Masters reflect on rare journeys

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Stan Keepes of Petersburg, left, demonstrates sparring with Marc Campbell of Jasper for The Herald while Dave Duncan of Holland watches at the CrossFit Discipline gym in Jasper on Monday. The three men earned their seventh-degree black belts this year and Jasper School of Tae Kwon Do Owner Ed Messmer of Jasper said it is rare to have several seventh-degree black belts at the same school.


JASPER — It’s rare for one person in a taekwondo school to reach the mark of seventh-degree black belt. And yet, three masters at the Jasper School of Tae Kwon Do recently achieved that very feat.

Only two degrees separate them from the highest level in the Traditional Tae Kwon Do Chung Do Association. Each of them humbled by the honor, The Herald spoke with the men as they reflected on their careers and the accomplishment.

Dave Duncan

Like many kids coming of age in the 1970s, he was inspired by Bruce Lee. Dave Duncan wanted to learn how to punch. How to kick. How to fend for himself.

But through the 45 years of his taekwondo career, the Holland man — and co-founder of the Jasper School of Tae Kwon Do — has discovered the philosophical benefits to the martial art. They still guide him today.

He found himself in the practice. He passed his skills on to his children. And as he grew, Duncan was drawn closer to Jesus Christ.

Taekwondo seventh-degree black belts Stan Keepes of Petersburg, left, Dave Duncan of Holland and Marc Campbell of Jasper pose for a portrait at the Jasper School of Tae Kwon Do in the CrossFit Discipline gym in Jasper on Monday. The three earned their seventh-degree black belts this year and owner Ed Messmer said it is rare to have several seventh-degree black belts at the same school.

“The most important part, being on this end of my life at 60 years old, is the aspects that are taught,” he said, “such as endurance or perseverance and respect. And never giving up.”

He began practicing taekwondo in Holland before he could drive. Back then, it served solely as an avenue for him to increase self-reliance and the ability to defend himself.

“My idea of martial arts now and then are just two different worlds,” Duncan reflected. “When you’re a 15-year-old kid, I grew up watching Bruce Lee movies and I guess my thought process then was to learn how to defend myself and just learn how to fight. Of course, martial arts is a lot more than that.”

Taekwondo sparked in him a desire to search. At first, his mindset focused on the secrets to becoming a better fighter. But gradually, that search led him back to his relationship with Jesus, and the power of his creator.

Duncan was reluctant to test for his seventh-degree black belt because he felt he wasn’t ready. But he is proud to have attained the honor. He explained that he didn’t earn it by becoming a “super-person,” but instead attained it by pushing forward even when it was hard.

“That aspect of martial arts training can carry over into areas of your life,” Duncan said. “Even though you have setbacks, you never quit.”

Stan Keepes

Taekwondo came to him when he was a young adult whose life took a twist. Stan Keepes wrestled collegiately for Taylor University in Upland, and when the program was discontinued, taking up a martial art felt like a logical progression.

Now a 55-year-old Petersburg man, Keepes continues to come back to the place he built. Alongside Duncan, he launched the Jasper School of Tae Kwon Do in 1993. The school is part of the Traditional Tae Kwon Do Chung Do Association.

Keepes likes to challenge himself and others. In his younger years, he’d focus on getting better, and now, he leans on the activity as a way to maintain a level of physical activity.

“For those of us who have made a lifetime out of it, I can’t imagine what it would be like had I not gone down this road,” he said.

Keepes — who also coached wrestling at Pike Central High School for two decades — has practiced taekwondo since 1985. He passed the craft on to his children, too, and said the philosophies of the practice have helped him in his professional life.

“I enjoyed the competition, but I really enjoyed training myself, but also challenging others to reach their potential,” Keepes said. “To strive to be better, and strive to learn something that emphasizes hard work, but also discipline and respect. That’s just always been important in my teaching.”

Both Keepes and Duncan still help out at the Jasper school, but their involvement has decreased. Still, the co-founders are proud of what their school has accomplished over the years.

More than 100 black belts have risen inside its walls, and parents have commented to Keepes how their children became more respectful and mindful after attending taekwondo classes.

Keepes will continue to train and work to get better, and he said if he is fortunate enough to be chosen by his grandmaster to test for the eighth degree, he will.

“But if not, it won’t be a disappointment to me,” he said. “I would have never thought to get this rank. And I never was involved in this for the rank. I was involved in it for the challenge, and the hard work, and the discipline that it’s hopefully instilled in me.”

Marc Campbell

He discovered taekwondo by chance. Raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Dr. Marc Campbell biked 13 miles back and forth to school after his family moved to Milwaukee.

Along that lengthy route, he noticed a sign for a taekwondo school. Campbell signed up, and about a year and a half later, in 1973, he was already a teacher at the school, training under an accomplished master.

“And it was all sheer, dumb luck,” said Campbell, 64. “I wish I could say there was some tremendous plan, but there really wasn’t.”

Fast forward 47 years, and the martial art is still an important part of his life. Campbell moved to Jasper three decades ago and works at Memorial Internal Medicine, which is an affiliate of Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center.

Marc Campbell of Jasper, center, instructs a taekwondo class at the CrossFit Discipline gym in Jasper on Monday.

Because he has been a student at various schools, Campbell has risen through the ranks multiple times — a journey that would surprise him as he retraced his steps.

“It’s amazing what you relearn,” he explained. “It’s kind of a comment on life. You think you know stuff, then as you’re relearning it, it’s like, ‘Oh, God, I forgot that.’ So, it was actually a blessing in disguise.”

Taekwondo has opened doors for him and changed his life. The tournaments were fun and it has kept him in shape. Like both Keepes and Duncan, Campbell has also handed the craft down to his children.

It’s a point of pride to Campbell that he can still kick head-high. The physicality the practice demands has also helped his tennis and racquetball games.

“I would definitely say I got more out of something like taekwondo than I put into it,” he said. “Than I would ever be able to give to it. And it’s been fun. Very practical, but fun nonetheless.”

He never thought he’d reach the seventh-degree black belt mark, either. And he is grateful for what the art has done for him.

Him, Duncan and Keepes all share a close bond. They’ve watched each other’s children grow up, and they’ve seen each other grow old, too.

“There’s something about smacking and being smacked by someone,” Campbell said. “You develop quite an affection. And I have such respect for their abilities. They just never give up at what they try.”

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