Fueling business with kicks: Davis teaches focus, discipline in taekwondo

Dennis Davis opened Majestic Taekwondo Academy in St. Joseph. Davis served in the military and retired from the police. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Dennis Davis opened Majestic Taekwondo Academy in St. Joseph. Davis served in the military and retired from the police. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Dennis Davis has big plans for Majestic Taekwondo Academy.The second-degree black belt opened his academy at 2538 Cleveland Ave. in St. Joseph in early May. Davis holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Baker College and has experience managing taekwondo schools.

Taekwondo, which is the art of self-defense, is recognized as one of the oldest forms of martial arts in the world. Davis has been practicing martial arts for 36 years.

Herald-Palladium staff writer Tony Wittkowski sat down with Davis to discuss how he went about starting his business.

When did you first get involved with taekwondo?

I started when I was 12 years old in Berrien Springs. They had a taekwondo academy on the main strip there as you come in from Eau Claire. It was just 15 minutes away.

Have you been doing this your whole life?

It’s been off and on my whole life. I’ve studied other forms of martial arts and self-defense through the military and law enforcement. Now that I’m retired, I want to come back to my roots.

What did you retire from?

From the police in Muskegon Heights. I was there for eight years and I was at Benton Harbor for 10 years before that.

What was it about taekwondo that made you gravitate toward it?

The focus that it taught me. I started when I was 12, so by the time I was 13 I already had it set in my mind on what I wanted to do in my life. It taught me that you have to set goals for yourself. My goal was to become a police officer.

After you retired as a police officer, what made you want to open up your own taekwondo academy?

I managed another school for the past eight years. I won’t say their name, but most people who know me know what school it is. I’ve always wanted to do this, and when things didn’t work out with me taking over at that school, I decided to open my own. I took all my savings and here I am.

What was the process like getting this started?

I have a business degree, so I had a pretty good start already on how to do it. When we were opening, Cornerstone (Alliance) looked over all my paperwork and saw everything was in check. I drew up the legal contracts and had my brother-in-law, who’s a lawyer, review those. Then I got my insurance, and since I drive by here everyday, I stopped to take a look at the place.

What are some of the main teachings you try to project to your students?

My goal when I opened this school was to make taekwondo traditional again. To preach discipline, respect and courtesy. Focus is a big one, especially with these younger kids. In my youngest class, I have a student that just turned 4. She’s below the other students, but her parents and relatives have all commented on how much better she’s doing now.

I do meditation with the kids. It’s not so they just meditate, it’s more of a way to get them to be able to sit still and settle down. They can’t make faces. They sit perfectly still. They don’t know how long it will be, but I keep adding on each time. It’s a way to refocus and gain some perspective.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 5, 2016)
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A different path: Karate instructor uses eighth-degree black belt to teach life lessons

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — As soon as Salomon Villalpando steps onto the mat and takes his glasses off, he becomes another person.

For three nights a week, the eighth-degree black belt wears his red kimono and teaches life lessons using karate.

With an insignia on his back that reads “Train Like a Champion,” Villalpando begins to stretch in front of his Wednesday night class. With his feet wrapped in black tape, the 57-year-old karate instructor bows in front of his students as a sign of respect.

It’s on that mat where Villalpando faces the many difficulties he has come across.

“Karate challenged my life and taught me to go beyond those obstacles,” Villalpando said. “Martial arts keeps me on the right trial, but God’s faith keeps me going.”

The Norton Shores resident first got involved in karate when he was 15 years old after being jumped by some kids who went to his high school.

To this day Villalpando doesn’t know why they did it, but it was the main motivating factor that got him to where he is today.

Salomon Villalpando watches as his son Caleb, 19, perform what is instructed during one of Salomon's karate classes. (Andraya Croft | MLive.com)

Salomon Villalpando watches as his son Caleb, 19, perform what is instructed during one of Salomon’s karate classes. (Andraya Croft | MLive.com)

As the son of a pastor, Villalpando went down a different path than his father – although both would encourage peace and discipline in their undertakings.

When he began at first, it was just a way to defend himself. But as he grew bigger and became faster than others in his class, Villalpando realized he wanted to teach the sport to others.

During a training session in the Norton Pines Athletic Club, Villalpando spent the majority of his time as an attacker – taking an elbow to the head, being thrown to the ground and absorbing punches to the gut – in order to help his students react and counter any attack.

By reliving his days as that bullied 15-year-old who was a little too shy and timid, he was helping others avoid those scary scenarios.

“Karate comes in a variety of ways,” Villalpando said. “There is discipline, respect and self-confidence that are all a part of it.”

Making an impact

As a result of his teachings, Villalpando receives letters from former students thanking him. He’s gone on to speak at seminars and even taught a karate class at Muskegon Community College for years.

In his 42 years in karate, Villalpando has earned more than just his eighth-degree black belt.

His injuries have been chasing him throughout his career. Villalpando has had surgery on his knees, broken his shoulder, clavicle and nose, while also blowing out his Achilles – an injury that was the most difficult to come back from.

Yet, he’s the first one to say those injuries are not a big deal because those scars are a reminder of not only his mistakes, but what he has overcome.

This is something Villalpando tries to pass on to his son, Caleb, who took up karate at a younger age than he did.

“I didn’t want to push him, but I wanted to make sure this was a part of his life,” Villalpando said. “I’m glad he stayed with it.”

His son received his third-degree black belt this summer at the age of 19. The two train constantly and have never been closer as a result.

“He’s a big influence because he got me into karate,” Caleb said of his dad. “I was quite shy as a kid and I wouldn’t come out of my shell and talk to people a lot. Karate has given me more confidence and helped me become the best that I can be.”

In his sessions, Villalpando wears his black belt snug around his waist, which exhibits eight red dashes to symbolize the degree of expertise. His name is written in small, gold letters around the rest of the belt that hangs loosely at his hip.

When he moves with speed and fluidity, the red dashes seem to blend into one single band. Amid the palm attacks, tiger claws and front-snap kicks are brief periods of relaxation and solemnity. It’s easy to see that being on that mat next to his son and the wide array of students is what makes Villalpando the happiest.

“I’ve put everything into this. This is my life,” Villalpando said, smiling afterward. “If I could do this for a living, I would.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 2, 2014)