In this edition of Legends and Legacies for USAdojo.com we present two separate interviews, one with father, Robert Kovaleski and Eric Kovaleski, the son. These interviews are related in more ways than one. We will interview a father and a son, both men respected, skilled and knowledgeable martial artists in their own right. In this interview we have the rare opportunity to bear witness to the kind of mutual respect and honor—engendered by adhering to the very best ideals in the martial arts—ideals we always hope to share in a column of this type. There are Core Human Values that we hope are being passed from martial arts teacher to martial arts student, and we hope that these principles are being used as a template for all interpersonal relationships, because we know that from discipline comes dignity, and from self-worth comes respect for others. As martial arts teachers, we have often heard praise and thanks from a parent who has a renewed and improved relationship with their child because the child has taken their martial arts training to heart. It is not often, however, that we get to see the same mutual benefits being gained by a teacher and parent/ student and child who are one in the same. That opportunity is presented here, in the side-by-side interviews of Robert (the father) and Eric (the son) Kovaleski. As with the title of this column, we will present the father first and follow that with the son.
Robert Kovaleski Interview for LEGENDS AND LEGACIES
Robert Kovaleski: Hello Gordon, How are you?
Gordon Richiusa: I’m doing well. How are you feeling tonight?
Robert Kovaleski: O.K.
GR: Are you ready to go? I think our recorder is working.
Robert Kovaleski: We’ll do our best. You know, we might have to stop a few times. Sometimes I get sentimental talking about old times!
GR: First of all. I always like to ask this question and, by the way I’ll make a separate video of this one answer that we’ll post as a Message In The Bottle…If you had to share what you felt was the most important lesson you’ve learned, in a short amount of time, to sum up in a brief moment the most important thing you could share…in a sense, if you could put a Message into a bottle and this one lesson was the only thing anyone was ever going to have to remember you by, what would you say?
Robert Kovaleski: That’s a tough one to start with, but I’d have to say: Loyalty, Honest and Truthfulness are very important, whichever martial art that your’re involved in. Loyalty to your teacher is necessary for him to want to reciprocate and give you the knowledge that you deserve. Honesty means you must admit, even after many years of training and searching that there is still more to be found. Truthfullness, is the truthfulness of that. I think that sums it up pretty good.
GR: Where would you say you learned this lesson?
Robert Kovaleski: I learned those three from time, training and discipline, trying to be truthful and honest and trying to become the best that I can become.
GR: Where do obstacles fit into this?
Robert Kovaleski: Well you know there are always obstacles, whether it would be people that are jealous or envious. Some people try to interfere with your quest for knowledge because they feel that their way is the only right way. That’s just not true. I don’t believe in trying to shortcut anything. As you can see from the time that I’ve been involved in the martial arts, since 1966, there are no shortcuts. It’s a time consuming, life-long learning process.
GR: Can you remember your first interaction in martial arts?
Robert Kovaleski: I sure can! I was a sophomore in high school, back in 1966. My best friend was a greenbelt. I had just moved from another town to this one, and we became very good friends. So, he would show me some techniques. There was a few of us who hung together and we would make fun of him when he’d show us some of the Tang Soo Do. That was my first introduction. He and I became very good friends and he started…(crack in voice) teaching me (voice cracks again)…the arts.
GR: What style was that?
Robert Kovaleski: Tang Soo Do.
GR: So you’ve always been involved in Tang Soo Do.
Robert Kovaleski: Yes sir.
GR: Did you ever study any other styles?
Robert Kovaleski: Oh, I looked at them, but I got involved with Tang Soo Do and I always stayed with that. I made my friend a promise and I kept it.
GR: What was the promise?
Robert Kovaleski: It’s hard for me to talk about this, because we were very close. In our senior year, we were eighteen years old in ’68. We were in a bad automobile accident. He was unconscious for a year and a half and eventually passed away. I made him a promise while he was unconscious that I would continue to follow the art all the way to the end.
GR: This was obviously quite a significant promise. What was his name?
Robert Kovaleski: His name was Michael Bevilaqua.
GR: So, he was nineteen when he passed away?
Robert Kovaleski: Yes. He was unconscious for about a year and a half. We were in an automobile accident. A guy hit us head on, at 135 mile per hour.
