3-generation black belts give back

Alex Henderson started the Henderson-Hale martial arts family tradition at age 8, which has expanded to three generations of Tae Kwon Do black belts in nine years, at Eun’s Martial Arts Center, 11110 Kingston Pike in Aspen Square.

Owen Hale, Alex Henderson’s grandfather, followed his grandson’s example and began his training at age 60 in 2009. Hale is now a third-degree black belt.

“Michael [Henderson, son-in-law] kept encouraging me to come and do it. There were a few other students at my age at that time, so I said ‘Yes, I’ll give it a try,’” Hale said. “It looked like fun and good exercise, good training. It helps you a lot with balance and coordination and so forth.”

While Michael was the first adult to follow his oldest son into martial arts training [currently a first-degree black belt], Hale’s other grandchildren are Haley, 14 [third-degree], Sydney, 10 [second-degree], and Nathan, 8 [first degree].

While Alex is now a third-degree black belt at age 17, his mother, Jenni Henderson [second degree, started in 2011], began the family tradition of using self-defense skills to help the less fortunate.

In early November, Jenni began a regular Tae Kwon Do class for less fortunate youth, each Thursday, as part of Wesley House after-school classes in downtown Knoxville.

Saying she received “the gift” of martial arts skills and discipline from Grand Master Seong J. Eun, “I think to be able to share that with others in the manner that he shared that with me is something that was on my heart to do,” she said. “And Wesley House was a natural fit for us. We go to Concord United Methodist Church and Wesley House is one of their ministries.”

With the exception of Michael, who is tied up due to work, the other six family members all teach at Wesley House.

“Typically there are 10 in a class, and we’ve had as many as 19,” Jenni added. “There are certain ones you see the light in their eyes from the first class. You can see they really take to it.

“One of them told us his parents are getting him to some Ninja Warrior training that‘s nearby to downtown because of his interest in this class.”

As for getting all four of her children involved in Wesley House teaching, “I hope they further develop a heart for Christ,” Jenni said. “Knowing that it’s important to put others first is what I really hope that they will get.”

“It’s been incredible to be able to teach a class and have kids that truly enjoy learning material, which is not only beneficial to their health but it’s also beneficial if they get into a [threatening] situation,” Alex said. “And I also have fun doing it.”

With teenagers teaching other teenagers, “They definitely feel more comfortable around us,” Haley said.

“We’re pretty good friends with them, too,” Alex added. “… We come in and we ask them how school was. We talk about what they did at school, things like that. We kind of know about their daily life.”

Looking back on her overall martial arts experience, Jenni said, “I think [Eun] has always reminded me of that favorite teacher anybody had in high school or college that you always wish you could have for more than one year,” Jenni said. “Our family has been very blessed that we get to have him year after year.”