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A man of the cloth, with a black belt

Tae kwon do has helped Stewart Jamison cope with cancer. He teaches the martial art, which is about more than self-defense.

By GAIL HOLLENBECK

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


BEVERLY HILLS -- This pastor really has punch.

Besides being the spiritual leader of Beverly Hills Community Church, Stewart Jamison holds a fifth-degree black belt from the Kukkiwon in Seoul, South Korea, the World Tae Kwon Do Federation headquarters and governing body.

About 20 Citrus County residents are learning the discipline from the master. Classes are held at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Jamison said his classes begin and end with prayer, and instead of Eastern meditation, students are asked to memorize Bible verses.

"Using verses and prayer works very well," Jamison said. "It eases the minds of a lot of people who are afraid their children are getting into some kind of Eastern mysticism. I reassure them that we do not do that in my classes. In fact, we in no way teach that. We center on Jesus and since I am a pastor, that is our whole focus."

Jamison gives demonstrations in churches to show that not all martial arts are based in Eastern mysticism, he said.

"In fact, a lot of them are based back to (King) David's time, when he used a staff to defend his sheep and his home."

While the date of when tae kwon do began is debatable, paintings on the walls and ceilings of tombs in Korea nearly 2,000 years old depict men using tae kwon do forms.

Jamison took a martial arts course in college to meet a physical education requirement, but seeing an article in a Cincinnati newspaper about 15 years ago actually drew him into the discipline.

"It was about a little boy in a wheelchair who was taking tae kwon do to try and learn to walk. I thought if there was any way I could help him or do anything to aid his ability, I would be glad to do that.

"So I went to the school where he was and just asked if I could help, and they asked me to study with them, so I did. I started taking the classes and became so involved with them that I began teaching them at green belt level about the same time that I was diagnosed with cancer, in 1987."

Jamison, who will be 45 this month, said the practice of tae kwon do, coupled with his faith in God's healing power, brought him through his first bout with cancer. He has had several recurrences, but daily practice and a close walk with God have been his healing source, he said.

"Tae kwon do has enabled me to relieve some of the stress due to the cancer," he said. "It has given me a positive mental attitude toward everything I've had to face because the tenets are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.

"I thought that if I was going to be a martial artist that I really needed to show my indomitable spirit and not give up."

The classes at the church are offered for free to anyone, with the stipulation that participants attend church somewhere and bring a bulletin to Jamison as proof of attendance. There is a $40 fee for each belt earned, to be registered with the World Tai Kwon Do Federation.

Men, women and children attend his classes, and range from 5 to 73 years old, Jamison said. Beginners can expect to receive conditioning before they begin, he said, and should wear loose-fitting clothing.

"You can't properly kick unless your are stretched, because we don't want to tear any muscles, so we'll do some conditioning for leg muscle stretching. We will also do some conditioning to tighten the stomach and to loosen up the arms. Then we will get into some basics so that they will learn the correct way to punch and kick. We'll teach them the forms and some free sparring as well as self-defense. A lot of women come for self-defense, and it helps to build confidence in them. We've also seen that grades improve for most children who come into these classes because of the discipline involved."

Several students in the class have earned color belts, including the pastor's three children, who have earned black belts. Jamison said he is working on his sixth-degree black belt.

"There are several color belts going all the way up to black belt, and then there are nine degrees of black belt. Once you reach fourth degree you become a master; at seventh you become grand master.

"Tae kwon do makes you aware of your own abilities. The streets of America are not getting any safer, and I would encourage you to do this so that you can feel confident in who you are and in your abilities.

If a situation happened to take place where your family was in danger, you feel as if you could protect them. It's a great discipline, and I'm a very disciplined person, so it's very good for me."

To learn more

Beverly Hills Community Church is at 82 Civic Circle. For information, call the church office at 746-3620.

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