When former Springfield resident Kevin Morris received his grandmaster award in Tae Kwon Do on Saturday, he will undoubtedly was thinking about all of the teachers he has had along the way and work he’s done to get this far.
At the age of 7, Morris, now 55, showed an interest in the martial arts. He went to Dayton to visit his cousin, Larry Humphrey, who was a black belt.
“Larry worked with me … He told my mother that I would be good in martial arts, ” Morris said.
So his mom took him to see Elmer Jackson, a former classmate of his mother’s who taught martial arts in Springfield.
“Mr. Jackson told me to come back next week. So I went back, and he told me to come back next week. So the third time I went, he asked me why I wanted to learn martial arts, and he made me write it down and bring it back to him the next week. That next week, he made me stand in a riding horse stance for an hour. That’s how I got started. He was seeing how disciplined I was,” Morris said.
Jackson fostered a passion for martial arts in Morris that he would use to become one of the first black karate school owners in Springfield, as well as create a lifelong investment in learning and teaching his craft.
Over the years, he went on to teach at the YMCA, Keifer Junior High School and Wittenberg University before opening his own karate school in 1986 with a friend, Mickey Tyler. It was called the Morris and Tyler Karate School on Yellow Springs Street.
“We had that business for a few years. I wasn’t a very good businessman because I would teach for free, then I couldn’t make my rent,” he said. “But there were kids who wanted to learn so I would teach them. We would work something out like having them do chores around the building to pay for their lessons. But that didn’t help pay the rent.”
Then he opened a school with Richard Ferguson called Morris and Ferguson Karate School that was more successful financially. Other places he has served as an instructor at include CORE, the Springfield City School District, Wilberforce University, Clark State Community College and Central State University.
In 2010, he moved to Columbus and has been teaching with recreation centers there, and instructing at seminars and workshops in Cleveland. Morris teaches several styles of martial arts, including Shodokan, Jiu jitsu, Chin Na Kung Fu and Aikido.
“One of the things I want to do is to open a women’s self-defense clinic. Not only would we teach self-defense, but we’d also address health issues for women,” said Morris.
His most recent instructor was Antonio Enrique Moore from Cleveland, who died in October and was the founder and president of the World Martial Arts Hall Of Fame.
On Saturday, Morris was honored with a Grandmaster Tae Kwon Do award by one of the first students at his Yellow Springs Street school, Springfielder Ray Roberts.
“Ray was one of my first black belts. He was the only white student in a black karate school, and he’s been my student ever since. He’s also a great friend,” said Morris.
Morris trained Roberts in Shodokan, and Roberts trained Morris in Tae Kwon Do.
“I owe my success to all of my senseis, starting with Elmer Jackson at the age of 7, to Dr. Enrique Moore, Meritt Stephens and Dr. Han Shn Yu,” said Morris. “When I or any instructor teaches in the dojo, they should be teaching to seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor to excel, respect others, and refrain from violent behavior. Ultimate use of karate lies not in victory or defeat but in perfection of the character of the participant.”
What he said he’s learned from the martial arts is the three Cs: not to complain, condemn or criticize.
“God has given us all a gift,” Morris said. “My gift is to give back to the youth.”