GR:How were you affected? Were you injured?
Robert Kovaleski: I had a broken left femur. It shattered. It was a compound, complex break. The bone came out of my leg. I was in the hospital for a month and they had to put a pin, from my hip to my knee to keep it aligned. I didn’t use a cast, but had it straightened out.
GR: So you had been involved with martial arts for about how long at that point?
Robert Kovaleski: Well maybe about a year and a half to two years.
GR: So even with the broken leg you decided that you were going to keep this promise and continue on?
Robert Kovaleski: Yes.
GR: So how did you continue on from there? Who did you study with?
Robert Kovaleski: Well, I didn’t go to his teacher. I went to his teacher’s teacher, who was in the Scranton area. I started training with Master Frank Trojanowicz. He wasn’t a master at the time. He was just a 1st degree blackbelt at that time. I was with him for a long time, and then there was a big break up in the Korean organization in 1975. Everybody broke up and went their own ways.
GR: How many different ways were there to go?
Robert Kovaleski: Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan split into 3 different organizations. There was Grandmaster Hwang Kee (US. Soo Bahk Do Federation), Jae Chul Shin (World Tang Soo Do Association) and CS Kim (International Tang Soo Do Federation) at the time. My teacher followed Grandmaster JC Shin, because he was very close to him at the time. Master Trojanowicz was majorly responsible for sponsoring master Shin to come to the US.
GR: Mr. Shin was from Korea?
Robert Kovaleski: Yes, he now has the World Tang Soo Do Organization.
GR: Do you want to speculate or tell me what you know about the breakup?
Robert Kovaleski: I don’t think I should get involved in that, to stir up bad things. We should just let that go because right now I’m involved in a federal court case with HC Hwang (son of Gm Hwang Kee). HC Hwang didn’t respect his seniors- Let’s just say that!
GR: All right, then let’s change gears a little bit. If I ask you to recall something inspirational that happened in your past…and it doesn’t have to necessarily be martial arts related. Maybe it was something you heard from a teacher or a student.
Robert Kovaleski: As you and many martial artists know, after getting a first or second dan, many people become disenchanted or tired of training and they just don’t have the inspiration they had when they started. I was very fortunate to have my son get involved in training and he was my inspiration. Once you become a true teacher of this art and you truly have someone to work with who WANTS to learn, it’s amazing. They will give you that drive to help others forever.
GR: Have you said this to Eric before?
Robert Kovaleski: He knows how I feel. You have to remember, when you can help someone follow the True Path and they become an exceptional example to others with their skills, knowledge and performance—as I hoped he would, because I didn’t have anyone to leave my knowledge to, until I had him. Everyone wants to pass their knowledge onto someone who deserves it, and I was worried that I wouldn’t find that person until we had Eric—I was glad that I found him. He started training at the age of three. I started training him then, and it’s been never ending since then.
GR: Speaking of Eric’s training, you said that you took a little bit different path with him.
Robert Kovaleski: Well I had to. I had to use reverse psychology on Eric, compared to my first son. My first son chose not to get involved in martial arts. I was a little worried that I may have pushed too hard with my first son and when Eric came along I had to figure out how I could make him WANT it. That’s exactly what I did. I made him want it. Once someone gets that desire, it never gets lost.
GR: That’s a technique that maybe most parents should learn, not just martial arts teachers.
Robert Kovaleski: Well, I think that everybody should learn martial arts, because I think it would help our society immensely. Our society is in crumbles right now. It’s being shattered. If people would study martial arts, just open their eyes and just try—you understand that you have to have the right teachers and mentors. If you don’t have that, then you’re not going to learn what you should learn. Anybody can learn how to kick and punch. Anybody can learn that stuff, but that’s not what the true arts are about.
GR: What should you learn?
Robert Kovaleski: Discipline, Humility, Truth, Understanding, Indomitable spirit. All these things are the tenets of martial arts. If people would learn these things and practice them, we’d have a better world. Not just a better United States, but a better world.
GR: Do you think that these traits, conditions or principles can be taught in any other way besides martial arts?
