By ARNEWSSeptember 18, 2008
WOODBRIDGE, Va. (Army News Service, Sept. 17, 2008) -- Martial arts legend Chuck Norris and Ultimate Fighting Championship celebrity Matt Hughes may have some company in the history books.
Hank Minitrez, a Department of the Army Civilian and former Army non-commissioned officer, has been nominated as the 2008 Instructor of the Year for induction into Black Belt MagazineAca,!a,,cs Hall of Fame.
HeAca,!a,,cs competing against other martial arts instructors from around the country and, if he receives enough votes, could join Norris, Hughes and other big names in what is deemed one of the martial arts communityAca,!a,,cs most prestigious halls of fame.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs very humbling to be nominated, not just because of who IAca,!a,,cm competing against, but because IAca,!a,,cm the only American instructor in a school franchise owned and operated solely by Korean masters who are simply awesome,Aca,!A? said Minitrez, who is a master-in-training. Aca,!A"To be recognized by them, not yet being a master myself, is an enormous honor.Aca,!A?
By day, Minitrez serves in the Pentagon as deputy chief of Public Affairs for the deputy chief of staff, G-1, Human Resources Policy Directorate. He spends the day talking to the news media and trumpeting the Army story.
But nearly every evening and Saturday morning, he hangs up his suit and tie, dons his martial arts uniform, wraps his third-degree black belt around his waist and hits the mat. ItAca,!a,,cs a routine heAca,!a,,cs followed for the last four years.
Aca,!A"Instructor Hank is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever seen, so it was a pleasure for me to nominate him and ask everyone to vote for him,Aca,!A? said Sang Gu Kim, Tae Kwon Do grandmaster and founder of eight TigerDen Martial Arts locations in Northern Virginia. Aca,!A"His high energy, love for teaching and how he relates to students of all ages inspires me and the masters at all of our branches.Aca,!A?
Minitrez teaches an average of four Tae Kwon Do classes a night. Each class is divided by age and ability level. Each night of the week, classes focus on a different part of the curriculum. Some nights are dedicated to kicking and board-breaking practice, others for self defense and some nights are just for sparring.
Aca,!A"When I first moved to the DC area, I really wanted to get involved in the community and with youth,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"I thought of many ways I could do that, but ironically, martial arts wasnAca,!a,,ct even on the list.Aca,!A?
He says the credit actually goes to his daughter, 8-year-old Lyndy. It was she who helped him return to the martial arts and become an instructor, working with children. Without her, he says, he wouldnAca,!a,,ct have met his goal of being involved with kids or even be in a position to be nominated for the hall of fame.
Aca,!A"When she was born, I stopped practicing, teaching and competing in martial arts tournaments,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"I wanted to always be home for her as her dad.Aca,!A?
Deep down though, he hoped when she was old enough, his daughter would follow in his footsteps and take up the martial arts.
Aca,!A"Her mother and I agreed weAca,!a,,cd never force her into an activity she didnAca,!a,,ct want to do,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"We vowed never to live vicariously through her.Aca,!A?
As Lyndy was growing up, she never knew her dad had spent the better part of his life as a practicing martial artist. His uniform, belt and gear collected dust in the closet until one fateful day after having just moved to Virginia from Germany.
Aca,!A"We used to pass by the Tae Kwon Do studio on the way to the grocery store,Aca,!A? explained Minitrez. Aca,!A"Lyndy literally begged me for three months to take her inside, because she saw all the other kids through the window.Aca,!A?
He was reluctant at first, not wanting to invest money in something his daughter might lose interest in after a short time. Lyndy persisted though, and, like all daddiesAca,!a,,c girls, got her way.
Aca,!A"We went inside to watch a class, so she could see what it was all about,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"She was awestruck and watched for an hour. I couldnAca,!a,,ct pull her away. She didnAca,!a,,ct want to leave.Aca,!A?
Minitrez signed Lyndy up that day and one week later, joined the school himself. That was four years ago. Lyndy is now a second degree black belt herself and helps her dad teach the younger students.
Aca,!A"There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling to me than the blessing of being able to do something I love so much with the one person who means everything to me,Aca,!A? said Minitrez, who is a single dad.
After just a month, Master Jong Ok Kim, the headmaster of the TigerDen Martial Arts branch in Woodbridge, Va., asked Minitrez if he could help teach classes. Minitrez accepted and has been teaching ever since.
Aca,!A"The students, especially our 3 through 7-year-old Aca,!EoeLittle Tigers,Aca,!a,,c really respond to his style of teaching,Aca,!A? said Master Kim. Aca,!A"There is something special about the way he connects with children that motivates them to listen and learn. TheyAca,!a,,cre extremely loyal and attached to him.Aca,!A?
Minitrez enjoys that connection with young children and recommends Tae Kwon Do for youngsters because, he says, martial arts fosters confidence, respect, self-esteem, discipline, patience, goal-setting and good citizenship. Those are words Minitrez said he knows well, having served the Army for nearly 19 years as both a Soldier and now a civilian employee.
Aca,!A"The tenets and philosophy of Tae Kwon Do are certainly in synch with the Army values which are great watchwords for anyone to live by,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs an amazing feeling when you quiz 4-year-olds on what respect means and they look you right in the eye, confidently, and say, Aca,!EoeTreat people as you would want to be treated.Aca,!A?
Minitrez got his start in martial arts in 1986 and cites the hit movie Aca,!A"The Karate KidAca,!A? as his sole inspiration for taking up the sport.
Aca,!A"I strongly related to the character of Daniel-san,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"I never got beat up, physically, but I was bullied and lacked the self-confidence to stand up for myself and walk tall. Martial arts saved my self-esteem and eventually, the bullies stopped coming around.Aca,!A?
Aside from Aca,!A"The Karate Kid,Aca,!A? there are other role models heAca,!a,,cs looked up to while progressing in the martial arts. Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Cynthia Rothrock and Randy Couture are among the celebrity martial artists he reveres.
He remains close to many of his past teachers and fellow martial artists who he says continue to mentor him, including Master Kim and Master Gina Tatum of Fredericksburg, Va.
Aca,!A"When I first started practicing in the 80s, I always thought it would be wonderful to one day pass on what I have learned and am still learning from inspiring people like Masters Tatum and Kim,Aca,!A? said Minitrez. Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm living that dream now not with just my own daughter, but hundreds of children who deserve and need caring, positive reinforcement and structure in their lives.Aca,!A?
It is that sincerity, devotion and genuine love for teaching others that the TigerDen masters and students hope set Minitrez apart from the hall of fame competition and allow him to claim the gold. For details on the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame voting process, log on to www.blackbeltmag.com/vote.