Author Archives: admin

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Craig Kimbrel

Category : Success Stories


     “Taekwondo gave Craig the self-discipline and confidence to achieve.” – Sandy Kimbrel

     Previously with the Atlanta Braves, Craig is now a relief pitcher for the San Diego PadresHe was awarded The National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2011.

Craig began training with R.E.A.D.Y. at the age of seven, and continued through high school. Under the guidance of Grandmaster Smith Craig reached as high as Second Degree Black Belt, before dedicating his time fully to baseball. Craig’s 46 saves in 2011 is a National League and Atlanta Braves record for a rookie pitcher.

Craig’s mother Sandy feels that goal-setting, patience, and respect were among the key traits that Craig gained from his participation in Grandmaster Smith’s program.

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The Ethics of Tae Kwon Do

Category : Press

Martial arts can work wonders with inner-city middle-schoolers, says Freddie Magee, principal at Fair Plain Middle School, even raising their grades

By Scott Aiken
H-P Staff Writer

BENTON HARBOR — Early on a weekday morning, students at Fair Plain Middle School head into the gym, drop their backpacks along the bleachers, then sit on the floor in loosely formed rows to wait for their instructor.

After a few minutes Alvin Smith, a grand master in tae kwon do, the famed martial art that originated in Korea, calls the 70 boys and girls to their feet.

Conversation stops. The rows quickly straighten and all eyes are on Smith’s imposing figure.

Smith leads the students through short drills to start — a series of commands and responding moves. He booms out questions, each answered with “Yes, sir!” shouted in unison.

After more drills the session ends, and the students head to their next class.

Since the start of the semester in September, tae kwon do has been a presence at Fair Plain. It’s one of several related arts classes students can take as an elective. About 100 students participate.

While tae kwon do’s punching and kicking may be the hook that gets kids interested, they learn discipline, respect and ethics along the way.

School officials already see a positive effect. They hope to duplicate at Fair Plain the results experienced at Hull Middle School, where tae kwon do classes have been held since 2007.

“We were the worst school in the state,” said Freddie Magee, who was principal at Hull when the program began. For six consecutive years the school had failed to meet adequate yearly progress goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

With the blessing of district administrators, Magee worked with Smith to turn an after-school tae kwon do program into a regular class.

The class, along with the use of intervention techniques aimed at troubled and undisciplined youths, turned things around. Hull met AYP requirements last year.

“It worked wonders at Hull,” said Magee, now principal at Fair Plain Middle School.

While some new tae kwon do students are rebellious, most come around and respond to Smith and his assistants, and gain a sense of pride in what they’re accomplishing, said Magee, who holds a black belt.

Finding Control
Many of the students grew up in single-parent families and did not learn self-discipline or how to control anger, Magee said. They can gain those attributes through tae kwon do.

Smith, who operates his own school, R.E.A.D.Y. Taekwondo Academy in Benton Harbor, has donated his services free to the school district, but the students need uniforms.

A United Way grant of $30,000 annually for three years will provide some funding, but money will not be available until January.

Magee said the district hopes to raise $9,000 in donations to provide a distinctive white uniform, called a dobok, to each student at Fair Plain and Hull.

The Upton Foundation, Berrien Community Foundation and First Chance, formerly the Citizens for Progressive Change, have provided funding.

Tae kwon do is a form of unarmed combat that demands physical and mental conditioning.

Magee describes it as energy. He said teaching tae kwon do can be particularly effective in connecting with middle school students, who are in grades 6-8.

“It’s so easy for them to do the right thing,” he said. Many need only a nudge.

The class is open to all students, and those with behavior problems are encouraged to sign up.

Grades and success in school are a central part of the program. The school district provides Smith with progress reports on students enrolled in tae kwon do, and problems are addressed.

At a recent meet at Smith’s R.E.A.D.Y. school, students seeking advancement to the next level, signified by a different color belt, were questioned individually about school performance.

“Discipline is lacking,” Smith told one student, giving him two weeks to improve.

