Ask Grandmaster Connelly

What a great question!

I have always had a fascination with the science and technology of combative endeavors .  My father was a varsity level team boxer in high school and college, before enlisting in the service during WW II  He taught me the fundamentals and basic boxing skills. I was contact sparring with him in our kitchen by the age of 5.  Sixty years ago, western style combat sports (boxing, wrestling, fencing) were the only games available in the Midwest and Chicago, except for a few Judo clubs taught by men who had learned the art while serving in the military in Japan and Korea.  Their skill level was not high by today’s standards, at best 1st degree black belts.   However, I am grateful to these pioneers for introducing the community to Asian martial arts and sports.  They had to endure the post-WW II and Korean war hostility and suspicion toward Asians in order to practice and teach.    

In junior high, after attending a wrestling class, I had the good fortune to see a Judo demonstration by Master Byung Dae Suh at the YMCA. It was amazing!  He effortlessly overcame men twice his size who genuinely expected to dominate him in a Judo contest.  I had heard and read that the well-trained martial artist could prevail against stronger opponents, but did not believe it until after witnessing for myself how Master Suh overcame several big, capable adversaries.   I signed up for his Judo class and started my martial art journey.

Master Suh also taught Taekwon-do, popularly known back then as “Korean Karate”.  I set aside my boxing and wrestling to study Judo and Taekwon-do.  One thing that appealed to me was the honor code that we all were expected to observe both within and outside of the dojang.   As young person in western combat sports, my role models were the  “tough guys”. It was believed that they were safe because they inspired fear in conflict with potential adversaries.  I was blessed with martial art role models who were very, very capable fighters who had made conscious decisions to be respectful of others in disagreements and to use the Art to create better versions of ourselves.  I learned how to control my temper and to reserve force for extreme, unavoidable situations.  I am certain that if I had cultivated aggression and fear, my life journey would have taken a very different direction. I hope with my teaching and role modeling to provide the same gift to my students.

July 4th – Evanston Parade


Connelly’s Academy will be joining the McGaw YMCA in marching in Evanston’s 4th of July parade. We have been told that it has been rated as the #1 Independence Day parade. This is our second year of participation. Last year was fun and exciting for students of all ranks and ages. We are hoping to have even more students join for the 2016 celebration. Below are the details. Please come if you can. Happy 4th!!

We are unit number 41 and will be meeting between 12:30-1:30pm on Cowper Ave (between Harrison Street and Central Street). Please do not be late as the parade starts moving at 1:30pm.

The forecast shows that it will be 81 degrees and sunny. Please dress appropriately! I suggest bringing sunscreen and, while we will have water, it wouldn’t hurt to bring more!

T-shirts will be distributed the day of the parade but if you plan on coming to the Y before Monday, then you can ask any front desk staff for your shirts. Please note that t-shirts are in limited quantity. Don’t worry though as everyone will get a McGaw Y visor on the day of the parade!

Please note that all children should be accompanied by a parent or guardian for safety precautions.

A Living Example of Community Service, Laura Kristek Nurtures a Martial Arts Community at Kilmer Elementary

Every child is listening. Every face is turned toward the teacher. I have never seen a class more clearly excited about doing Taekwon-Do. Their instructor, Laura Kristek, is a nationally certified Special Education instructor at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago. After a full day of teaching, when the last buzzer sounds, she races to the gym to set up and change, becoming a Taekwon-Do instructor.

At the heart of Taekwon-do, is the junior-senior relationship. Just as we are nurtured by our instructor and senior students, we help and guide our juniors. Even now as I talk to her, the senior belts are leading their juniors in warm-ups.

“Charyot (attention), Kyong Ye (bow)” The children all face the flags and bow in to begin class. Asked why she likes Taekwon-Do, she talks about her personal relationship with it. “I know when I’ve been neglecting Taekwon-Do. I know when I’ve been giving it time. See, rewards take work.” She doesn’t talk about herself very much before segueing back to the children. “I like to give the kids opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

She really enjoys teaching at Kilmer because of the amazing administration, staff, and fellow teachers, but she admits it’s not always easy. “We’re challenged with needing to be flexible. It’s all very dynamic.”

Ms. Kristek’s love of teaching and Taekwon-do is reflected in her students. They literally can’t wait to do Taekwon-do. It’s easy to believe that studying this martial art helps these kids. I was more surprised though when she said “These kids are so well behaved. I am told there are some who have significant discipline problems outside of this class, but they’re so responsive here, I didn’t know.”

She returns to the idea of having a personal relationship with Taekwon-Do. “When I don’t do it, I miss it, like I would miss a person.”

I observe one girl’s spirit as she punches a bag, I don’t doubt these kids would miss it, too.”

As class comes to a close, the children face the flags again to bow and then face Ms. Kristek herself.

“Charyot, Kyong Ye”

Rachel Jacobs is a freelance writer, mother and First Degree Black Belt in Taekwon-do.

The Health Benefits of Taekwon-do by Tessa Fischer, M.D.

Taekwon-do as practiced at Connelly’s Academy is an ancient art that brings health benefits to the body, mind and spirit of the contemporary practitioner. I have been studying for 24 years and, at age 66, I hope to continue for at least 10 years or more, to be limited only by serious injury or illness.

Although a very vigorous form of aerobic exercise, from the beginning, students are taught and encouraged to keep themselves and their fellow students safe. On the physical level, this means techniques that avoid injury, including non-contact sparring and proper form. If proper form and timing are attended to, students are unlikely to suffer joint injuries, fractures or serious contusions. As a female student, I really appreciate this attention to safety.

The vigor of repeated and careful techniques also builds strength and stamina. Part of every technique involves attention to breathing, another factor that contributes to health. Working in groups and with partners also encourages us to persevere in our practice. There is another component known as reaction force, which helps to balance and strengthen technique by a principle of equal and opposite movement.

From a mental health point of view, Taekwon-do practice which embodies the tenets of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and the indomitable spirit, encourages focus, concentration and attention. The tenets carry into everyday life in ways that I have found extremely useful in many areas and with many challenges.

Kicking, punching, blocking, and vocalizing to focus power are also great stress relievers.

Leadership is encouraged among all students, and is defined not by age or gender, but by experience with the practice. Accordingly, many of our “seniors” are young people. The community around the academy is extremely supportive and kind. For me, part of the attraction is seeing students progress for years, become friends with one another, mature and go on to achieve their goals in education, arts, music, martial arts and careers.

Finally, spiritual strength can be nurtured and enhanced by the practice. Without any particular religious connection, the process of attempting, progressing and then demonstrating proficiency is spiritually elating, if not enlightening. Ask any student who has accomplished a board break or mastered his/her high pattern.

There is also a brief meditation and breathing session at the end of each class. Students are encouraged to center themselves throughout the class, particularly as basic techniques are practiced.

Class, like other spirit-soothing places, is an opportunity to leave our outside lives behind for a brief time.

To sum this up, I would strongly encourage anyone who has an interest to try a class. Join your friends or family members or try it alone. You will always be welcome.