For 23 years Two Rivers Martial Arts has been an experiment in martial arts
self-governance, a unique approach for a traditional Tae Kwon Do school.
Two Rivers has no headmaster and no owner. Instead, it is an IRS 501(c)(3)
nonprofit corporation with all black belts as corporate members. Authority
and decision-making are shared and under the direction of a board of directors
elected by all active black belt members. Tasks and responsibilities are
distributed among unpaid volunteer black belts who teach classes, run tests,
manage finances, maintain inventory, make repairs, and all the other
functions needed to run a martial arts school. As described in the
previous article, Two Rivers Martial Arts came to be because of a unique
history traced back to the Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy and a group of
black belts who simply wanted to continue training together when Master Eric Heintz retired.
Board of Directors 2017: Front row - Mr. Don McDonald,
Ms. Rochelle Douglass, Master Anita Williams,
Master Roger Netsch, Ms. Jennifer Bailey
(President), Ms. Cindy Lerch. Back Row -
Master Dwayne Ferguson (Secretary), Grandmaster Brad Deaton,
Mr. Robert Dale (Vice-President), Mr. Chris Lerch,
Mr. Perry Comito, Mr. Kendall Bailey (Treasurer). Absent -
Mr. Steve Goldstein
It has been almost a quarter century since Eric Heintz black
belts sat in that dimly lit lobby and said, "Why not?”
Today Two Rivers Martial Arts is alive and well. We have had branches
come and go. We now have 7 branches located in central Iowa – Des Moines,
Carlisle, Indianola, Pleasant Hill, Waukee, West Des Moines/Clive, and
Winterset. We lost two of our original branches (Norwalk and Meredith
Middle School) when enrollments dwindled and the instructors stopped
teaching. Other branches have come and gone – Easter Lake, Weeks
Middle School and Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, and Monroe
Elementary in Monroe, Iowa. Black belts from our Bethany, Missouri
branch opened schools in Trenton, Missouri, Lamoni, Iowa, and St. Joseph,
Missouri. In 2014, Grandmaster Jung directed those Missouri-based
schools to form their own school, and our sister school, Heritage
Tae Kwon Do Academy, was born.
Since its inception, Two Rivers has developed a reputation as school
with excellent instructors and a top quality, affordable programs.
Some of Two Rivers’ accomplishments include:
Having 192 students earn their black belts and promoting
many black belts to higher dan rankings. Two Rivers
currently has 55 active black belts ranging from 1st dan
through 8th dan. Over the past five years prior to the
corona virus pandemic, the school has had an average
enrollment of 175 color belt students.
Maintaining low prices. Early on test fees for low blue belts
and below were raised by $5.00 to match the price paid by high
blue and brown belts, thus eliminating confusion over the
varying amount of test fees. Family class fees rates were
adjusted so that each additional family member pays $5.00 less.
Class fees were increased by $5.00 a few years ago. Still Two
Rivers’ prices continue to be about half what for-profit schools
charge and comparable to Parks and Recreation programs that provide
only two or three hours of class per week, not the daily class
opportunities at Two Rivers.
A Black Belt Manual to help standardize teaching across all branches.
A self-defense program. Two senior black belt
instructors, with the help of several other black
belts, developed a self-defense program that is
simple and effective and designed so that if a
student needs to use it in a school setting,
rules against fighting will not be violated.
Providing community support.
Two Rivers has done numerous
Tae Kwon Do demonstrations –
at Celebrasian (Asian Heritage
Festival), at a Des Moines
(now called the Iowa Wolves),
the National Balloon Classic in
Indianola, the Iowa State Fair,
Indianola Bike Night, and at
a number of schools, businesses,
and community events.
Self-Defense Classes and
Demonstrations at Drake
Community, Valley Hgh
School, DART public
and numerous Des Moines
businesses, churches, and
Supporting community drives and
fundraisers – Amanda the Panda,
Toys for Tots, Furry Friends
Animal Rescue, food pantries,
Warren County Fire Department,
co-sponsoring Martial Artists
for Children and Community
fundraisers, and various other
projects, walkathons, and
Hosting an annual Tae Kwon Tournament.
