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The following is an article written by Ms. Judy Clinton (6th Dan) about Master Eric Heintz. This article first appeared in Tae Kwon Do Times magazine in November of 1986. At the time of the article, Ms. Clinton was a sports copy editor with The Des Moines Register and a Tae Kwon Do black belt. This article is reprinted here with the permission of Tae Kwon Do Times.
The scene: Center Court of Valley West Mall, one of Iowa's largest shopping malls, located in West Des Moines, IA. Time: 3:55 p.m. With a crowd of spectators intently staring and his students anxiously grouped around him, Eric Heintz breaks board number 1,000.
It is the last board, removed from the finally depleted pile, in a feat that began at 10 a.m. A potential record for Guiness Book of World Records, it had taken just six hours.
The feat could have been accomplished in less time, but substantially less money would have been raised from spectators and sponsors for a local charity.
Thanks to the generosity of those spectators and local businesses, Heintz raised $1,800. The charity was Amanda the Panda, "the bear with a heart," who provides camps, counseling and support for seriously ill children and their families in the central Iowa area. Why would an instructor undertake such an ambitious task to raise money for a charity? There are simpler ways to raise money, but taking the simple way out is not something that Heintz is used to doing.
Tae Kwon Do's Indomitable Spirit is the driving force that moves Heintz to do things in an unordinary fashion, "Indomitable Spirit encompasses a 'Never Quit Attitude.' No matter what the odds, no matter what the task -- whether physical or mental -- no matter how unpleasant, one completes that task whatever the odds. Never give up and follow where that spirit might lead you," he said.
Heintz, 40, and a fourth dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do, owns the Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy in Des Moines, IA. A graduate of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, he received his Juris Doctor degree from the College of Law in 1971, and was admitted to the Iowa Bar that same year. Following admission to the bar, Heintz enjoyed a successful and challenging career as a trial lawyer in private practice.
In 1978, he joined the staff of newly elected Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, where he prosecuted antitrust enforcement actions. In January of 1982, Heintz was appointed general counsel to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Special Assistant Attorney General. In that position, he headed a staff of 25 people responsible for all legal affairs of the 4,000 person Transportation Department, including defense of pending tort lawsuits of over $100 million.
In 1977, seeking to fulfill a lifelong desire to try martial arts and get into a fitness regimen, Heintz searched through the Cedar Rapids telephone directory and found the name of the Tae Kwon Do instructor he has been training with ever since, Master Woo Jin Jung.
Along with Heintz, his family also took up Tae Kwon Do. His wife, Kaye Bair, 41, is also a fourth dan black belt. Their children as well are at various levels of training: Chris Bair, 22, 3rd dan; Eric Heintz, Jr., 20, 3rd dan; Bo Bair, 19, 2nd dan, and Will Mellon Heintz, 10, blue belt.
While working during the day for the DOT in Ames, Heintz taught Tae Kwon Do classes four nights a week at the Des Moines YWCA located 35 miles to the south. He and his family continued to train with Master Jung on weekends in Cedar Rapids.
Many continue to question him about leaving a challenging and financially rewarding career, with the status and prestige associated with his former position, to teach "karate." It is a job generally perceived as offering low pay and even less esteem in this western society that has little cultural appreciation for the values inherent in martial arts instruction. Heintz answers that question in this way: "I find teaching Tae Kwon Do an exhilarating, rich, life experience. To take students who come to me for all different reasons, some to gain confidence, others to gain fitness or discipline, and watch them learn to take control of their lives in a calm, confident manner is one of the greatest joys I've experienced in my life".
The school program has grown in just two and one-half years from one main school to a total of three schools, plus numerous adult education programs and clubs in central Iowa. Yet with over 500 students in all, Heintz continues to cultivate his special gift of working one-on-one with each student. From the white belts through the ranks to the senior black belts, he maintains rapport with every student, each of whom is important to his "family".
From a student's standpoint there are two special qualities that are evident in Eric Heintz. First is his sincerity. One immediately feels that that sincerity -- toward his art and teachings -- is not staged for the students' benefit. It is evident that he enjoys teaching and training and this does not change depending on the day of the week, his moods, or the student's ability to pay for lessons.
After training with Heintz, the other quality evident to students is his total dedication to Tae Kwon Do, both in and out of the dojang. Living Tae Kwon Do every day is the focal point of his life. His example to his students shows that not only is he a Tae Kwon Do instructor, but also a student of the martial art.
In an effort to gain a deeper understanding of that art, Heintz has visited South Korea three times with his last visit this past June.
