Pursuits of Happiness: Martial Arts

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Instructor Alex Mlsna of Huntingburg spars with Brogan Stenftenagel, 9, of Ireland, during an Integrity Martial Arts class at VUJ in Jasper on Dec. 17.


Alex Mlsna decided to get into martial arts because he was a runt. As a fifth-grader, he was 4 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 83 pounds.

“I was always very competitive, but small,” the Huntingburg man said.

It was right around the time the movie “The Karate Kid” came out, which may have also influenced his decision, he added.

Martial arts are defined as arts of combat and self-defense that are widely practiced as sport.

Alex, 45, grew up just outside Chicago. Those first years in martial arts, he learned the fundamentals in terms of fighting and body control. His family then moved to Kansas City, where he continued to study martial arts. During college at the University of Evansville, he fell out of practice, unaware where to study the art.

His family moved to Jasper in 2005, and Alex’s son, Drake, now 17, was a small kid just as Alex had been, so Dad decided to sign him up to study martial arts. The elder Mlsna soon discovered he missed the practice, so it became a fun father-son activity.

Soon, his daughter, Veronica, now 12, took up the sport, as did Mlsna’s then-wife, Tressie.

“It became a family thing,” Alex said. He remembers once on a family vacation when Veronica joked: “We’d be a really bad group to jump, wouldn’t we?”

Alex is a third-degree black belt; he first earned his black belt in 2014. His biggest thrill was when Drake earned his junior black belt as a 12-year-old.

Alex’s goal with martial arts was always to get his black belt, which signifies he’s mastered the basics. But he also wanted to go beyond the coveted belt.

“I want to improve myself, but moreso to help others,” he said.

In his own practice and as a teacher, Alex is picky about precision. If form is sloppy, you can get hurt.

Alex, whose day job is technical services manager at Kimball International, has led Integrity Martial Arts in Jasper for the last four years. Before that, he was an assistant at the school for 3 1/2 years.

Class meets once a week at Vincennes University Jasper, and includes students of all ages. Integrity Martial Arts’ roots are in tae kwon do, but Alex also works to blend other martial arts styles into his teaching. His main teaching goal is self-defense.

He loves seeing students better themselves in the sport, because many of them, he said, don’t realize what they can do. Not only can he see them improve physically, but their confidence also grows.

“You see when it clicks,” Alex said. “So many of them have that, ‘Oh, I got it.’”

In his own practice and as a teacher, Alex is picky about precision. If form is sloppy, you can get hurt.

At his most recent class in December, he started his students off with stretches, during which he quizzed the students on their martial arts knowledge, since the practice is also about the mind.

“I love the fact that this sport is so applicable to other things in life, mentally and physically,” Alex said.

 Alex demonstrates a kick to Bridget Goffinet of Bristow during an Integrity Martial Arts class at VUJ in Jasper on Dec. 10.

Brogan Stenftenagel, 9, of Ireland, is one of Alex’s students. He started martial arts when he was 7 or 8, and is a green belt. He loves sparring, which is when students don their various body pads and head gear and fight an opponent. The most difficult part for Brogan is a roundhouse, a special kind of kick.

Martial arts “is not a very high-cost activity to get into,” Alex said. There are session fees for classes, test fees and tournament fees if competing. Students must also purchase the traditional martial arts uniform — the dobok — and sparring gear.

But, the costs are worth it to Alex.

“It’s a life skill,” he said of martial arts. “From a confidence side to developing physical ability, to knowing how to protect yourself.”

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