Robert Kovaleski: Well, due to the way our society is, I feel that our way, the martial art way is the best way. Martial, means military style art. In the military you learn discipline, direction, and what is the RIGHT direction. You have the ability to be what you need to be.
GR: Did you serve in the armed forces?
Robert Kovaleski: No, but I had a brother that did. My brother Damien. Damien served in the Us Army during the Panama Crises. Then his time was up and he got out. Then the Vietnam War occurred and he reenlisted. He was a Black Beret in Panama. When Vietnam started up he went to Fort Bragg and became a Green Beret and then went over to Vietnam.
GR: What is your oldest son’s name?
Robert Kovaleski: Jeffery. He’s the assistant Vice Principal in the Mid-Valley School district, which consists of three different towns.
GR: How long have you been married?
Robert Kovaleski: Since 1971.
GR: Has your wife ever gotten involved in the martial arts?
Robert Kovaleski: She tried it(Laughing.) I think she took one class and she didn’t like it, but that’s O.K. She always let me do it, even though it keeps us apart sometimes, because of the things that you have to do and the time that’s involved sometimes. But, she’s a trooper. She’s stood by me all the way and now it’s time for me to devote some time to her. Eric’s got the torch now. Eric does all the work.
GR: He’s a good person. You can’t help but like him.
Robert Kovaleski: Thanks Gordon, but all martial artists should be good people.
GR: He acknowledges you, not only as his father but as his teacher as well. I think there is a double amount of respect coming your way because of that.
Robert Kovaleski: I appreciate that, and the thing is I have the utmost respect for him because I know what he went through. I know everything that he knows. I know how hard he trains and I know he has a great future. He also has a lot of great friends, people that he’s met through the recent Legends Hall of Fame. I think you ALL have a great future. There was a great group of people there. You’ve got Cynthia, Hanshi, Dana Stamos, yourself, James Lew, Art Camacho, Gm. Hee Suk Choi, Gm. Hwang Jung Lee, Gm. Chang Il Do, Gm. Koe Woong Choung, Gm Ki Hyun Baek, Gm. Tan from Malaysia and Master Guy Larke to name a few (laughing.) There’s a lot of great people out there and the thing is, they have to unite. “Legends” is going to help everyone unite. This is a very important thing. This has been Eric’s goal since he learned of that big breakup in the Korean Martial Arts. My son knew how I felt. Eric said, ‘Dad, I’m going to try and unite everybody.’ But, you see he’s gone beyond just the Korean organizations. He wants to do it with everyone, all martial artists…together, the way it should be.
GR: We just have to keep finding those of like mind and join forces, keep moving forward. There are a lot of martial artists, and people from other disciplines that believe the exact same thing.
Robert Kovaleski: Yes sir!! There are many great people out there like that, and with your help and the help on all of these great masters, hopefully we can meet them all!
It’s important! Everybody picks a style and they get involved and most people stay with that style. Some people jump around. Now, I don’t know if there is any harm in that, but what we should ALL remember is to be respectful of each other. We need to understand the differences of each [style and person] and make adjustments as necessary. You never give up your true style, what you do, but you can always accept the others too. Just because one doesn’t kick like you do, doesn’t mean they are bad. They may have some hand techniques or wristlocks or flips or throws that you’ve never seen! So, everybody has a specialty. Every different style has a specialty. That’s what it is. When their master taught them they learned what the master did best. That’s why you have the differences in styles. One master did more kicking. One did more punching. One did more throws, or joints locks. It doesn’t mean that one is not as good as the other. They are all equal. They all have the right, with the same intent to transfer the disciplines the way they were taught to them, to teach what they know.
GR: Absolutely, and I agree. Now, tell me something about when you were growing up as a kid, and your family.
Robert Kovaleski: I had three brothers. My eldest brother Damien, who I spoke of earlier passed away. I have another brother Richard who is a retired Union carpenter, Another brother Peter who is a preacher who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma who works for Oral Roberts. My mother and father have both passed away. My dad Peter owned restaurants. He was a cook in the service. When he came out, he first worked in a restaurant then opened his own. My mom was a stay at home mom.
GR: She did a good job. Now let’s get back to your martial arts family. Other than your son, who are some of the students that you’d like to acknowledge?
