MUSCATINE – Earlier this month, retired martial arts teacher Jesse Valenzuela began a collaboration with Muscatine High School through the opening of the school’s first ever martial arts club. In only a short amount of time, the club has proven to be a positive influence on students, with it growing from five students to 15 students in only three weeks.
“We do it during what they call Muskie Time, which is from 10 to 10:30 a.m.," Valenzuela said. Every kid who is serious and wants to stay in the club has a goal to reach and terminology they have to learn so that they can then go on to earn their ranks.”
Within the club, testing every two to three months gives students a chance to earn a different color of belt, from white belt to black belt.
Prior to starting this club, Valenzuela taught taekwondo for 15 years, previously owning his own martial arts studio where he helped kids not only improve their skills but also learn discipline as well as respect. Taking this experience, Valenzuela said that he is able to run the club in the same successful way that he ran his studio.
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Valenzuela said that retiring from both his studio and his job with HNI, he thought that starting a martial arts club would not only be an opportunity for him to continue working but to also help kids, just as he had before.
“I brought it up to the high school administration and gave a whole presentation with former students of mine on video talking about how (martial arts) had helped them in their lives and their careers, and the administration thought it was an excellent idea that would help kids immensely, especially kids who are still searching for themselves,” Valenzuela said.
Another reason why Valenzuela said he wanted to do the club during school time was because he knew that while some kids may want to pursue martial arts, not all of them may have the time available after school or the money needed in order to sign up for classes. For him, he wanted to give this equalizing opportunity to all high school students who had an interest in martial arts.
Because the Martial Arts Club is held on school property, the rules of MHS still apply within the club, something Valenzuela makes very clear to his students. Additionally, only students who are passing their classes and getting to each of their classes on time are allowed to join/stay in the club.
“In my classroom, they can choose to come and schedule their Muskie Times during that portion, but if a teacher says that they can’t have a certain student join because they’re failing something like math, then that student has to go to math instead,” Valenzuela said.
With these guidelines, the club has helped pushed some of its students in a new positive direction, inspiring them to work hard on their schooling and make it to school on time so that they can keep doing martial arts. In the time since the start of the club, Valenzuela recalled how several students have come up to him and shared how their students have improved their classroom performance, in addition the improvements he’s seen within them himself.
“Having goals and the ability to move up in rank empowers these students to then do better outside of the martial arts club. It also offers kids an opportunity to be organized and actually think about what they want out of school,” he said. “Every now and then, a kid just needs a nudge in the right direction, and to get them to do something that they enjoy empowers them even more.”
For students who wish to join the club or who are curious about it, they can email Valenzuela for more information through the Muscatine School District email system or they can stop by the class during Muskie Time.