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Real Michiana: breaking through boards and barriers

NILES, Mich. -- This week, Real Michiana heads to a Niles Taekwondo studio, where a man with incredible health challenges is breaking through boards and barriers--all with the help of his dedicated Grandmaster.

Courtesy, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and integrity make up the five tenants of Taekwondo.

It's an ancient art that's helping a once broken man break more than boards, but barriers.

“Put yourself in the position of Mr. Gillis. How many of us could rise to the occasion under that circumstance? That’s perseverance and indomitable spirit," said Fred Jaronik, a retired South Bend firefighter and fellow student of Grandmaster Hong's.

57-year-old Ricky Gillis is on oxygen, on dialysis three times a week, is mentally challenged according to his sister, and he can't even see the bag's he beats.

"Just because I’m a blind guy don’t mean that I cannot do it. I put my mind to it, and I did it. Took me two years, but I finally got a black belt," said Gillis.

A black belt in traditional Korean Taekwondo is not an easy feat for anyone.

“The old saying the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, that’s true," said Jaronik.

Fred, now 70, has taken quite a few of those steps.

He served in Vietnam in the 60's and then on the South Bend Fire Department for more than 40 years.

“It’s rewarding inside. You grow with seeing other people and how you can perhaps maybe assist them and allow yourself to grow," he said.

Now, he sees inspiration in a man who can finally see a future with the guidance of his loving, patient teacher.

"If I teach him, he does 10 times more," said Grandmaster Hong.

The Grandmaster's office is filled with certifications qualifying him as a ninth degree black belt, which took 50 years, and giving him a legal license to teach special needs Taekwondo.

“He guides, like Mr. Gillis. He literally puts his hand on his arms and hands and guides him through it, so that’s patience and love," said Fred.

“Beyond past, there’s no one took the time with him," said the Grandmaster.

“I’ve been teased all my life," said Ricky.

“Before he started coming here, he was spending all his time pretty much sitting around doing nothing, moping around, being depressed," said his sister, Joan Hickey.

“So all I do is I listen to him and then...I can go through step by step," said Grandmaster Hong.

"I like coming here, beating on the bags, gets my frustration out," said Mr. Gillis.

"I’m here to open the door for anyone, help people like him, so I can make them happy, so they don’t sit around couch potato make them miserable ma’m. Amen!” said Grandmaster Hong.

“Grandmaster...he’s truly a master of the arts, but inside his heart is truly pure...and if anyone with Mr. Gillis’s stature can show others that they are capable of changing their life...it’s an inspiration," said Fred.

Ricky Gillis and the Grandmaster are determined to help more disabled people see that they can do it.

Grandmaster Hong started a scholarship through Bethel College a few years ago for special needs students and hopes to continue providing the aid for the forseeable future.

To hear from a mother and son about how Grandmaster Hong helped him cope with his ADHD, watch the below video.


To learn more about Hong's USA Taekwondo, click here.

To submit nominations for the next Real Michiana feature, you can email Jess at jarnold@abc57.com



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