In 1981, Master Jung took Heintz and 14 other black belts to his homeland for an extended visit, which included Friendship Games with Korean teams, tours to historical and cultural sites, and overnight stays with Korean families. The home visits provided first-hand experience with the renowned Korean hospitality. "We were overwhelmed with the warmth and friendliness of the Korean people and impressed with the hard-working diligence of all we saw," said Heintz.
On a personal level, Heintz and the black belts were touched most deeply by an overnight stay with Mr. Jung's family in their rural home. He said, "there were tens of people there and we danced together literally the whole night".
"With that visit we connected with Mr. Jung's family at the home in which he was born. On that visit, we saw the family roots of our Master as well as discovering our personal Tae Kwon Do roots," Heintz recalls. In 1985, Heintz, the team spokesman, accompanied 100 people, many of whom were Tae Kwon Do practioners, on a trip to Korea sponsored by Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine. This USA-Korea Friendship Visit included visits to Panmunjom, national monuments, the Korea Yudo College and the 7th World Tae Kwon Do Championships.
This trip, albeit different from the first, reinforced in Heintz a deepening respect for the people, both past and present, who are Korea. "It was an inspiring sight to witness how presentday Koreans have pulled themselves up from the rubble of Japanese occupation, World War II and the Korean War, and have, through teamwork, looked to the future by preparing themselves to match and surpass Japan, China and the United States in the business and trade arenas," said Heintz.
Visiting the burial mounds of the Hwarang Do, in Kyongju, and knowing that he and others were continuing the "Flower of Youth's" quest for excellence was an unforgettable experience, said Heintz. "After 1,300 years, to train practically in the Hwarang Do's footsteps was one of the highlights of the trip and provided me with new meaning to the art of Tae Kwon Do. Standing on the same ground where those warriors trained centuries ago gave me a sense of continuity with my martial arts ancestors that I had not experienced so intensely before," Heintz commented.
"While most Tae Kwon Do practitioners are not fighting for their very existence, as were the Hwarang Do, living in the modern world is enormously stressful and that same centuries-old fighting spirit can be utilized today".
When asked by a student why he would want to take on such a feat as breaking 1,000 boards, Heintz explained that an instructor has a certain responsibility to the community. "By raising funds for a local charity, we demonstrated that the values of Tae Kwon Do training extend beyond the walls of the dojang".
But most importantly, by the board break Heintz was trying to communicate the message to his students and others interested in martial arts that you have to "push back the boundaries" every day and in everything you do.
"By transcending the physical discomforts involved in this type of marathon activity and by reaching down into one's spiritual self for the strength and courage needed to persevere, one finds that his perceived limitations are not what they seem," said Heintz.
By actually demonstrating to his students this "pushing back of boundaries" Heintz acted on the philosophy he had taught in numerous classes.
"When you train, it may be too hot in summer or too cold in winter, or you may have a headache, or an injury or be worried about an unpaid bill or the argument you had with a friend or parent -- there may be many distractions for you. In spite of this, you must train yourself to put aside these distractions to apply yourself TOTALLY to the day's training. Every punch, every kick, every form is an expression of your personality and being. You must BE what you DO. Apply total concentration to what you are doing, nothing else. If you maintain that mental state each successive moment, there is no limit to what you can accomplish," said Heintz.
After almost three years of teaching as a full-time instructor, Heintz was asked if he would make the same decision today -- to leave law practice. He replied in this fashion: "A Tae Kwon Do instructor without a paid staff answers the phone, greets visitors, cleans the dojang and maintains equipment in it, teaches the classes, signs up students and does all the paperwork necessary to operate a small business".
"In addition, an instructor is a friend and counselor to his students. All these tasks add up to 12 to 16 hour days, six or seven days a week. The work then is very demanding and the renumeration is low".
"Would I make the same decision? No question."
"The rewards for me are not in my bank account, but they wait for me each day at the school. Everyday is different, every student is an individual. The challenge of providing each student with the impetus and the environment he or she needs to grow in Tae Kwon Do is a great one. When I am able to do that, I grow as well. Not everyone who trains will become a professional instructor. But every student will gain the confidence, tenacity, discipline, concentration, calmness and physical fitness needed to succeed at a job, in school or in just getting along better with other people."
"This is my goal: to aid each student to be the best at what he does and be at peace with himself."
In the complexity of the martial art that is Tae Kwon Do, the philosophical principles are as important as the physical techniques, and Heintz summed up his thoughts on the principle he would like to leave with his students: "Life is very short. I may die tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. To set a course for myself to accumulate possessions, whether it's suits of clothes, a new car or whatever, is not important to me. What's important is the legacy I leave behind. I know that sounds sentimental and trite, but the spirit I leave behind with my family, friends and students, that's what's important to me."