During that time, the youth must show his teacher that he is correcting the problem or he cannot advance. Other students were praised for doing well and meeting objectives.

Magee said students strive to improve because they want to continue their tae kwon do training.

“They don’t want to drop this,” he said.

Staying out of trouble
Wes Smigielski, a Benton Harbor police detective, said Smith’s work helps steer youths clear of trouble.

“There are some kids in (the tae kwon do classes) that I don’t see on the street anymore,” Smigielski said. “It’s helped me out quite a bit.”

The 59-year-old Smith grew up in Eau Claire, where he was drawn to the martial arts at an early age, in part because of the popular television shows and movies featuring masters like Bruce Lee.

He was particularly interested in tae kwon do. With no local school available, he enrolled in one in South Bend in 1968 when he could drive.

Smith enlisted in the Army in 1971 and was ordered to Korea. During 15 months in the country that originated tae kwon do, Smith obtained a black belt.

After being discharged he returned to Benton Harbor, where he opened his first school in 1973. He later moved to Huntsville, Ala., and lived there for 25 years, operating tae kwon do schools during that time.

He eventually progressed to eighth-degree black belt, a grand master. Ninth degree is top rank.

Smith also obtained a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in theology at Almeda University in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and attended seminary at Oakwood College in Huntsville.

He started spending time regularly in Benton Harbor in 1999, working at the request of then-Mayor Charles Yarbrough to find activities for youths. He moved back in 2006.

“I was very committed to our program here,” he said.

Learning discipline is an important part of success in tae kwon do, Smith said.

“Before a kid can really kick and punch, he has to adapt to the discipline,” he said. “It’s almost like putting your kid in the Army at a very early age.”

Not everyone catches on, and Smith can often spot those bound for trouble. He tells them directly that jail or a bullet may be the price for failing to change.

“What the school system is finding is that it carries over into other areas,” he said.

Smith relies on several assistants who are not paid by the school system but do receive a stipend. They include Dennis Davis, a retired police officer; Larry Young, who was trained by Smith in the 1970’s and is now a sixth-degree black belt and in charge of the program at Hull; and James Hyde, Darius Wimberly and Cedric Atkins. All hold black belts.

Smith said his assistants experienced the difficulty of growing up in tough circumstances.

“You’ve got to know how to deal with this particular kind of student,” he said.

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Taekwondo Program Builds Youth Integrity

Category : Press

November 4th, 1999
Herald Palladium

“Tae Kwon Do is a very militaristic system. Basically, you can take a child and break them down, teach them things that you would not normally be able to teach them,” Smith told the Benton Harbor City Commission this week.

“It’s something I know that’s worked here in the city before when I had the program, and it can work again,” Smith said.

Because there are so many single mothers in Benton Harbor, Smith said, there are legions of children and teen-agers who don’t’ have a strong male role model to help them.

“We have children with a wide range of problems out there. Single mothers sometimes need a strong male image for their children, and that’s where we can step in and provide that for them,” Smith said.

Behavior in school and in the community will be discussed and watched closely by the academy’s instructors, Smith added, and students will be required to bring their report cards to class so instructors can monitor their performance.

Smith is lobbying the city to provide space at the Bobo Brazil Community Center for R.E.A.D.Y., an acronym for Reclaiming, Equipping And Directing our Youth. That location would let the academy network easier with existing youth programs, Benton Harbor Acting City Manager Dwight Mitchell said.

The Collage Project, a support program for at-risk youth in Benton Harbor, the county’s Youth Services Bureau and the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor all have discussed forming partnerships with the academy, Mitchell said.

The Boys and Girls Club is already housed in the Community Center, and the Collage Project is headquartered in the nearby Salvation Army Community Center.

Fees will be charged for the academy’s classes, but Smith said he won’t turn away youngsters who don’t have all the money.

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Minding Their Manners

Category : Press

Tae kwon do students learn the fine art of dining etiquette

By Mark Fontecchio
H-P Correspondent

BENTON HARBOR — James Hyde stirred his coffee as quietly as he could Saturday. Still, it was too loud for his martial arts teacher, Grandmaster Al Smith.

