

With the support of other practitioners, Joe began offering evening lessons to community youth at a local elementary school. Soon he had not only children and teens as taekwondo students but also adults who wanted to join in the fun, including the school’s principal. When the program needed to find a new home several months later, a student attending the elementary school suggested holding classes at his church home, the Plymouth Corps.

After renting the gym for a year, the corps officer (pastor) asked Joe if he would consider continuing teaching taekwondo as a community outreach program of the corps. Joe was happy to oblige as long as the classes would continue to be free to any child who couldn’t afford them.

Even for those who can afford to pay, the tuition cost, a donation to the corps, is low—$20 per month and $5 for each additional family member. Offering lessons at little or no charge so that whole families can participate is important to Joe, who comes from a family of nine children.

“My time and that of our 12 black–belt instructors is given voluntarily,” Joe says. “We also do fund–raisers at every given opportunity for The Salvation Army.” Two big tournaments hosted in the spring and the fall by the “Plymouth Chang Moo Kwan,” as the program is known in taekwondo circles, are particularly effective.

“We’ve raised close to $20,000 for the corps since we’ve been here. God has blessed us, and we’re returning the favor!” Joe says.

by Anne Urban

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