Michael Jessup remembers when he first became fascinated with martial arts. Like many others who pursue tae kwan do, karate and jujutsu, it was the movies that sparked his interest.
“When I was about 6 years old, I got into martial arts,” Jessup, of Carbondale’s Family Martial Arts Academy, said. “I started because I was watching movies with guys like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris and it looked really cool. I wanted to do it and I begged mom and dad. They took me to the local YMCA and let me take some classes.”
It didn’t take Jessup’s tae kwan do skills to exceed the free instruction.
“When I needed to go somewhere else for the skill levels I was wanting to get to, they said it was fine, but I’d have to pay for it myself. That meant I had to go and get lawn mowing jobs, shoveling jobs and start raking some leaves,” he said.
That was four decades ago and since then, Jessup has mowed a lot of lawns, shoveled many driveways and raked countless leaves. He’s also gained a tremendous level of expertise in his chosen martial art. Now a sixth-degree black belt and a member of the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame. He’s even worked with Olympic teams, but that’s not what excites him.
“All that stuff is great, but it is the people around me; those I get to work with and teach every day, that is what I love. Without them, it would be nothing,” he said.
Jessup taught at a Carbondale martial arts facility for many years and when the owner retired, he knew it was time to do something.
“It was time for my wife and I to either move on or to start our own place,” he recalls.
The Jessups chose to open their own martial arts facility about three years ago.
“I realize that I have a passion for marital arts. I love it and I love teaching the kids,” he said. “I love the way that people to react to it — when they come in and say, ‘I can’t, I can’t do that,’ and then we take them through it and we go step by step and suddenly they are doing it. Then they say things like, ‘this is easy,’ and ‘this is so cool.’ Those are the victories right there.”
Jessup, whose faith plays a central role in his life, says his facility, the Family Martial Arts Academy, is structured to provide a wholesome setting for all ages.
“We have students ranging from (age) 7 to 52,” he said. “We have daughters that train with their dads, married couples and friends that all come in and take classes together. That allows people who pick up skills a little more quickly to share with others. We’ve got adults teaching kids and kids teaching adults some other parts.”
Jessup says he and his team of three instructors offer classes for all ages, skill levels and even give students the opportunity to participate in competitions.
“We work hard and we practice hard, but we approach everything as a family. We are constantly encouraging one another and trying to get just a little bit more out of each other. At the end of the class or competition, it’s not just about martial arts, but about life,” he said.
Jessup cautions that those looking to get into mixed martial arts should look at other facilities.
“I’m not a hardcore mixed martial arts guy,” he says.
He adds that prospective students are invited to enroll at any time and Family Martial Arts Academy offers a complimentary week-long trial.
“We want people to see what it’s like, to see if we are the type of teachers they are looking for, if this is a place they feel as though they belong,” he said.
Jessup adds that he loves when children find their place in the academy, just like he did at the YMCA years ago.
“That is the coolest,” he said.