Get me the manager! -- Chuck Nowlen, reporter Yes, I still break patio bricks with my hands and feet. I still repeat an hour’s worth of my black belt test twice a week in the winter. I still go 10 rounds with a heavy bag too. When I can find a trained sparring partner, I’ll even revert back to my full-contact days every once in a while. Not trying to brag, mind you. I’m paying homage to the two people who planted the seeds of martial-arts commitment in me more than 20 years ago: Bill and Janet Ring, who have been inspiring the seemingly uninspirable at Ring’s Martial Arts in Madison for more than three decades. They’ve done it simply by being themselves - and by nurturing all of their students to be their own unique best selves as well. Not as common - when the rubber meets the road, anyway - as you might think. I’m also hoping this column might be helpful for those of you who resolved to start becoming all you can be physically this year, but find the motivation waning as winter drags on. Heck, there might even be a few nuggets in here somewhere for business-team managers too. I remember when I first started shopping for karate schools. I visited every school - or “dojo” - in the capital city over a month or two. I don’t exactly recall what sparked my interest. I guess my first athletic love - year-round basketball - had temporarily begun to lose a bit of its luster for me at the time. God knows I was sick of managing the egos on my city league team by then. All I remember is that I wanted to add another sport to my life. There were high-brow traditional schools led by stern far-eastern masters. There were chaotic glorified karate day-care centers and everything in between. I chatted with the owners, watched a few classes and took special interest in how the students and instructors interacted. None of them struck a chord with me until I walked into the Rings’ school, which was then called Ring’s All-American Karate. With them, the connection was instant. “So,” I asked Master Bill early on in our first conversation, “have you ever used karate on the street?” I was sure he’d say what all the others had said, some buzz-word variation of, “Oh no. The more you learn about karate, the less you feel the need to use it.” Master Bill Ring, who is always referred to as “Sir” or “Mr. Ring” by his students, replied with a kind, winsome grin: “Why yes I have, Mr. Nowlen. Many, many times.” Conversions Turned out that he’d been a bouncer at a biker bar for many years and had grown up as a latchkey kid in an ultra-tough Milwaukee neighborhood before that. Sometimes, walking away from a fight is not an option. His wife, Master Janet, who is always called “Ma’am” or “Mrs. Ring,” met Mr. Ring at his fledgling, first karate school, where she hoped to regain a sense of empowerment. She had just escaped an extremely abusive marriage. Let me put it this way: Nobody messes with Ma’am anymore.   Not that Sir and Ma’am Ring are brawlers; quite the opposite in fact. Their school is built on an ever-present template of tradition, discipline and respect. Violators aren’t brow-beaten into herd submission either. They’re simply bowed to and told matter-of-factly, no matter what their age or belt rank is: “Mr. or Ms. X, will you bow out of class now, please, until you’re ready to show it the respect it deserves?” That, by the way, almost never happened. Something in the school’s atmosphere saw to that, and it started with Masters Bill and Janet Ring. I think it was the fact that, unlike some karate schools - and many business managers, for that matter - Rings Martial Arts didn’t go in for the homogenizing, Mickey Mouse, rah-rah team-building approach. Their guiding motivation was simply to bring out the best in whatever student personality they encountered. As I used to tell my classes when I was a part-time staff instructor at the school: “When you show respect to me and your fellow students, you’re actually showing respect for yourself. And that’s what we’re all about here, right?” “Yes, Sir!” the class always replied. And, as time would tell, I knew they meant it. The student mix at Rings Martial Arts was - and still is - amazing: Blue collar, white collar, professional and unemployed; male; female; kids as young as four; seniors as old as 70; all races and creeds, several with physical or behavioral disabilities. The Rings have a knack for reaching them all on their own terms. They want to help build genuinely strong individuals, not happy-face, somebody-tell-me-what-to-do drones in karate uniforms. My suggestion for people looking to find a place where their new-year workout resolutions will flourish or a manager who can bring out their very best? Don’t automatically settle for what the rest of the herd settles for. Look for the people you REALLY connect with. They’re out there in droves, believe me; and you’ll know them when you meet them. About a month ago, I spoke on the phone to an old newspaper pal who’s been working the same job in the same place for the last 30-plus years. His voice sounded like a zombie’s. “Yeah, same old place. Same old office-speak. Same old lame happy gas from management that I always nod and smile to,” he reported. “Oh well, still getting a paycheck at least.” Just a week later, I was visiting Madison and ran into an excellent martial artist from another school. He and I always seemed to get matched up against each other during my tournament days. “Still kickin’, man?” I asked him. It was really good to see him again. I’ve still got the scar from one of his punches. “Nah, gave it up years ago,” he said. He has a thick paunch now, and his step has slowed noticeably. I remember his voice sometimes when I’m getting ready for my twice-weekly black belt test and heavy-bag workout. Every time I do, I also remember Sir and Ma’am Ring. 

