Heroes. I always thought that a hero was someone who did something brave and dangerous in the furtherance of a common good. But hero means much more than my long held one-sided view. One dictionary definition of a hero is that of a man or a woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his or her brave deeds and noble qualities. Yes, there’s bravery and courage in this definition but there are also the words—noble qualities. And having noble qualities does not have to be associated with courage or bravery. In fact, noble, in this regard generally means possessing outstanding qualities. So, a hero doesn’t have to leap tall buildings, fly faster than a speeding train or be able to stop a bullet in its tracks and they don’t even have to wear a cape either. A hero can be someone who possesses outstanding qualities. But just possess them? Not hardly, a hero has to do something spectacular with those outstanding qualities.
Do you have a personal hero? I mean a hero on a personal level—not a politician or a historical figure but someone who was a hero to you, personally? For me, personally, there is an interesting dynamic as my brother literally saved my life when I was eight years old so he has to be on my hero list—how can someone who saved your life not be, however, I’m going to talk about someone quite different than this traditional heroic act as my hero. I’m going to talk about a hero in my life that used their noble qualities to perform a truly heroic act. I wonder if you think hard enough about your life whether you may recall or realize someone who was a hero in your life, perhaps someone you never thought was actually a hero.
For me, I go back to my senior year in high school to find my hero. I was at a precarious time in my life as I was running with a bad crowd and had terrible lack of belief in myself scholastically and actually, in most things of importance. I really felt that I was going nowhere and I was going to be a loser for the rest of my life. I didn’t think much about it and I felt that I was okay, but I was just that, okay, and that I would be an unhappy and unsuccessful person the rest of my days. I had completely accepted the fact. I figured that if I could con or fool my way through life that I’d survive and get by, but just get by. I was sure that this was my lot in life—survival and maybe a few laughs along the way, but no more.
My senior year in school I was placed into a work program that focused on marketing and sales along with math, english and some school basics. During the morning I’d do some very basic scholastics and after noon, I’d get trained about the working world and have to get a part-time job as well. I was one of those kids that the powers that be thought would have to learn a skill quickly to get through life.
So, the first day that I showed up for this special class I met Mrs. Gronick. She was about 45 years old, kind of tall and she talked slowly and clearly. She seemed to be just like the average teacher in our large Ohio school district. But soon after she talked to me I noticed something different about her. I noticed that when she looked at me and when she talked to me, she seemed to accept me and seemed to think of me as just as good as anyone else, seemingly, even the best students around! I didn’t see any restrictive or judgmental label in her eyes when she talked with me. I remember thinking, that wait a minute teacher . . . don’t you know that I’m a loser, don’t you know that I’m dumb and I’m not going to be able to do anything much with my life. Why aren’t you just telling me what to do and then quickly turning away like everyone else does? But no, she never showed that to me. On the contrary, when she talked and directed me she did it with the utmost belief that I’d do what was needed and if I failed, no big deal, we’d get up again and do it again until we (me) get what we had coming, which was success. Never did I see any doubt in her eyes about me. Never!
During that senior year, I never realized what Mrs. Gronick actually did with me. It would be many years, and actually a decade or two to see what she did in my life. That senior high school year was the first year that I got all A’s and B’s and I started believing in myself. She started something that a family member built upon, but she was the first person outside of family who unconditionally taught and believed in me. She somehow knew that I mattered as much as the best boy or girl in school and that I had absolutely no limitations.
Since high school, many things have occurred in my life. Many failures, tears and tribulations. However, Mrs. Gronick’s foundation of heroic acts have stuck in my heart just as if someone had crazy glued them to me! I have done much teaching myself—never wanting to be a teacher mind you, but just kind of falling into most of it, but something interesting occurs in my teaching and in retrospect, I wonder if my hero has a hand in it.
Many years ago I took over part ownership of a small martial arts studio. One of the owners was moving to Chicago and the remaining partner needed a teacher to help him. It was a great opportunity for a young guy so I jumped at it. Soon after I said yes to the proposition, both partners showed me around and quickly explained some basics about some of the students. Things like this female has been here for two-years, this one for one-year and so forth. But, when they got to one young man—about 20 years old, they both said that he was hopeless, that he couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time, that he was a lost cause. I remember thinking, how interesting for someone to be labeled so negatively, but I didn’t buy their assessment. And to make a long story a bit shorter, after about a year of working with him, he became the best student in the class—by far. Yes, I believed in him. Yes, I knew that he was just as good as me, you and the next guy. Yes, I knew that he could be great. And John, became just that. In fact, he became a little arrogant!
I’ve never stopped teaching any different than how I did with that student many years ago, Whether teaching college level academics to martial arts I have always believed, always known that the human potential is phenomenal. And when someone can tap their human potential with or without the help of a teacher, they can succeed.
Interestingly, about a year ago I was at a martial arts studio where I was helping with some management and administrative duties when several instructors told me about one of the students there. They said that the 30 something year-old male was terrible, that he simply did not have what it takes to improve and that they have just learned to live with it. There were three of them and they kind of smiled in frustration but in complete belief that the guy was a lost cause–that the student’s lot was one of a bad martial artist, and there was no way to change that fact.
It’s not often I lay the law down or get real serious with reasonable people and all these instructors definitely were reasonable and good teachers as well. But here, I became steely serious as I told them with a stern tone that there is no human who is a lost cause, that I have never met a man or woman who couldn’t be an exceptional martial artist if taught correctly and if their potential was correctly tapped. Furthermore, I told them that I did not want to hear that untrue assessment of him anymore and that they can help make him be accomplished and successful. That they need to look him in the eye and see and believe in his potential. That they need to look at him as a unique individual with a vast amount of potential that must be unlocked, if he was to be good. I told them that they must believe that and go out and make it happen. Well, they did. He improved immensely and is still on the path of moving up but his improvement shocked them all. Not me, though. Thanks Mrs. Gronick, you rock!
Steve's a three-time survivor of violence in his youth and was an award winning police officer.
For several years, Steve also did radio political and current event commentary and taught college Criminal Justice. He is the former host of the long running 'The Kovacs Perspective' Internet radio talk show.
Presently, Steve is the owner and Managing Director of one of the oldest martial art schools in Ohio, 'The Mayfield Academy of Self-Defense'.
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