Bethesda martial arts teacher helps students make it and break it
Tae kwon do master focuses on discipline and control
To inspire children to live a life of discipline, Michael Coles has found the best way is to let them break things.
The hundreds of breakable boards he brings to school career days are one of the tools the tae kwon do master uses to teach children to focus their energy and triumph over their surroundings.
"Life is all about competition," said Coles, 58, of Chevy Chase.
Whether he is staging demonstrations for hundreds of students or teaching a class of black belts at the Coles Martial Arts Academy in Bethesda, Coles teaches that the skills learned through martial arts can guide a successful life.
"It's an art to learning and it's through paying attention. It's though discipline," he said.
It is a lesson the eighth-degree black belt knows well himself.
As a teenager living in a rough neighborhood in Northeast Washington, D.C., Coles got a job washing cars to pay for lessons at the studio of grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, the man credited with establishing American tae kwon do.
Studying with Rhee and seeing his personal growth inspired Coles to resist the temptations of drugs and other vices that he saw his neighborhood friends were unable to avoid.
"I feel that if I hadn't gotten into it, I might have ended up losing out to certain things on the street," Coles said.
Coles' speedy ascent in the sport caught Rhee's eye and launched a friendship that would lead to Coles becoming head instructor and later vice president of the Jhoon Rhee Institute.
He was a competitive kickboxer in the Professional Karate Association and held the title of Welterweight Champion from 1979 to 1981 before devoting his time to teaching, owning studios in The District and Bethesda.
Since opening his studio in downtown Bethesda in 2008, Coles has trained hundreds of children and adults. His students recently raised $15,500 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in their third annual kick-athon.
For the Koretsky family, tae kwon do has become a family affair.
Tracy Koretsky was encouraged to try tae kwon do after her three children started training with Coles at his studio more than four years ago.
"Once you see other people doing it, it's something that you want to do," said Tracy Koretsky, 50, of Bethesda.
She and her sons Evan, 14, and Mathew, 12, are black belts, while her daughter Anna, 9, is a brown belt.
"I like it because my mom and my two older bothers are black belts, so they help me," Anna Koretsky said.
Tracy Koretsky has seen her children use lessons from tae kwon do to help with other sports and in maintaining good grades.
"It's a way to let them see that if you keep your structure and maintain things at a high standard, then you can accomplish a lot of things," Tracy Koretsky said.
Structure is what Coles seeks to instill in his students' lives, requiring those who seek a black belt to bring in report cards.
"Most importantly I try to always emphasize discipline," he said. "It keeps you on the straight and narrow."
By personally instructing every one of his more than 300 students, Coles hope to earn the trust and respect of each of his students the respect that was so important to him as he was training.
"I feel that it really helps me lot when I see the different martial arts makes in a person's life," he said.