A Martial Arts Success Story

by Keith Hafner

So – this puny kid from Dexter fights his way to the highest levels of the Martial Arts…and dedicates his life to sharing Ancient Secrets with the Ann Arbor community!

So…how did that happen? I’m gonna tell you…in just a minute.

I grew up just down the road from here, in Dexter. I was a gentle kid…not very aggressive, and sort of puny. I was often afraid. As I became older, I had a lot of friends and did well in sports. On the outside, I probably didn’t look like I was scared, but still, I really was.

Then, when I was in high school, along with a friend, I joined a Tae Kwon Do club that had started up in Dexter. I trained and practiced…and my Martial Art skills began to develop. And, I began to notice changes in how I felt. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid anymore!

I grew up around a lot of tough guys in Dexter…and suddenly, they didn’t seem so tough anymore.

During college (MSU), I continued to train in the Martial Arts and earned my First Degree Black Belt. When I graduated, instead of going to work as a school teacher, I went to work at my Martial Art school, as a Tae Kwon Do teacher. Within a year, my teacher, Grand Master Sell, wanted to move to Florida.

Although I knew very little about business, and was only a Second Degree Black Belt, I bought the school from Grand Master Sell in 1979. I was 22 years old, had a wife named Renée, a son named Jason, and another baby (Ian) on the way. The school was then called ‘The Academy.’ I ran it the best way I knew how and continued to teach in the way that I had been taught.

Then, one day, something happened that changed my life forever!

It’s 1985. It’s a beautiful summer morning and I’m walking across a field.

I’m going to tell you what happened…but, first…how many of you have seen ‘The Karate Kid?’ Just about everybody has, right? Remember the bad Karate school? Well, if you take away the Hollywood haircuts and the straight teeth…that was us.

At that time, there was quite an emphasis on ‘hard core’ training, and lots of people got hurt. The lessons were very hard, the teachers were severe, and less proficient students were often discouraged and would eventually quit. Today, we would describe ‘The Academy’ as a ‘fighting school.’

Anyway, it was a beautiful summer day. We were having a huge outdoor workout in a local park. I’m walking across a field, toward the workout, watching the class that’s being taught by one of my Assistant Instructors.

My sons, Jason and Ian, were in the class. They were 6 and 5 years old. The teacher was being very harsh and unfriendly. Ian, my 5 year old, became frightened and started to cry. I ran and got my son out of the class.

With a sad heart, I dried Ian’s eyes, and, for the first time, saw my own program through the eyes of a parent.

And I hated what I saw.

This experience had a profound impact on me. I began to review, to scrutinize, everything we had done for the past six years. I could see that my school taught in a way that was so different from the way I taught my sons at home.

I began to understand that the Martial Arts should be taught in an atmosphere of friendship and safety. I knew that learning self-defense was fine…but that real self-defense was achieved by the development of a student’s personal skills.

Self Confidence. Self Discipline. Courage. Focus. Positive Thinking.

I began to envision a program that would not just teach the students about those behaviors…but one that would actually motivate them to use those skills…to be more effective at home and at school.

And at work.

That’s right. It soon became obvious that this unique and powerful approach could be used to improve and enrich the lives of adults as well as children. Grownups could work on their personal skills while learning self-defense…and getting into shape. And they would find themselves empowered to pursue their life goals with confidence!

So, I figured this out, and it was smooth sailing…right? Everything immediately fell into place…?


Everybody hated it! And – I don’t blame them. This new mission…we stunk at it!

And so began the biggest fight of my Martial Art career…and it wasn’t in the competitive ring.

It was with the Martial Art community…it was with my own staff…it was even with my own students.

It would have been easier, much easier, to go back to what we were doing before.

But can you picture a bulldog who has a death grip on somebody’s pant leg? That was me. Even though, at first, I was the only one who could see the vision I was moving toward.

And, then, truthfully, the next big fight was with myself.

I could see it…I just didn’t know how to make it work. It was clear that I was going to need a ton of skills that, at the time, I did not have.

So here’s what I did. I read. I studied. I attended seminars. I sought and found mentors. I traveled around the country for 25 years.

I worked while others were playing. I studied while others slept. And I practiced and applied what I learned.

And – I failed. I stumbled…again and again.

And, time after time…I got up off the mat.

And, slowly…I built my skills

And, slowly…the vision became more clear.

And, slowly…I began to build a team of others who could see it.

So – what exactly could we see? What, exactly, was this vision?

Well, I was convinced that there were people in our town who were eager to create bigger, better futures for themselves.

More than that.

I knew that there were people in our town who were desperate to create bigger, better futures for themselves.

That desire is good. It’s a great place to begin.

A person might have a burning desire for a better life…but they’re gonna need some tools. They are gonna have to build some skills. They are gonna need somebody to point the way. And without coaching, that motivation will die.

This was the vision….that we would bring the lessons of courage, confidence, and self-discipline…the ‘Ancient Secrets of the Martial Arts’ to a hungry, to a desperate community.

Now, I’ll admit this. This isn’t for everybody. There is a part of our community that doesn’t see their future that way. This is not for them.

But our passion lies in this: In our community, there are parents who are really hoping that we can make a difference for them, for their kids…parents who really need us. Parents who have no other place to turn.

Here is what I believe…I believe we’ve got the greatest product in the world. I believe this is work that matters.

I believe, I know, that I didn’t choose this plan. This plan chose me. I never saw any other life for myself than this.

To me, the greatest thing in the world is to get up every day and go to work in a Karate school.

How many of you know, or have heard, our Student Creed? The final line is, ‘I’m on a quest to be my best.’

I’ve been on a quest my whole life. This is my journey. This is my destiny…to bring the benefits…the ‘Ancient Secrets of the Martial Arts’…to our community.

It’s easy to sum up…Karate is good for you!

So, how did this puny kid succeed? Here’s how. If my teacher said to do one hundred repetitions, I did one thousand. If my competitor did one hundred, I did one thousand. Did I have a talent for the fighting arts? Maybe. But many others had more. What I did: I worked while others slept. I ‘out-repped’ them all.