GTPulse: The Tale of the White Tiger

In Taylor, Michigan there used to be a Taekwondo dojo on the corner of Weddel and Ecorse. Almost exactly nine years ago I was spending a Saturday afternoon there testing for my red belt. The standalone, brick building was easy to pass by. Surrounded by downriver delicacies like tired coney islands and auto repair garages containing more cars without wheels than with, Onopa’s School of Taekwondo was a place of refuge for kids raised around the wreckage. I didn’t choose to be there. Both of my brothers enrolled at a young age, and instead of drivers ed for my 16th birthday, I was given two years’ worth of Taekwondo instruction. I cried, and not tears of joy. My parents had finally found a way to truly punish me for my moody and bad teenage behavior. I bemoaned it then, but those classes would change my life. I learned how to defend myself in more ways than one. My Grandmaster instilled in me not only some sorely needed respect for others but also for myself. Other kids and teens he instructed came into that dojo on one path and changed the course of their lives after training under Grandmaster Onopa. I always thought it was a downriver thing. The kid going down the wrong path straightens himself out with the right mentor. Turns out, it’s a neighborhood redemption tale that many in the martial arts community have lived to tell.

“Some young people that have a hard time in life, you know, parents aren’t perfect…some people let that hold them down and it perpetuates the negativity. They don’t become the best versions of themselves. Or, there are people that rise above that. Well, I’ve researched and studied it. What’s the difference between those people? It all boils down to one thing. Having a mentor.”

Jim Adkins is one of those neighborhood kids, and at 55 years old, with 43 years of instruction under his belt, he’s become a mentor through sharing his love for martial arts. He grew up in Arizona and at a young age, his father passed. Through his adolescence he found himself looking for guidance.

“I had been picked on and I was emotionally unstable and fighting.”

A fan of Bruce Lee movies, when he found a hand-drawn flyer advertising martial arts classes he went to check them out. At a junior high gym, he waited for an instructor to show up.

“So I show up Tuesday. I’m there all by myself and I’m waiting. Who am I waiting for? I’m waiting for a Japanese or Chinese guy, right? And in walks a black guy. Five-foot two, six-foot with his afro. He comes up and he goes ‘hi, how are you doing? What are you waiting for?’ and I said, ‘I’m waiting for the karate instructor.’ He said, ‘I’m him’ and I said, ‘No you’re not.’”

The man asked if it was ok if he sat and waited with Jim. They talked about Jim’s life and other non Karate related life stuff. When the instructor still didn’t show, the man asked Jim if he would help him sweep the floor, and he agreed. This exact scenario went on again before Jim almost gave up on the classes entirely.

“He comes in and goes, ‘guy’s still not here huh? Wanna sweep the floor with me?’ I said yeah, so we sweep the floor. He goes, ‘are you coming back Tuesday?’ and I said no. He told me to come back and give it another chance. So I come back and he walks in with his uniform. He raised me. He took me under his wing.”

Kenpo was the first form of martial arts that Jim learned and by age 16, he and his instructor petitioned the council so he could get his blackbelt two years early. To pay for classes he helped teach them, but after receiving his black belt his Grandmaster told him to broaden his horizons.

“He told me to leave. He said go explore other stuff. Come back when you’re ready. Just go have fun with other arts.”

With the glamour of Kung Fu still in his mind, Jim indulged his curiosities about it, as well as other forms of martial arts. 

“I did Kung Fu, I did Ninjutsu, I did Taekwondo for awhile, Aikido…I found that all of those styles were lacking in what Kenpo had in self-defense.”

With extensive knowledge and background in martial arts, he spent his life teaching it to others the way it was taught to him. With patience, care and accountability. Martial arts teaches self-defense, but also self-discipline.

He has traveled all over the globe and has trained with Shaolin monks in China, and has received multiple accolades in the martial arts community. He’s also broken a record for most punches thrown in a minute.

An instructor for 43 years, he’s a 10th-degree black belt in American Kenpo, but he teaches multiple forms of martial arts at his Traverse City dojo. All ages are welcome to take classes with him, but he finds that adults are drawn to it most.

For those who are interested in something slower-paced, he also teaches Tai Chi, a slow movement, and a meditative form of martial arts that has physical and mental health benefits.

Jim is supposed to be retired, but after moving to Traverse City with his wife and teaching a few small classes, he found that instead of attendees dwindling as weeks went on, more came. He’s outgrown three buildings with White Tiger Martial Arts/Jim Adkins Kenpo Karate Studios. He has dojos in Traverse City and Kalkaska. Teaching others to protect themselves is fulfilling but his favorite part is watching the growth.

“It’s not just kicking and punching. I wanna know that you’re here to better yourself. Even if that’s not your original intention, it happens. It does. I’m spoiled rotten because I get to watch it.”

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Categories: GTPulse