From the victor’s epic tale to the outcast’s lament, the stories of life’s journey never cease. As biographies are built, the martial arts provide an unparalleled armor of honor, service, and courage to not just trudge through the valleys, but vanquish great mountains. Join us and witness the unconquerable spirit of incredible martial artists, whose journeys expand the vision of all who listen.
For Matt Polack, owner and head instructor at Key Martial Arts in Oceanside, Calif., discovering that the majority of his students are children of deployed military personnel was simply the chance to answer an especially unique—and important—calling.
“We’re talking six months to two years before they will get to see their kids again,” Matt says. “Especially when very young children and babies are involved, it can be a struggle to keep the memories going until their parent returns from deployment. That alone can be very stressful to deal with.”
And so Matt decided to do his part to help these military families by focusing his time and effort into not only teaching the children martial arts, but also being a support for the parent left at home.
“These parents have my personal number and can call me and my wife anytime of the night or day,” Matt says. He has also begun programs and special classes free of charge especially for military families. “And of course, we offer a military discount,” he adds with a smile.
A former Marine Corp sergeant himself, Matt entered the service at Camp Pendleton in 1998, which is located just 14 miles from where his martial arts school now sits in The Golden State.
Originally from Kent, Ohio, Matt admits he hung around a rough crowd and ended up being the only student in his group of friends to graduate from high school. “I could have gone either way in life, but thanks to a very tough karate teacher named Professor Malcolm, I went in the right direction.”
He recalls how Professor Malcolm told a then-brown belt Matt that he would kick him out of class if he didn’t start to make better choices. “He told me that he was not going to let me test for black belt,” Matt recalls. “That was exactly what I needed: Someone to be strict with me and give me some sort of structure in my life,” Matt says.
Matt went with his martial arts training, earning black belts in Tae Kwon Do, Isshinryu, and Kempo. Eventually he ended up teaching hand-to-hand combat in the Marine Corps.
It was during that time in the Marines that Matt first saw the heartbreak of moms and dads having to leave their families behind when deployed for military duty, and is also what prompted his desire to help the children and families that come into his studio now.
“You go from two parents to one. And when one child is acting out because he or she misses daddy, and you have a newborn baby you’re trying to take care of as well, it’s a lot to handle,” says Matt.
Because of his own positive experience as a youth in martial arts, his service in the Marines, and his genuine concern for military families, he has found himself being the “hang in there” coach—and joyfully accepts and fulfills that role every day. “These soldiers put their lives at risk to make sure that we get to keep certain freedoms at home,” Matt says with gratitude. “The least I can do is to help them hold down the fort while they perform their duties over there.”
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