“I can hear you, James,” Smith said smiling.

“I know,” Hyde said. “I’m trying.”

Such are the trials of learning etiquette for Hyde, his fellow students and their instructors at the R.E.A.D.Y. Tae Kwon Do facility in Benton Harbor.

A half-hour earlier, Greta Pope had taught the group etiquette rules for eating a nice dinner. One of them was to try to avoid “clinking and clanking” the spoon when stirring coffee.

About a dozen students had listened to her short lecture, which preceded a luncheon to test their newfound skills.

Pope, a Chicago resident who spends the weekends in Buchanan, makes her living as a singer. A side interest is teaching etiquette to under-privileged children.

“I grew up in a household that was always holding parties,” the Cincinnati native said. “I learned these things from my mother.”

It might seem odd that a tae kwon do institute would want to teach the fine art of table manners. The etiquette of Emily Post isn’t normally taught in the fighting arena. But Smith sees a connection. The five tenets he has for his institute are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.

“My intention is to help them prepare themselves,” he said. “They can take this knowledge and pass it on to the other students.”

That’s exactly what 19-year-old Hyde plans to do. This winter he will start attending Lake Michigan College, where he plans focus on hospitality management. He said learning good etiquette will help.

Sedrick Atkins, a 22-year-old tae kwon do instructor, had taken an etiquette class when he was in high school. He saw it as a chance to learn something important in life.

“It benefits everybody,” he said. “Just to learn how to dine is a nice thing. You’re always going to need this later on in life.”

Pope taught students some new words — gala, entrée and sommelier, among them. She told them to always put their napkins in your laps, which fork to use for the salad and how talking on the cell phone at the table is always rude.

Then came the real thing. Everyone sat down at a table right in the institute. The table was adorned with a white tablecloth, bone china and fine silver. A centerpiece of flowers sat in the middle.

They took their seats, and the meal began.

Jim Small, owner of Three Oaks catering business The Outdoor Kitchen, donated the food and served as the waitstaff.

The students started with a Caesar salad. Following that was the entrée, which included baked chicken, acorn squash and brown rice pilaf. Finishing it off was a cheesecake with raspberry preserves on top.

“I don’t really like squash,” Hyde admitted. “But this was good.”

Don’t be fooled, however. Hyde didn’t want seconds on the squash. But he did ask — very politely, it should be noted — for a second piece of cheesecake.

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Category : Success Stories

By 18 months of age, autism had taken away Jalen’s ability to speak.  This disorder coupled with his mother’s work-related travel demands posed a tremendous challenge to the young man and his family. Yet with his family’s support and his involvement with Grandmaster Smith and Taekwondo, Jalen later became his 8th grade class’s valedictorian. One of the youngest Black Belts in the area, Jalen was driven to overcome his challenges as well as to perform well in the classroom.

The desire to achieve and the memorization required in Taekwondo provided the structure that led this remarkable young man to his high level of academic success. Taekwondo gave Jalen the focus and confidence to excel in life

“Grandmaster Smith gave Jalen the understanding that if you do not try, you cannot succeed,” said Jalen’s grandmother.

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Ali Thomas

Category : Success Stories

“Grandmaster Smith did an awesome job with Ali, and has been a savior to us,” said Ali’s mother.

The R.E.A.D.Y.  Taekwondo Academy is not merely a martial arts school, nor is Ali Thomas merely a teenage boy. It is also safe to say that it is not often that both a school and a student have benefitted so well from each other. The R.E.A.D.Y. Academy provided a framework and value system to a young boy facing incomprehensible issues. This framework led Ali on his path to physical, social and academic success. He managed to give the Academy and Grandmaster Al Smith much to be proud of for their efforts.

It is difficult enough growing up these days, and some children are faced with unusually challenging circumstances at very young ages. Ali Thomas found himself in just that position early in his life. It is how people face these challenges and from whom they receive assistance and guidance, that will define them later in life. This is a success story for all involved.