Get me the manager! -- Chuck Nowlen, reporterYes, I still break patio bricks with my hands and feet.I still repeat an hour’s worth of my black belt test twice a week in the winter. I still go 10 rounds with a heavy bag too.When I can find a trained sparring partner, I’ll even revert back to my full-contact days every once in a while.Not trying to brag, mind you. I’m paying homage to the two people who planted the seeds of martial-arts commitment in me more than 20 years ago: Bill and Janet Ring, who have been inspiring the seemingly uninspirable at Ring’s Martial Arts in Madison for more than three decades.They’ve done it simply by being themselves - and by nurturing all of their students to be their own unique best selves as well.Not as common - when the rubber meets the road, anyway - as you might think.I’m also hoping this column might be helpful for those of you who resolved to start becoming all you can be physically this year, but find the motivation waning as winter drags on.Heck, there might even be a few nuggets in here somewhere for business-team managers too.I remember when I first started shopping for karate schools. I visited every school - or “dojo” - in the capital city over a month or two.I don’t exactly recall what sparked my interest. I guess my first athletic love - year-round basketball - had temporarily begun to lose a bit of its luster for me at the time. God knows I was sick of managing the egos on my city league team by then.All I remember is that I wanted to add another sport to my life.There were high-brow traditional schools led by stern far-eastern masters. There were chaotic glorified karate day-care centers and everything in between. I chatted with the owners, watched a few classes and took special interest in how the students and instructors interacted.None of them struck a chord with me until I walked into the Rings’ school, which was then called Ring’s All-American Karate.With them, the connection was instant.“So,” I asked Master Bill early on in our first conversation, “have you ever used karate on the street?”I was sure he’d say what all the others had said, some buzz-word variation of, “Oh no. The more you learn about karate, the less you feel the need to use it.”Master Bill Ring, who is always referred to as “Sir” or “Mr. Ring” by his students, replied with a kind, winsome grin: “Why yes I have, Mr. Nowlen. Many, many times.”ConversionsTurned out that he’d been a bouncer at a biker bar for many years and had grown up as a latchkey kid in an ultra-tough Milwaukee neighborhood before that. Sometimes, walking away from a fight is not an option.His wife, Master Janet, who is always called “Ma’am” or “Mrs. Ring,” met Mr. Ring at his fledgling, first karate school, where she hoped to regain a sense of empowerment. She had just escaped an extremely abusive marriage.Let me put it this way: Nobody messes with Ma’am anymore. Not that Sir and Ma’am Ring are brawlers; quite the opposite in fact. Their school is built on an ever-present template of tradition, discipline and respect.Violators aren’t brow-beaten into herd submission either. They’re simply bowed to and told matter-of-factly, no matter what their age or belt rank is: “Mr. or Ms. X, will you bow out of class now, please, until you’re ready to show it the respect it deserves?”That, by the way, almost never happened. Something in the school’s atmosphere saw to that, and it started with Masters Bill and Janet Ring.I think it was the fact that, unlike some karate schools - and many business managers, for that matter - Rings Martial Arts didn’t go in for the homogenizing, Mickey Mouse, rah-rah team-building approach. Their guiding motivation was simply to bring out the best in whatever student personality they encountered.As I used to tell my classes when I was a part-time staff instructor at the school: “When you show respect to me and your fellow students, you’re actually showing respect for yourself. And that’s what we’re all about here, right?”“Yes, Sir!” the class always replied. And, as time would tell, I knew they meant it.The student mix at Rings Martial Arts was - and still is - amazing: Blue collar, white collar, professional and unemployed; male; female; kids as young as four; seniors as old as 70; all races and creeds, several with physical or behavioral disabilities.The Rings have a knack for reaching them all on their own terms. They want to help build genuinely strong individuals, not happy-face, somebody-tell-me-what-to-do drones in karate uniforms.My suggestion for people looking to find a place where their new-year workout resolutions will flourish or a manager who can bring out their very best?Don’t automatically settle for what the rest of the herd settles for. Look for the people you REALLY connect with. They’re out there in droves, believe me; and you’ll know them when you meet them.About a month ago, I spoke on the phone to an old newspaper pal who’s been working the same job in the same place for the last 30-plus years. His voice sounded like a zombie’s.“Yeah, same old place. Same old office-speak. Same old lame happy gas from management that I always nod and smile to,” he reported. “Oh well, still getting a paycheck at least.”Just a week later, I was visiting Madison and ran into an excellent martial artist from another school. He and I always seemed to get matched up against each other during my tournament days.“Still kickin’, man?” I asked him. It was really good to see him again. I’ve still got the scar from one of his punches.“Nah, gave it up years ago,” he said. He has a thick paunch now, and his step has slowed noticeably.I remember his voice sometimes when I’m getting ready for my twice-weekly black belt test and heavy-bag workout. Every time I do, I also remember Sir and Ma’am Ring.

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