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The American author Philip Wylie once said, “One good teacher in a lifetime may sometimes change a delinquent into a solid citizen.” It has proved true time and time again for kids from all walks of life and through teachers in all disciplines.

And for one group of kids who live on the Near East Side of Columbus, Ohio, that teacher just happens to be their martial arts instructor. His name is Ellis Jennings II and he has learned the hard way how important it is for kids to make the most of their lives and how martial arts can play a role in that.

Columbus Martial Arts Teacher Ellis Jennings’ Journey

Columbus Martial Arts Teacher
Right: Ellis Jennings II

Jennings grew up in the same tough neighbourhoods many of his students live in today. As a kid, he studied martial arts, but after qualifying for a major tournament was devastated to learn that he couldn’t afford to travel there and compete. From there, disillusionment set in and Jennings drifted away from martial arts and into alcoholism. Between 1999 and 2003, Jennings spent time in jail on both domestic abuse and drug-related charges. Speaking to the Columbus Dispatch, Jennings describes himself around that time as “young, dumb”.

On his release from prison in 2003, Jennings knew he had to try and get his life back together. He quit alcohol and smoking and tried to get back to his roots. In doing so, he found himself going to his local church again. But while religion offered some solace, Jennings found that martial arts was calling him again.

Ten years on from that moment, it was the church that helped Jennings to open EJ’s Warrior Karate Academy. He was asked by the pastor of the Greater Glory Ministries Church, in the Near East Side, if he knew anyone who could help to prepare meals for the needy. Jennings agreed to do it himself if he was permitted to use the church to teach karate lessons. The basement was duly made available to him and Jennings’s journey was complete.

An Academy for More than Just Karate

Columbus Martial Arts Teacher

Four years on, Jennings’s has registered the Academy as a not-for-profit business and has moved on to larger premises in an abandoned mosque nearby. And with martial arts having helped to turn his life around, he set about helping other kids in the area. Jennings does not just instruct his students in martial arts skills. He also teaches Bushido Code, sometimes referred to as Warrior Code. Bushido code is the unwritten Samurai code of conduct, a framework of life values which all true samurais are expected to live by.

For kids living in deprived urban areas in big US cities, this code can be as transformational to the way they live their lives as it was in ancient Japan. Most of Jennings students live below the poverty line, many come from single parent homes, and a majority end up in trouble, just as Jennings himself did.

Columbus Martial Arts Teacher

So, as well as martial arts classes, Jennings also runs other activities such as ‘Word of the Week’, where he gets his students to discuss key words from the Bushido Code, such as ‘honor’ and ‘motivation’.

But perhaps even more important is the time he spends with his students. “He takes time with them, not just teaching them karate,” said Davon Moultrie, the single-mother of one of his students. Recalling an occasion where her son walked away from a fight, he previously would have got involved with, she added: “I see positive strides in my son”.

“He does an incredible amount that is so much bigger than a karate class,” said another mother Rebecca Tien, who values his all-round guidance so much, that she actually commutes across the city with her son to attend Jennings’ classes.

A Martial Arts Success Story

Columbus Martial Arts Teacher

At present, he has 16 students, and as well as offering vital life-lessons, Jennings is no slouch as a karate teacher either. All of his students qualified for the recent USA National Karate Championships and U.S. Team Trials. As a group, they have won more than 100 medals altogether, which is an impressive feat for a small group operating in such challenging circumstances.

Sady, just as Jenning’s himself suffered disappointment after being unable to compete in tournaments for financial reasons, so to his group have struggled to raise the funds to participate in national events. “It hurts.” They have a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds to stop this happening again. Readers are welcome to donate here.

Despite the group’s successes, Jennings continues to stress to everyone that medals and trophies are “just a part” of martial arts training and “the main goal is to master yourself and effect change in your community.”

That is one trophy Ellis Jennings II has certainly won!

EJ's Warrior Karate Academy Facebook
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