Ali was fortunate to have a strong family network around him. He is also lucky that his mother had a college friend who operated a renowned Taekwondo Academy. Ali, now in his late teens, is a very accomplished young man. He carries himself with confidence and radiates positive energy to everyone he meets. Ali is now a positive role model who always leads by example, and always with compassion.

In circumstances such as young Ali found himself, many young boys would have reacted with anger. Ali Thomas knew that something was building inside him, even at a very early age. Fortunately, Grandmaster Smith and the R.E.A.D.Y. Taekwondo Academy provided the perfect outlet for him. Ali became an example of the physical, social and academic achievement through discipline, diversity and respect that the Academy and Grandmaster Smith strive to provide to each and every student.

Starting in Taekwondo at age six, Ali applied himself diligently to the Grandmaster’s lessons in the dojang and in life. His dedication resulted in reaching his Black Belt at age ten, skipping two levels along the way. These physical lessons would be applied to boxing and wrestling later in life. Ali still takes great pride in his specialty, the flying side kick.

The diversity Ali found at the R.E.A.D.Y. Academy provided an environment that led Ali to his desire to be active in his community through participation in programming such as his local library board. Beyond his various community service activities, Ali has also developed into a natural leader. Homeschooled until the fourth grade, the Academy provided a positive social environment that aided in Ali’s growth and maturity, as well as his ability to acclimate to school. Taekwondo played a role in Ali’s first place finish in a speech competition, an accomplishment in which he still takes great pride.

Academic achievement is constantly stressed by Grandmaster Smith, and students must document their performance in school before they are permitted to advance to the next belt level. With this formal structure and the intense focus on academics, Ali flourished and has recently been selected to the National Honor Society. Ali also distinguished himself early in school by requesting his school assignments, even when home sick in bed.

While his strong family support played a great role in Ali’s development, his mother states, “Grandmaster Smith did an awesome job with Ali, and has been a savior to us.” Robin Thomas also feels that she always knew that Grandmaster Smith would support her and back her up on all issues. The Academy, according to Mrs. Thomas, provided Ali with a “wonderful atmosphere based upon mutual respect.”

Ali cites the Grandmaster’s statement that “you must finish what you start” as a significant influence in his young, but already successful life. The reality is that Ali Thomas has always gone well beyond simply finishing things; he is driven to excel in all that he does. Ali has also proven to be a loyal and trustworthy friend.

Rather than dealing with the temptations of the street as many young men his age are now doing, Ali Thomas is contemplating which college he will attend. With remarkable confidence, coupled with compassion and the desire to succeed, there is little doubt that Ali will follow a course of his own choice, but on a solid foundation provided by Grandmaster Smith and the R.E.A.D.Y. Taekwondo Academy in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

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Learning Respect

Category : Articles

By teaching discipline and respect with positive reinforcement, students learn not only to respect themselves but everyone in their life including parents, family members, and teachers.

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& Focus

Category : Articles

Students have a much more positive view of themselves and have a deeper confidence in their ability to achieve their goals. They have significantly higher GPA’s than their peers and are more diligent in their attendance, more punctual in their timing, and more committed to their tasks.

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Discipline &
Self Control

Category : Articles

Taekwondo serves as a vehicle to instill the values and skills necessary to combat the peer pressures associated with at risk behaviors. We stress the importance of a healthy mind and body. Our students exhibit greater self discipline and resiliency to drugs, gangs, and other harmful influences.

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Prevent Bullying

Category : Articles

Bullying can happen to anyone anywhere. The R.E.A.D.Y. Taekwondo Academy teaches and encourages students how to resolve conflicts productively. Taekwondo also instills empathy and compassion towards others, therefore students are much less likely to participate in bullying themselves.


“The student’s respect has grown for all adults, including teachers. I have had fewer disruptions and more learning going on in my classroom that I can directly attribute to the Taekwondo training of my students.”
“I know that a lot of the kids I see here, if they weren’t here, I would be seeing them on the streets.”
“Taekwondo gives us a chance to do something together, outside of work. Plus, kicking is fun and gets out a lot of stress.”