NEW ULM - Growing up, Mr. David Ross was one who watched martial arts movies and wanted to emulate those actors that he grew up watching.
Eager to become the next Bruce Lee, Ross decided that he wanted to take up karate classes in Chicago at the age of nine. But learning the real thing wasn't quite like what he saw in the movies. He wasn't being taught the moves and special tricks that he saw in the movies and his interest in karate began to fade.
"My first exposure to the Marshall Arts just like any kid was through these [movies]," Ross said. "I wanted to emulate what I saw. My background stems to Chicago, and my mom put me in my first karate class, but as a kid, I didn't really appreciate it because I wasn't doing that stuff that I saw in the movies."
Mr. David Ross breaks seven cement bricks during a recent open house at Next Level Tae Kwon Do in New Ulm.
He all but gave up the sport, but after moving to Minnesota and taking another karate course at Southwest State University in Marshall, he determined that he wanted to learn martial arts, just not Karate.
He took a self-defense course with Master Lee in Marshall. There, he formed a bond with, and an admiration for, Master Lee, who taught him discipline and the desire to be a better martial arts student.
From there, he was introduced to Tae Kwon Do in 2004, which is a Korean martial art that utilizes punches, jabs, chops, and blocking moves and it features powerful, leaping kicks. After trying this out, he decided that this was more his style and more to his liking.
Beginners will achieve their first belt early in their Tae Kwon Do training starting with white and on to orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, purple trim, brown, red, and finally black. Juniors, or students under the age of 16, will earn a Junior Black Belt, or Poom. Adults earn a first degree Black Belt, or 1st Dan. Black Belts are ranked from 1st, 2nd, 3rd. A 4th degree is considered a Master Instructor. A 5th degree is a Kwan Jang Nim (or President of an Association). The 8th and 9th degrees are Grand Masters and are the highest tested ranks. The highest rank of distinction is 10th degree black belt who is considered to be a Great Grand Master.
Ross, who had played rugby before trying out Tae Kwon Do, considered himself to be in good shape prior to taking the classes. But the first couple of classes taught him that he needed to be in a different kind of shape and it was going to take a lot of hard work to get there.
"I thought I was in good shape, but you get in there and you start doing push-ups on your knuckles and some squats - I kept up pretty good, but there were some aspects where I knew I had to train harder to keep up," he said. "It wasn't a rude awakening, but it kind of opened up my eyes a bit and I realized it wasn't going to be a cakewalk."
But he didn't get frustrated, instead using his shortcomings as motivation. He'd go home and go over what he learned in class, making sure to pay close attention to details. That great attention to detail is one of the many aspects of Tae Kwon Do, and Mr. Ross was beginning to learn that as he got more involved.
Now, Mr. Ross (Mister is his current rank in Tae Kwon Do) is a Tae Kwon Do instructor who just tested for his fourth-degree black belt. After he and a friend tossed around the idea of opening a school to teach Tae Kwon Do, he eventually opened a school in New Ulm called Next Level Tae Kwon Do in which he teaches about 45 younger students the sport.
As an instructor, he teaches the students that paying attention to even the smallest details can be very big in the end.
"That attention to detail is the difference between a block done correctly or a block done incorrectly, and if it's done incorrectly, it's not going to be as effective," Mr. Ross said. "That little habit of looking for that proper defense, that small attention of detail is what took me from an ordinary Tae Kwon Do practitioner to being an instructor."
While Next Level Tae Kwon Do is currently growing every year in numbers, it was a difficult road at first. There was no one in the New Ulm area to help him with teaching the course and he had to establish the business in town, not to mention find a place to have the business.
Mr. Ross decided on the current location of 1815 N. Spring St., and his next challenge was getting more people in the area interested in the classes.
"At first, we had smaller classes, but we never gave up," he said. "One of the things that we learn in Tae Kwon Do is to persevere, to see things through, through the end and just never give up.
"When we came here, we knew it was going to be a struggle," he said. "Master Billy Joe [DeVries] had to travel from Marshall and I currently live in Mankato, so there's a little bit of traveling, but we got it done."
Ross just completed testing for a fourth-degree black belt. There are numerous belts in Tae Kwon Do that can be earned over the course of participating.
"Our students come in and they train for a month-and-a-half to two months, and then they do a belt test," Ross said. "No one tests as an individual, Tae Kwon Do is about building community and building people, and so everyone tests as a class and we test two or three times a year. As they progress through the ranks, the material gets a little bit harder, just like in real school."
Next Level Tae Kwon Do had an open house Sept. 6 for anyone interested in joining. Mr. Ross says that anyone who has any desire whatsoever to join should do so because the attention he's able to give everyone at the classes is significant.
"I had the open house Sept. 6 and I had a nice turnout, and I will be accepting students for the next few weeks as long as I can get them caught up," he said.
After joining the class, Mr. Ross said that he sees many of the students' confidence grow as they get more comfortable with what they're doing.
He also stresses that Tae Kwon Do should be used as a form of self defense, not as a means to attack someone just because you know how to use it. And he expects his students to carry themselves to a higher level of standards outside of the class, too.
"The big thing is, I try to tell the kids that Tae Kwon Do doesn't just happen on Monday's and Wednesday's or Tuesday's and Thursday's, we're expected to carry ourselves as Tae Kwon Do practitioners outside of the gym," he said. "On top of teaching them the physical aspects, I always work on the mental aspects as well."
Mr. Ross stressed that it's important to practice what you preach in Tae Kwon Do, too. Being courteous goes a long way, and he stresses that every week.
"I talk a lot with the kids, and I teach them that our actions speak louder than our words," he said. "You might know the [rules], but you also have to live them. I give them assignments to try to do, I'll tell them I want them to do three courteous things this weekend and the next week we'll talk about them."
While it may be difficult to keep up with teaching all of his students at times, Mr. Ross wouldn't want to be doing anything else. He said that Tae Kwon Do is very rewarding, not only to yourself, but to others that you surround yourself with.
"I've always been a person that believes in people, so when I have a child that's kind of leery when they first walk in that door, as they progress they start to get it," he said. "It's a big difference when they're in there and they're nervous and when you see that light go off in them, that they get it, they understand why we do it."
For more information on joining, contact Mr. David Ross at 507-304-2817.