Providing special classes and programs –
Martial Spirit (a blended program incorporating
several martial arts), Black Belt Youth Group,
Kobudo Weapons Training, and Tai Chi.
Surviving the financial impacts of the 2008
Financial Recession, the Covid-19 Pandemic
economic fall out, and about 10 years ago,
our own financial downturn caused by overextending
Utilizing technology and social media (Internet
website, Facebook and Twitter) for marketing and
communication and by moving classes onto Zoom to
adapt to the need for social distancing during
the corona virus pandemic.
Two Rivers Martial Arts was created so we could continue
to practice Tae Kwon Do as taught by Master Heintz and to
pass on what we've learned to the next generations of
martial artists. Two Rivers has grown financially, from
scrimping by the first year to stability. There is enough
income to pay the bills, support three permanent location,
and offer scholarships to students who otherwise could not
afford to train. Annually scholarships total about $2,000
in foregone class and test fees.
Ms. Diane Neubauer, 3rd dan, doing a slow motion
high side kick.
Some of the black belts and instructors were
interviewed to determine what is different
about Two Rivers Martial Arts. They were
asked what is special about Two Rivers, what
are its advantages over a traditional for-profit
school, and what are the disadvantages. The
highlights of those conversations include:
In one way or another, each black belt commented
that Two Rivers is special because it is run
by volunteers. There is no profit motive, and
no one is teaching for a paycheck. Instructors
teach because of their passion for Tae Kwon Do and
commitment to the school and to instill those traits
in students as they move up the ranks and become Two
Rivers black belts.
A Two Rivers black belt is part of something bigger
than themselves. A new black belt made this
observation explaining why he looked forward to
earning his black belt and joining our community
of black belts. Black belts in traditional martial
arts schools may be proud of their schools and loyal
to their headmaster, but becoming a Two Rivers black
belt makes him or her a member of the corporation and
responsible for the continued success of the school.
The school is theirs to support and pass on to future
Two Rivers black belts refer to each other as their
Tae Kwon Do family. It is a cohesive group held
together by friendship and commitment to continued
learning and sharing our martial art with new students.
The group is all inclusive, accepting anyone at any age
and any gender. One does not have to be young and male
to succeed at Two Rivers. Women and men are treated equally.
Those with handicaps are welcome and not discriminated against.
Young and old participate together learning the same skills and
the same intangibles that make martial artists special.
Whether a student is ten or sixty, they can earn the same
black belt. The only advantage youngsters get are
Two Rivers has three grandmasters, four active master black
belts, four retired masters, and one deceased master.
Their Tae Kwon Do experience ranges from 35 years to 22 years.
Two Rivers’ grandmasters and masters actively train with color
belt students, something that is much less likely at a for-profit
school run by one head master who teaches all the time.
Two Rivers is not a black belt mill. The senior black belts
work to maintain the high standards they learned at the Eric
Heintz Black Belt Academy and pass those standards along to
upcoming black belts. Instructors are generally frank and
candid with students, telling them the truth about their progress
rather than sugarcoating it. Instructors are supportive and do
not put down students for their shortcomings. They let students
know they are expected to do their best, at the same time knowing
their students can accomplish more than they think they can. Two
Rivers black belts know they have earned the right to wear a
Board members, instructors, and black belts focus on what is best
for the school, usually keeping their personal goals secondary to
what is good for the school.
Being a nonprofit corporation, governed by a board of
directors, and run entirely by volunteers has its
positives and negatives. Some of the advantages are:
There are also some disadvantages to being a
nonprofit school run by a board of directors.
Two Rivers has survived and thrived longer than some of its
founding members thought possible. Its people make it special
through their dedication to Two Rivers and willingness to
volunteer their time and energy to pass along the lessons
originally learned at the Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy to
a new generation of martial artists. As an organization, Two
Rivers is open to taking a new path and finding new ways to
pass on traditional Tae Kwon Do.
About the Author:
Master M. Dwayne Ferguson is a 7th dan black belt with
32 years of Tae Kwon Do experience and 20 years as an
instructor. Master Ferguson holds a Ph.D. in sociology
from the University of Iowa and recently retired after
26 years as a nonpartisan senior budget analyst for the
Iowa General Assembly.