When Jerry Marshall, 50, of Mauriceville made an agreement with his three sons that he would join the Vidor Taekwondo academy if all three boys earned their black belts, his sons never thought he would actually go through with it.
“I thought he was just talking,” Nathan Marshall said.
Nathan, Justin and Luke Marshall started Taekwondo training in 2006 and were black belts within two years.
“I told them after their first belt testing that if they all made it to black belt, then I would sign up,” Jerry said. He kept his promise to his sons — twins Nathan and Justin, 16, and Luke, 13 — joining Vidor Taekwondo at the age of 47, but admitted that the physical demands have been challenging.
“There are a lot of (kicks) that I can’t do,” he said. “I’m 250 pounds and 50 years old; I can’t do some of these (moves). But all the instructors ask is that you give your 100 percent and put forth the effort.”
Despite the aches and pains, he earned his own black belt within two years and has had perfect attendance since joining.
“Mr. Marshall has not missed a class in over three years,” said Glenda Carroll, senior instructor and senior fifth-degree black belt at Vidor Taekwondo. “This is something that I have never seen before in my career. Whenever he takes on something, whether it is a hobby or physical fitness — whatever it is — he gives 100 percent. I think he does this not only for himself, but also to motivate and set an example for his sons.”
Carroll said that Jerry’s influence is reflected in the boys’ dedication and success.
“They have always had very good attitudes and have been willing to learn,” she said. “That has set the stage for them to excel.”
Jerry said that Taekwondo has brought him and his family closer together and has made him feel young again.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me,” he said. “It’s like I am a teenager again.”
The three boys are proud of their father’s accomplishments and the fact that he kept his promise.
“It shows that he is true to his word,” Justin said. “He’s a good dad, and he wants to spend time with his kids.”
“One of my proudest moments was when I was a red belt at testing,” Jerry said. “I went out there, did my form, and I came back to sit down. I sat down (next to my sons) and all three of them congratulated me. Justin and Luke gave me thumbs up, and Nathan leaned over and said, ‘Daddy, you nailed it.’ That made me so proud — more proud than any of these belts I’ve earned.”
Although Jerry said he is used to setting an example for his sons in every aspect of their lives, it is his sons' standards that he must live up to in Taekwondo. Nathan, Justin and Luke are third-degree black belts and Jerry is a first-degree black belt.
“They have been black belts for four years, and I’ve been a black belt for one,” Jerry said. “It puts me behind them, so I have to live up to them — instead of them having to live up to me.”
This presents a unique situation, in which the child becomes the leader instead of the parent, Carroll said.
“My Taekwondo students have realized that you can learn from anyone, whether they be older than you or younger than you,” she said. “When you show them respect and allow them to teach, it allows them to really show their personality and to grow. This gives the child an opportunity to share something with their parent that they really enjoy, and it gives them an opportunity to see what it feels like to be a leader.”
David Howells, owner of Beaumont Taekwondo, Vidor Taekwondo and Orange Taekwondo and sixth-degree master black belt, said that while most families are divided by their day-to-day activities and might shut themselves off from each other, families that find a common interest, such as Taekwondo, can build healthier relationships with each other.
“You’ve got age differences and generation gaps,” he said. “Everybody has their own activities that they do. Dads don’t tend to work out with their daughters. But if you have something that you do together — something that can connect you (as a family), it is very powerful.”
Howells said it is the routine and the environment that bring family members closer together.
“You’re doing the same workout, same routine, same mat training and the same target training,” Howells said. “My daughter (Sasha) started in Taekwondo when she was 4 (she is now 19). What did I have in common with a 4-year-old girl? But when we do Taekwondo together, we have an understanding because we are going through the same process. That’s a powerful statement to your kid.”
R.J. Mendez, a second-degree black belt, instructor at Beaumont Taekwondo and father of two, said the martial art made a powerful statement in his life, as well, and might have just saved it.
“I had gotten sick, and I went to the doctor,” he said. “I was over 300 pounds, and I was getting worried (about my health) because my family has a history of diabetes. I wasn’t even able to play with my boys because I’d run 15 feet, and I would be out of breath. I put them in Taekwondo and joined myself. Now I’m 194 pounds and have lost over 100 pounds. I did it for my boys so I can make sure I can live a long, happy life. It’s a healthy activity that we do together.”
Mendez said Taekwondo has also brought him and his sons, Ricardo Mendez Jr., 7, and Isaiah Escamilla, 10, closer together as well.
“I used to work at a pipeline company, so I was away from (my sons) a lot. They grew up pretty fast. But I joined Taekwondo and became an instructor; I’m here with my boys all the time now,” he said. “As soon as they get out of school, they come (to the academy) and help me teach class. We’re a lot closer now.”
The Mendez and Marshall families are not the only ones in Howells' Taekwondo academies.
“There are probably over 100 families enrolled in my academies in the Golden Triangle,” he said. “Parents enroll their kids first, but they’re really interested in doing it as well.”
Jerry Marshall said he hopes more families will consider taking Taekwondo together because they will benefit physically and emotionally.
“My family has a history of diabetes and heart problems, but Taekwondo has kept my body healthy,” he said. “I encourage people to do it because it will give you focus and relieve stress. You’re never too old to do it.”
“We have a saying here,” Howells said. “The family that kicks together sticks together, and it’s true.”
For more information, visit www.tkdtexas.com  or call (409) 838-6667.