Martial arts instructor breaks from tradition Christian man excludes Eastern philosophies

March 18, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The first thing you notice when you walk into Michael Grogan's martial arts class in Catonsville is that everyone is wearing shoes.

But that is not the only unusual aspect to Mr. Grogan's class. As a Christian, he shies away from the teachings of Eastern philosophy, and other martial arts customs.

"In a lot of the traditional Asian martial arts there are teachings of using one's inner powers and inner strengths that have some mystic connotations," said Mr. Grogan, who runs Sword of Heaven Martial Arts. "We don't teach any of that, and our class is open to anyone, no matter what their religious affiliation."

Bible verses are incorporated in newsletters given to the class, but Mr. Grogan does not preach to students. And, to help prevent damage to feet and ankles, shoes are worn another change from most martial arts classes.

"We try to make everything we do be practically, medically and morally sound," Mr. Grogan, affectionately called "Mr. Mike" by his students, said recently during a break in class.

Every Monday night, about two dozen students meet at the Emanuel United Methodist Church, 6517 Frederick Road, to learn self-defense. The classes have become a family affair many parents, after bringing their children for lessons, have signed up. David Prestianni and his son Stephen, 13, are black belts who have been studying martial arts for five years. Mr. Prestianni became an assistant instructor at Sword of Heaven a year ago. He said he enjoys Mr. Grogan's patient teaching style.

"If you need him, he will help you day and night," Mr. Prestianni said. "He's just totally dedicated to teaching."

Sword of Heaven also offers an inexpensive alternative to many martial arts schools, reducing fees if a student has a financial need.

"If somebody comes in, and they can't afford it, we don't throw them out," Mr. Grogan said. "We try to help people where we can."

Student Cathy Taylor said taking martial arts has helped her recover from surgery she had three years ago for a brain tumor.

"It's relaxing," she said. "Mr. Mike really knows how to get the points across."

Recently, Samuel Ray, 5,watched shyly from the sidelines as the class went through exercises. As Samuel waited for his first lesson, his father, Robert Ray, said the class appealed to him because it did not teach Eastern philosophies.

"I'm a Christian, and I believe in what I believe in," he said. "I just want [Samuel] to learn how to be a little more agile and outgoing."

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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