Robert Kovaleski: Thanks Gordon! Of course, there is Cynthia Rothrock. I taught Cynthia originally, because I used to teach all the beginners for my teacher while he was teaching the advanced class. I was the one who told my teacher, “Hey, she is going to be something special.” No sooner did I say it then it came true. Then, there is my son, Eric. Some of the other students are Kyo Sa Aaron Turner, Jason Ciesielski, Kyo Sa Dawn Kashuba, and also Jonathan Forkin who took grand champion in fighting at the 2012 Usa National Karate Championships, and of course there is Master Sekula, Master Galli, Mr. Chic Collarusso and many others. We have students all across the country, and they all make me proud!
GR: Tell me a lesson that you’ve learned from your students.
Robert Kovaleski: The lesson I’ve learned is Humility, because as we get older we change. You look at your students and you see what you’ve instilled into them. They remind me of ME when I was younger.
GR: In what way?
Robert Kovaleski: In abilities, techniques and being humble themselves not sarcastic or rude, not trying to put on a show. Our goal is to become better human beings through Tang Soo Do!
GR: Are you still active?
Robert Kovaleski: Not as active as I would like to be. I still train. I still do forms and practice at home. I train down at the school once in a while. When the Korean grandmasters came in, I trained with them. I don’t go to the school as much anymore because it’s my son’s area now. It’s time for him to carry the torch and move forward, to move further than his dad did.
GR: Are you finding your interests are steering in new directions?
Robert Kovaleski: It’s not that they are steering in new directions, but I have a wife who has done without me for all these years and I think it’s time for me to share more time with her. We’re getting older now and we want to enjoy one another more. In the past I was always teaching, always running, doing different things. She always took a backseat. Now, I want to give her the front seat. I’m still active, if Eric needs me, if the organization needs me I’m there. But, not as much as I used to be.
GR: Is there anything in the martial arts that you would still like to learn?
Robert Kovaleski: You have to realize that the martial arts is vast! Even after all these years there are many things I still don’t know. There are things that I probably know that others don’t know, but there are things that I still want to learn. It’s not that it’s over for me.
GR: Maybe that’s a condition of being human.
Robert Kovaleski: Yes, but all martial artists should want to continue to learn. There are a lot that don’t anymore. They go long enough to get a belt and they think that’s it. You know that and I know that, but that is not what it is really about. Once you reach a level, a plateau, don’t you want to continue to learn? I’m still there. I still want to learn more. It’s not that I’ve stopped, but I’m older now and my wife has basically raised our children on her own, she did everything for me. It’s time now for her too.
GR: How did you feel when you got the plaque at the Legends Hall of Fame this year?
Robert Kovaleski: Oh, I was very touched. I didn’t know I was going to receive that. It was an honor. It’s always an honor to receive an award from others. It shows that you are understood and cared about.
GR: Last year the Legends gave me the Book of the Year award for Shidoshi:The Four Ways of the Corpse, and even with all the entanglements that that are involved in the storyline, what it comes down to in the end is that all anyone really wants is to love and be loved…
Robert Kovaleski: That’s right, and to be appreciated, understood and cared about. Last year we had the Hapkido Grandmaster, Ji Han Jae and the father of Tae Kwon Do, Jhoon Rhee who were honored. All the older grandmaster are remarkable. When I say “older,” I’m sixty-two, but I don’t think I’m old. But, these are guys that you have to look up to them. They are near or over eighty and they are still trying to do good things. They deserve a lot of credit for what they’re doing. Like those Korean grandmasters who came this year, Grandmaster Hee Suk Choi is over 90! Just to fly 13 hours on the plane to get here, at that ages is just incredible. He came to the school and even did a form for us when he was here.
GR: Some of the grandmasters who were honored at the Legends Hall of Fame this year are expecting to come back and stay with Eric, is that right?
Robert Kovaleski: Yes, some are supposed to be staying with Eric for a month or two this summer. Grandmaster’s Chang Il Do and Hwang Jung Lee are scheduled to come and stay here in Pa with Eric this coming August. They have big plans!!
GR: So what is your motivation for staying with the arts as long as you have? Is it the money?
