Black Belts at the Baptist Church

Every Tuesday night, people young and old gather at the First Baptist Church of Lowell. However, they aren’t there for Bible study, Awana or any of the other activities you might normally associate with a church. Instead, they are there to learn martial arts.

The church began hosting a Tae Kwon Do ministry in 2012, and since then, at least ten participants have achieved the level of black belt. However, rising in the ranks of this martial arts discipline is only one benefit of the weekly classes.

“I had to find some experience in my life where I really wanted to go after something,” explains Robert Berrington, who organized the ministry and leads the classes. Many of those who show up week after week feel the same about Tae Kwon Do. It’s an opportunity to stretch themselves both physically and mentally in the midst of a supportive community.

Tae Kwon Do Ministry Grew Out of Vacation Bible School

Berrington and his wife Janel began attending Tae Kwon Do classes in Byron Center in 2002. Ten years later, the First Baptist Church of Lowell wanted to try a new take on Vacation Bible School and offer various sports camps. Berrington stepped up to lead Tae Kwon Do lessons during the week, and it was such a success, that he began offering weekly classes soon after that.

As a ministry of the church, Tae Kwon Do lessons start with a prayer, but then participants get quickly down to business. They warm up with some basic techniques before moving into their forms. Forms are a pattern of movements such as kicks and defensive stances that are the basis of sparring. Each belt level has its own forms to perfect.

Once forms have been done, it’s time for some one-step defense practice and sparring. Those with higher level belts may stay after the regular class for additional training as well.

“When people first show up, they are like a deer in the headlights,” Berrington says. However, he recommends committing to at least six weeks to get past any initial insecurity and become comfortable with the classes.

No Limits to Who Can Participate

While Berrington says it’s usually best for children to be at least six years old before joining the group, there really are no limits on who can participate. No one exemplifies that better than Michael Droste.

The 36-year old resident of Saranac has cerebral palsy, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the newest black belts in the First Baptist Church’s Tae Kwon Do group. Since Droste uses a wheelchair for mobility, his forms have been adjusted to remove kicks. But otherwise, he competes the same as everyone else.

“It gets me out of the house and away from the video games,” Droste says. Although he has reached the first black belt level, he isn’t content to stop there. He explains, “I always set my sights a little higher than the belt I’m currently at.” That means his next step is to earn a 2nd Dan Black Belt.

Droste hopes other people will recognize that Tae Kwon Do can be accessible to everyone. “If you have a disability and want to do martial arts, you can do it,” he says.

How to Join Tae Kwon Do in Lowell

Berrington has worked to make the Tae Kwon Do group open to anyone interested. There are no mandatory fees, and you don’t have to be a member of the First Baptist Church of Lowell. The group welcomes people of all faith backgrounds.

Buying a uniform is the only cost associated with Tae Kwon Do and even that isn’t required unless you plan to take a belt test or attend a tournament. Berrington suggests class fees of $5 per month per student or $10 per month per family, but these are voluntary. Any fees collected are used to help pay for uniforms for those who might have difficulty covering the cost themselves.

Classes run from 6-7:30pm each Tuesday night in the gym behind the First Baptist Church. High belt students can stay from 7:30-8pm for additional training. More information about the ministry can be found on the First Baptist Church of Lowell website.

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