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Empower Fitness and Martial Arts Dojang, Dee Why
Like many martial artists who started in the 70’s, I was influenced by the action of Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” and David Carradine’s “Kung Fu”. My life-long obsession with martial arts started by training in Go Ju Karate with Merv Oakley in Brookvale when I was 13 years old, then at 20 moved on to Tae Kwon Do in 1981 with the AFTA at Macquarie University. Then in 1997, with a group of like-minded martial artists, started the IMT in NSW. We now run adults and kids taekwondo classes at 8 locations.
I’ve always been broad-minded regarding my influences in the martial arts – it’s a bit like the “who’s who” in the industry. The ones that stand out: Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (multiple styles), Bill “Superfoot” Wallace (Karate), Professor Don Jacobs (Jiu Jitsu), Professor Jihan Jae (Hapkido), Maurice Smith (kickboxing), Chai Sirusuite (Muay Thai), Grand Master Kwak (Tae Kwon Do), Master Callagari (freestyle Tae Kwon Do) and many others that I’ve met along the path that we call the martial artist’s journey.
I see myself as an innovator, blending my years of experience in martial arts and yoga to develop and tune the body to the highest possible level. With this knowledge I help my students achieve their goals and never stop learning and improving my technique and understanding of the arts.
Read Grand Master Ron’s 7th Dan essay: Ron Do (My Way)
An Interview with Ron Claassens 6th Degree Black Belt Taekwondo
By Deborah Jeffreys
How old were you when you started training in martial arts?
I was 13 when I started training, that style was Go Ju Kai Karate with Sensei Merv Oakley in Brookvale, NSW.
What made you decide to train?
I was a big kid and was being bullied and couldn’t stand up for myself, I need to develop confidence and improve my self-esteem.
How did your training affect your life in those early days?
As soon as I started training I knew this was what I wanted to do, It was a very hard style, with the spraining pretty much full contact – no mouth guard or extra protection for your head or body just little canvas mitts to cover your knuckles. Training was the same every night so many push ups and sit ups so many punches same kicks and Kata (forms) then we would finish of with a sparring session where the senior belts got to give the junior belts a serious hiding. I m sure this was to see weather you had what it takes, I did I wasn’t going anywhere this was character building. I’m sure this is why I am the way I am, strong roots and strong basics to give good foundation. I did this style for more than 3 years then had a small break to do my HSC, then started TKD when I was 20 at Macquarie University with the Australian Freestyle TKD Academy (AFTA).
Can you tell us something about your marital arts background?
I stayed with the AFTA for 16 years till I received my 4th Dan, then 2 years later it was time to move on, I joined a like minded master from Qld. who had also left the AFTA and formed the Institute of Modern TKD (IMT) with 10 other instructors in NSW till present.
What martial arts have you trained in other than Tae Kwon Do?
Apart from Karate and TKD, I have trained in most styles to add a modern approach to our style of TKD. Muay Thai and Boxing stand out as I train these the most, as these styles compliment TKD the most. I trained in an amateur boxing centre in the country (Woodburn) for 8 months, and travel to Thailand every year to train Muay Thai at our sister Gym in Phuket. I have trained Ninjitsu with Wayne Roy, JuiJitsu with Professor Don Jacobs and Grandmaster Jihan Jae, Kick Boxing with Bill “Super foot “ Wallace, Benny “the Jet “ Urquidez, Master Chiai Sirusute, Peter “Sugar foot” Cunningham and Maurice Smith. I have also trained Kung Fu with John Dollic Shaolin Northern Long fist and in Hunan- China with the Shaolin monks Black Tiger form. Presently I train Hapkido with Master Kevin Brown and Haidon Gumdo Korean Sword with Master Jang.
Clearly you must feel there are benefits to cross training. What do you think they are?
Following the footsteps of the great martial arts pioneer Bruce Lee “absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is uniquely your own “ All styles have something to offer but first you must Master a style to get a good foundation.
Why do you think you’ve ended up concentrating on Tae Kwon Do recently?
I love TKD, kicking is my specialty, the ITF Hyung are very challenging as well as the WTF Black Belt Poomse are really cool as well. I still like to do other stuff because to keep fit you must train and to teach you must be taught.
Who are your greatest influences in martial arts and why?
My greatest influences in martial arts are the legends of martial arts movies Bruce Lee- Enter the Dragon, David Caradine – Kung fu series, Jackie Chan – Half a loaf of Kung Fu, Jet Li – Kiss of the dragon, Jean Claude van Dame – Kick boxer. Plus the legends of martial arts, my Modern day Masters, Grand Master Kwak TKD, Grand Master Lee TKD, Master Kim TKD, Master Kevin Brown Hapkido, Master Mat Geister Hapkido, Master Jang Haidon Gumdo, Master Kang Gongkwon Yusul, all these guys inspire me to go on and keep learning, as there is still so much to learn.
When did you set up the Institute of Modern Tae kwon-Do and why?
We set up the IMT in 1998 to set up a co-operative of 12 clubs where everything was transparent and we all put into the company to make it grow and develop our style and our branding.
Can you tell us more about the club?
We are an organisation that has set up a strong curriculum, as well as a high standard and to maintain that standard, we have to adapt to new training methods and technology.
How has the club developed since those early days?
We have actually shrunken in size from 300 plus students to 200 this is mainly due to our smaller satellite schools in Nowra, Bathurst, Newcastle and Central Coast closing their doors due to lack of students.
What kind of training do you offer?
We offer a broad training- covering many aspects of martial arts, personal development, pad drills, fitness, flexibility, patterns, self defence scenario training with strong realistic sparring.
Who is the club open to?
All styles and abilities are catered for, we encourage students from other styles of TKD to come along and taste traditional TKD. The way it was taught to the army of North and South Korea by General Choi the father of ITF, with a modern approach.
You have clearly dedicated a huge portion of your life to martial arts. To developing yourself and others. What keeps you training? And what keeps you teaching?
To coin a phrase “Budo” the martial way is what its all about. To constantly improve oneself mentally and physically, whilst in the pursuit excellence. The path up Budo Mountain is long and winding with many distractions and tribulations along the way. It is the guidance of those that have travelled before you as well as the fellow travellers on the path of Budo that keep you going. Also to give back what has been given to you, to so many and see how much TKD has enriched their lives. This keeps me training, teaching, breathing it’s the passion in my heart. It’s much more than a hobby or sport it’s a lifestyle.