ROCKINGHAM — “It’s not easy,” said an emotional James Jeter, a.k.a. “Master J” after signing over American Tae Kwon Do to his long-time student, Chris Ellis, last week.
“For 53 years I’ve been teaching this art — I’ve enjoyed every moment of it,” Jeter continued. “These students are like family and your families are like family.”
He thanked his students and benefactors in English, Korean and Japanese. Ellis said that of all the things the school has grown to do in the community since it began in 1980, the most important is always what it teaches its students, namely three core principles of respect, discipline and honor.
“By teaching respect it teaches you respect for yourself and others so that way you can go out in your community and be one of the good guys and not one ones out here starting trouble,” Ellis said to a room full of his students and their parents. “(Discipline) teaches you to practice on your own, not only that it teaches you to do things that you don’t have to be told. You shouldn’t have to be told to do you homework, to do your chores, to practice. That’s the point of the discipline.
“To me the most important thing of honor is to do the right thing when nobody is looking,” he continued.
Ellis has been in charge of the school for the last year in preparation for Jeter’s retirement. He started in martial arts at 9 years old, and at 15 his grandmother brought him to Jeter to set him straight after he had gotten into some trouble following the death of his grandfather, even considering dropping out of school.
He stayed with it for four years before leaving to start a family. Ellis has now been with American Tae Kwon Do for six years, even bringing his family along. He earned his black belt alongside his oldest son, Connor, in October.
Jeter said Ellis has been like a son to him over the course of his training. He said he will be around when Ellis assuredly hits roadblocks in the future. Jeter is also required to be present for testing of students until Ellis reaches the 2nd Dan (the next level of black belt) which he can’t test for for six years. Jeter will also be a judge at events as called upon by friends.
“I feel confident in (Ellis’) ability to teach,” Jeter said in an interview. “It wasn’t like I just dropped it in his lap, we worked his way into it.”
At the signing ceremony, Jeter stopped to make sure that everyone took a moment to think of Hadley Gardner, one his students who couldn’t be there due to coming down with pneumonia, a gesture indicative of the close relationship he has with his students. He said he is hesitant to leave all of them.
“I have got a big family — a huge family — and I’ve never regretted a moment of the years I’ve put into this,” Jeter said. “These kids, when they come to me, they’ve been abused or hurt by bullies. Some of them their parents are just trying to find something for them to do.”
Jeter is part of four generations of martial artists. His great-grandfather and grandfather studied Tai Chi, his father mastered Kempo, and Jeter himself has reached the level of 5th Dan black belt, studying, Akido, Bushido and Tae Kwon Do. He has promoted 42 black belts in his career.
Jeter’s master was Choe Il Chung, the head of security for the Korean Embassy in Japan.
“I think he would be proud because I’ve kept my oath,” Jeter said of how he thinks his master would view his career. “Part of the oath we take … is that they must not ever allow the art of Tae Kwon Do to die out … I think I’ve more than accomplished that.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]