Robert Kovaleski: I have never taken any money for myself. The money always goes into the school or the organization. I never took a dime. That’s how we were taught. When I was training, I would sometimes walk in and my teacher would tell me that I’d have to take over the class for my instructor because he had to go and train with the Koreans out in Jersey. Somebody had to pick up the slack for them to go and do their thing too. That’s how it was then, and that’s how it should be today.
GR: I remember when I first started teaching on my own, I gave everyone lessons for free and then, one time only about ½ the class showed up and I said, “What is going on here?” One of my students said to me, “You should charge money!”
Robert Kovaleski: …and then they’ll come. Sometimes people feel like, “if you are doing something for nothing, then what good is it?” They might miss the point that their teacher is trying to be generous and kind. They don’t realize what they’re doing, not in our society.
GR: Do you have a favorite weapon?
Robert Kovaleski: I used to love the staff. I still go through some movements with it, but not as much as before.
GR: Any funny stories from the past?
Robert Kovaleski: I don’t know if this will be funny to you, but I thought it was kind of cute. What do you think of a thirteen or fourteen year old boy who could fight with a third dan and a fifth dan and they couldn’t touch him? To me it was funny. That was Eric.
GR: Did he have to wait until a certain age to get his black belt?
Robert Kovaleski: I didn’t promote him like I might have other kids. I was teaching him at home from the age of three. Then, I started taking him to another friend’s school, then I took him back to my teacher. At that time, he was a greenbelt and I didn’t want to promote him on my own anyway. Years later when Eric had started teaching for Master Trojanowicz, and I was no longer as involved, he asked me what I wanted and I said, “I don’t want anything for myself, but someday I’d like to have a school for Eric.” He said, “You got it.” Grandmaster Trojanowicz gave permission to open a school in this area. He made us leave and go out on our own. I would probably have stayed with him forever. My teacher was funny. He wanted us to learn on our own. Also, I think he appreciated everything that we did for him, too.
GR: That’s the kind of mutual respect that all subjects and all disciplines should learn from martial arts.
Robert Kovaleski: Yes Gordon you are absolutely right!
GR: How would you go about establishing criteria for certifying people to be martial arts teachers?
Robert Kovaleski: I have been teaching Tang Soo Do since the Early 70’s. The curriculm has not changed much from then. It takes a minimum time requirement of 4 years to make your 1st Dan. After that 2 more years to 2nd Dan, 3 years more to 3rd and 4 years to 4th and so on. This time requirement is necessary to promote the values of patience, endurance, respect, integrity and self- control. These core values are more important than having a great side kick or reverse punch! That is the essence of the traditional martial arts. These were the requirements set before me and I just help to keep the traditions alive!
GR: What do you think of the 22 year old who has 10 grandmaster, 10th dans?
Robert Kovaleski: He’s got to be really good!(Laughing) If you’re 22 years old and are a tenth dan, where are you going now? Where do you have to go? There’s nothing left for him. I’ll bet you this though, he doesn’t have the knowledge and wisdom that he should have. If you follow the traditional guidelines, there is no possible way!
GR: He certainly doesn’t seem to have the humility of some of the older grandmasters that you mentioned.
Robert Kovaleski: You can say that’s for sure. These Great Masters were not handed rank. They were not handed skills, they were earned. Earned thru Blood, Sweat and Tears!! The Old School Way!
GR: So you are kind of lucky. I always ask the question, “What do you want to be remembered for?” or “What do you think your legacy will be?” as well as “what would you like it to be?” But, you are really are pretty much set in that department because you have students like Cynthia and of course Eric.
Robert Kovaleski: I am VERY lucky and fortunate to have such great students and friends in the arts! It shows me that all of my hard work and dedication are seen and admired by others as well as my students. I wish for my legacy to be left that I was a Good teacher, one that stood up for what is right and just! I wish also that this unfortunate turn in our art, that is about control and money, greed and fame will be corrected in court for all who have ever studied Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan and that the symbol of who and what we are is for EVERYONE!!
Eric Kovaleski Interview for LEGENDS AND LEGACIES
Eric Kovaleski Interview for LEGENDS AND LEGACIES
GR: Let’s start off by asking what is one topic of discussion that you are anxious to make sure gets into this interview? Is there something that you want to make sure we don’t miss?
