Pastor ministers through martial arts

March 03, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Pastor Ken Fizer finds he can minister through leg kicks, arm blocks, stretching and bare feet pounding on polished hardwood floors.

A minister at Otterbein United Methodist Church in Martinsburg, Fizer voluntarily teaches classical tae kwon do to children and adults.

Whether they attend his church on Sunday is irrelevant. The students in Fizer's Saturday morning classes seemed to get the message.

Many of the students in Fizer's 50-minute sessions are working their way toward a black belt. Standing before their teacher, the nine members of one class carefully watched Fizer demonstrate a martial arts move, then repeated it.


Upper cut double arm blocks? Done. Double roundhouse kicks? No problem.

Sitting in the back of the church's large activity room Saturday morning were parents Tami McDonald and JoAnn St. Onge. The two women keep track of attendance and perform other administrative duties. They discussed forming a uniform consignment program since both of their children have nearly outgrown their uniforms.

Both women praised Fizer's martial arts ministry.

"It has been the best thing for Cody," McDonald said of her 9-year-old son. "He's got focus. This is the one place he exercises great discipline."

Children pay $10 a month for the classes, or a family can pay $20 a month. Payments are not strictly collected, though, if someone cannot afford it, McDonald said.

Most of the money covers an insurance policy required by the church for the program, Fizer said.

Religion included

As Fizer teaches, religion is never far away. At the beginning of each class, participants recite the Lord's Prayer, along with the five tenets of tae kwon do: honor, respect, integrity, discipline and self-control.

"For me, it's a form of evangelism," Fizer said as one class ended and he waited for the next to begin.

"My goal is to make this art available to everyone," Fizer said.

People are welcome regardless of religion, gender, race, physical or mental abilities, or social or economic status.

"It's not an exclusive ministry. It's a ministry to all children and adults," Fizer said.

At the noncompetitive school, children who are under Fizer's tutelage do not take part in tournaments.

"We compare them against themselves," he said.

Twin pursuits

Fizer took up tae kwon do as a 19-year-old college student in 1982. He received his bachelor's degree and black belt at the same time.

In 1985, Fizer started teaching karate in a church. Now a third-degree black belt, Fizer has been with Otterbein for two years.

Along one wall of the church, Monica Nakamura's 6-year-old son Cody sat quietly on a folding metal chair, waiting for his class to begin. Cody's outgoing personality was tempered by his mother's gentle order to behave.

When her son first started taking the classes, Monica Nakamura sat off to the side, watching. Then she started stretching. Then she started participating.

Now she has a yellow belt.

"What's really great is that, after several months, I started working myself in from the edges," Nakamura said. "I came to love it."

Classes low-key

Fizer's classes are low-key, Nakamura said, unlike the judo classes she took as a child.

"A student can go as far as they want to. Having said that, the strength of the school is that is completely without pressure and is all-inclusive," Nakamura said.

A single mother, Nakamura said attending the classes is an invaluable opportunity to bond with her son.

"The two of us, it's the highlight of our week," Nakamura said.

On the adult side, classes are offered on Tuesday nights. Women can learn self-defense from 6 to 7 p.m. Any adult can enroll in a separate tae kwon do class that runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

"I like what Ken does. He puts us in situations that are very probable," said Betsy Morgan, who participates in both adult classes.

Morgan found that what she learned in the self-defense class could be applied to the outside world. A high school guidance counselor, Morgan put a martial arts move on a student who grabbed her wrist.

"I knew from that point on that I was going to continue this," Morgan said. "It gives you confidence."

Although she started with no martial arts training, Morgan has since earned a purple belt.

Morgan said Fizer is "assertive without being a jerk. That's a unique quality."

Brothers, students

In the last class for children Saturday, two quiet boys took to the floor. They were Vladimir and Nicholas, adopted from Russia by Martinsburg resident Joe Bauer.

Vladimir, at 7, is two years younger than his brother. Since Vladimir was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Bauer said Fizer's martial arts ministry has been somewhat of a miracle.

"The bottom line is, he had no coordination. That's improved a lot. He also had no muscle tone. This is starting to firm it up," Bauer said. "It's a great program."

Also among Fizer's students is his daughter, 6-year-old Sarah Fizer.

Saturday morning, she was using her new, still-stiff yellow belt as a jump rope.

Asked if she liked karate, Sarah was quick with her answer.

"No. I like the Girl Scouts," she said.

Sarah's mother, Nancy Fizer, said it was an answer she expected.

"She's not his most promising student," Nancy said.

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