Friday, June 25th, 2010
“I grew up in a little cow town without a stop light. When I went to Troy, New York for college, I thought it was a huge city. It was in Troy that I started to learn martial arts. I had always been interested in it, but started studying taekwondo at the age of 17. Ever since then, I have committed my life to martial arts and am now a sixth degree black belt.
“I opened my first martial arts school in 1985 outside of Albany, New York. The school grew to over 550 students and we had five classrooms and a staff of ten teachers. We did birthday parties, sleepovers, and parents’ night out. The thing was that I did not want to be in the marital arts business. I just wanted to teach. I eventually met someone in Washington, D.C. and ended up moving here and leaving my business. It felt like the right decision at the time for me.
“My first year down here, I kicked around and did a bunch of things, like kickboxing instruction. I later got a full-time job working for a health club. The whole time I was here, I saw these signs that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was meant to teach martial arts. The marital arts has a strong connection to spirituality. You have to be aware of the things around you and what they mean in your life.
“One day, I was walking in Brookland and saw a store front with a ‘for rent’ sign. For me, that was the sign and moment when I knew that I needed to open a martial arts school in D.C. It was as simple as that. I was always amazed at how small the industry was in Washington. It was crazy to me that you could count the number of martial arts schools in the city on one hand. When I left the Albany area, which is roughly the same size as D.C., there were 63 martial arts schools. That was always surprising to me because there seemed to be so much interest here.
“So I left my job and opened my school, Northeast Taekwondo. Interestingly, that was the name of my school up in New York. There, it was named after the Capital District of New York, which is called the Great Northeast. Here, I happened to the open the studio in Northeast D.C., so it was another one of those signs that this was what I was supposed to be doing. This time, I wanted to do the school my way. I didn’t want to do the business of karate anymore or run around after people, especially now that there is a new Karate Kid movie. I just wanted to teach. I want this to be a place that sticks to the pure elements of martial arts and attracts those interested in learning.
“In my time in D.C., I have come to love this city and think it is a great place to live. Like the flag of South Korea, which is half blue and half red because of the theory of universal duality, you are going to have the good and the bad here. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed with city life, but all I have to do is drive down Constitution Avenue and see the monuments to think about how fortunate I am to live here and how much I love the city. There is not another city in the world like D.C.”
Master Instructor John O’Kelly is the owner of Northeast Taekwondo at 3520 12th Street Northeast.