Catawba College News Service

By Tonia Black-Gold

For the past 21 years, farmer John Peeler of Davie County has driven to the Catawba College campus on Monday and Wednesday evenings for martial arts class. But the 55-year old father of four says he hasn't participated in class simply to learn to fight and defend himself, but rather to stay in shape, keep limber and alleviate back problems.

Peeler is one of about a dozen students who have participated for more than 20 years in the biweekly Chayon Ryu martial arts classes offered on campus by Master David Mitchell, a seventh-degree black belt, and Master Bobby Knott, a fifth-degree black belt.

"The physical and mental training helps me stay limber, keeps my reflexes sharp, and keeps me healthier as I age," Peeler explains.

The classes haven't just helped Peeler, but rather they have come to involve every member of his family. His wife is a black belt in Chayon Ryu and his three daughters went through the classes.

"I enjoyed seeing them (my daughters) go off to college as more confident in themselves," he recalls.

Now, Peeler's 10-year-old son Holden is enrolled in the classes with his father, and Peeler says his son is being transformed.

"I've watched a timid young man become self-confident. There are a lot of role models in that class that I want him exposed to."

Knott's father, Catawba College President Robert Knott, helped establish the Chayon Ryu martial arts classes on campus when he was provost in 1984. He felt the Chayon Ryu system's art and philosophy would be a good fit with the college's educational mission.

Knott, who at 13 enrolled in the classes, still considers himself a student of Chayon Ryu despite his fifth-degree ranking. He is sure that his training in Chayon Ryu has helped change and positively direct his life.

Knott had had some bad martial arts experiences before coming with brown belt in hand to Mitchell's classes. "It was after those experiences of taking other martial arts classes and being physically hurt that made it so great to meet Master Mitchell," Knott recalls. "With Chayon Ryu, he (Mitchell) didn't build you up by tearing you down. He was an educator.

For the past 21 years, farmer John Peeler of Davie County has driven to the Catawba College campus on Monday and Wednesday evenings for martial arts class. But the 55-year old father of four says he hasn't participated in class simply to learn to fight and defend himself, but rather to stay in shape, keep limber and alleviate back problems. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post. "The whole focus of Chayon Ryu is higher learning, and the reason we train is to become a better person. Martial arts that stress competition are great exercise, but games come to an end. With Chayon Ryu, the education never stops."

Mitchell agrees.

"We're always trying to attain self-awareness and self-knowledge, so we can reach enlightenment," he says. "We're not a substitute for religion and religion is not taught in class, nor is politics. You can travel at your own level of fitness and this will help strengthen you."

About 80 percent of the students in class are adults "who are growing into instead of out of martial arts," Mitchell notes. "The forms and techniques taught are very old, but the way we practice has been modified so people are able to do them for a lifetime."

At his core, Mitchell is an educator. By day, he teaches fifth-graders at Isenburg Elementary, and by night, he's master (and adjunct instructor) of his martial arts classes at Catawba.

Mitchell took a circuitous route through martial arts territory before he discovered Chayon Ryu and its founder Grandmaster Kim Soo in 1973 at Kim's martial arts school in Houston, Texas.

Mitchell, who grew up in Salisbury, began training on his own at age 9 before beginning formal training in 1967 with a South Korean instructor who came to Salisbury and offered classes. He says he had the mistaken idea early on that martial arts were all about fighting. Marriage brought Mitchell to Texas, where he soon located Kim Soo's martial arts class in Houston.

Sheepishly, he recalls his first appearance in Kim Soo's class.

"I was ready to fight and win," he remembers.

He says Kim Soo seemed disappointed in him after that first encounter, until Mitchell loped up to him after class and told him he would sincerely like to train under him.

Kim Soo must have seen the diamond under Mitchell's rough and tumble exterior, because train him he did, creating a worthy student who in turn became a teacher and perpetuator of Chayon Ryu martial arts techniques half a continent away from Houston.

"We train how not to fight," Mitchell explains. "Once people have a higher level of consciousness, you realize you're only in competition with yourself and that the true enemy is inside.

David Mitchell demostrates a hold on John Peeler during Chayon Ryu Martial Arts Class at Catawba. Photo by Jon C Lakey, Salisbury Post. "Now, I'm like a shepherd with my flock and I'm very protective of them. I've come to realize that your students are the trophy and even I am the trophy of my own efforts."

To date, Mitchell, through the classes he teaches, is responsible for the training of 18 black belts, ranging from first degree to fifth degree. His two adult sons, Josh and Matt, are among these black belts, with Josh holding a third degree, and Matt, a second degree.

Practitioners of Chayon Ryu are convinced of its educational benefits, including 53-year-old Lane Graham, a special education teacher at Cleveland Elementary School who works with children diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. He's been a student in Mitchell's classes since 1984 and holds a fourth-degree black belt.

Graham, who is pursuing his doctorate in curriculum instruction and specialized education services at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has chosen Chayon Ryu as the topic for his dissertation.

"My premise is that Chayon Ryu is a complementary intervention that may have positive effects when used with other treatment strategies such as medication in children with ADHD," Graham says.

To prove his premise, Graham is in the progress of monitoring students who are enrolled in martial arts class at an undisclosed site in the county. He has biweekly contacts with these students and is also conducting pre- and post-class interviews with the students and their guardians to assess and document changes in their behavior due to the Chayon Ryu classes. He expects to have his dissertation complete late next spring.

"Chayon Ryu promotes a positive teacher/student relationship and I believe it is an effective prescription for life and living," Graham says. "It's not about fighting. It's about strengthening the whole body and mind."

For more information about enrolling in the Chayon Ryu martial arts class at Catawba, contact David Mitchell at 704-636-8809 or dmitchel@catawba.edu..