Taekwondo teacher earns high-ranking title

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, September 23, 2013

JANESVILLE--Michael Plessel has his sister to thank.

Years ago when Michael was 5, she enrolled in taekwondo classes. She showed him cool moves of the Korean-style martial art, known for its powerful kicking and energetic hand techniques.

Then he convinced her to let him join the class.

After six months, Michael's sister dropped out. Young Michael convinced his parents to let him continue alone.

Today, at 32, Michael of Janesville has achieved what few others do: The American Taekwondo Association has awarded him the distinguished status of master instructor. He is one of three people in Wisconsin and one of about 315 around the world with the title.

“It takes years of continual participation to be eligible for the title,” said Tish Kohl, a senior master with the American Taekwondo Association. “The most important aspect of eligibility is sharing the art with others. Michael is a school owner and a teacher who shares his art that way.”

Michael owns Integrity Martial Arts, Janesville. He also is a lecturer of health and exercise science at UW-Rock County.

He wants to excel as a teacher because he believes in the power of taekwondo to improve lives.

“I have lots of students who come to the school shy and unsure of themselves,” he said. “We work on leadership skills and building confidence.”

People study taekwondo for different reasons, including coordination, self-discipline and to become better listeners, Michael said.

Richard Mraz of Milton started taking classes earlier this month but already sees a difference in himself.

“I have a hip replacement and pelvic reconstruction,” he said. “It's not only been a great workout, but it also has given me a great deal more strength and confidence that I can do the things he is teaching us.”

Richard's three children also are studying with Michael.

“He is very patient,” Richard said. “The younger ones get distracted easily, but he calmly and efficiently redirects them. They are learning quite a bit.”

Since 1987, Michael's passion for the martial art has motivated him to achieve goal after goal.

At the tender age of 7, Michael earned his first-degree black belt, an achievement that took much skill and discipline.

To achieve the rank, a student has to progress through nine colors of belts by showing proficiency at each level.

Only 10 percent ever attain first-degree black belt, the American Taekwondo Association reports.

“It came naturally to me,” Michael said. “But it takes a lot of focus and discipline. You have to keep your eyes on the prize.”

He demonstrated some 46 moves in sequence, including kicks and strikes, and he performed a controlled spar with a partner, demonstrating blocking and countering techniques. He also concentrated his body's strength into the edge of his hand to successfully break two 1-inch-thick pine boards.

“Once you earn the first degree, you are not eligible to test for the second degree for a year,” Michael explained. “When you earn the second degree, you are not eligible to test for the third degree for two years and so on.”

The black belt has nine degrees.

When Michael earned his sixth-degree black belt, the American Taekwondo Association invited him to train to be a master instructor.

He embraced the challenge because he has enjoyed teaching ever since he was 12.

“It was my goal from the beginning to be a master instructor,” Michael said. “The training manual was two inches thick.”

Among the requirements, he had to read nine books about martial art philosophy and leadership skills. He wrote monthly assignments about loyalty, honor and gratitude. He took part in multiple-day workouts with highly skilled instructors.

In addition, Michael completed a nine-day fast while training in Little Rock, home of the American Taekwondo Association.

Michael, who works as a civil engineer in Madison, received his master instructor status at a ceremony earlier this year. His wife, Kristin, who teaches chemistry at UW-Rock County, and their daughter attended.

“It's an accomplishment,” Michael said. “But I just keep moving forward.”

Michael has more goals. He wants to earn a seventh-degree black belt and become a senior master instructor, which is even more advanced than his current title.

He also wants to be a world champion someday and has qualified to compete in the world championships.

“Through taekwondo, I have learned how to focus and set goals,” Michael said. “I have learned that you can accomplish anything, even something you thought was impossible.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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