Eric Kovaleski: That is a good first question. I guess I’d like to let everyone know about our annual events, the Legends of Martial Arts Hall of Fame Awards and the USA National Karate Championships.
GR: Both great events that I enjoyed very much being a part of this year. On behalf of everyone, I want to thank you for all the work you put into both. Yours and your partners, Cynthia Rothrock’s efforts are very much appreciated by the worldwide martial arts community.
Eric Kovaleski: Thank you for saying so. It was really an honor this year to have several great celebrities, especially the many masters and grandmasters who travelled from Korea to be with us at the events.
GR: Name something of which you are most proud?
Eric Kovaleski: I’m very proud of the events we put on this past year. With it only being our second Legends of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame Awards, I’m very proud that Cynthia and I have gone on the journey to put that event on. I’m proud of our USA Karate Championships. In the martial arts, I am probably MOST proud of our Special Needs program. We started it about seven years ago for children with Down’s Syndrome, autism and other types of disabilities. That’s the most rewarding for me.
GR: How did that come about?
Eric Kovaleski: When I was younger, before I was even a Blackbelt I was an assistant instructor to a senior black belt and friend of mine, Master John Andrejack who used to teach at the Deutch Institute. I used to go two times a week to the local YMCA and help him. He would give of his time to teach children with all different disabilities. Probably because I started doing that at such a young age, it was something that I always wanted to keep doing. We actually put together a formal class and since that time, we now have 17 or 18 children with different disabilities, mostly with Down Syndrome, but some with cerebral palsy, some autistic. Just to see the smiles on these children’s faces when they accomplish something…there’s no holding them back. Some of them are as athletic as children without a disability.
GR: I was thinking about this question for later, but I’ll ask it now. What kind of vision do you have for the future of martial arts?
Eric Kovaleski: I think with the Big Boom in the MMA, now what is most important is that traditional schools teach the actual values, not just the fighting aspect of the arts. That’s what is needed, not just the exercise or the self-defense part of martial arts, but the courtesy, etiquette, respect, the things that today’s children need. That’s the most important thing. I think that martial arts schools should stick to their traditions and roots and values and make sure that they get these values to as many people across the country and across the world as they can.
GR: And that’s not just for kids!
Eric Kovaleski: They say that it’s easier to teach a child then to mend an adult. Once somebody is already set in their ways, it’s hard for them to make changes. If children are brought up with those core values then, you know those traditional tenets of the martial arts, then it’s easier to develop them into a good person.
GR: Who are your heroes? Who has influenced you on this path as a martial artist or in life or both?
Eric Kovaleski: I had a lot of great, great masters and grandmasters to look up to. As you know, I started when I was three years old, with my father being my first instructor, my lifelong mentor. I always looked up to my father and both his and my instructor, senior grandmaster Frank Trojanowicz. He started the Scranton Karate School in 1961. He was a very influential person in my life. It was like having another father. He’s a very well known, Korean Karate pioneer. I’ve been blessed to get to do what I do for a living. I don’t really consider it work, but I’ve gotten to meet some awesome people. I got to work with Cynthia Rothrock. She was a student of my father’s back in the 70s. She’s just a great friend of the family. I’ve gotten to do different [projects and activities] with James Lew, Art Camacho and others. There are so many people who’ve influenced me. We got to go to Korea and meet the founding fathers of the Moo Duk Kwon, Tang Soo Do and spend some time with them. I’ve always looked up to grandmasters Hwang Jung Lee, Jackie Chan and Grandmater Chang Il Do. He had a film career as Bruce Lei. I got to meet Wesley Snipes. I’ve always looked up to him on film as well. It’s just been great.
GR: What is your biggest failure? Is there anything for which you are ashamed in your past? What did you learn from this mistake?
Eric Kovaleski: That’s a good question. Before I met my beautiful wife and had my two wonderful children, I had some rough times. I was married before and when I went through a divorce, six or seven years ago. I was real depressed with my life and started to abuse first prescription drugs and then, I guess you would call cosmetic drugs. I had an addictions problem. By the grace of God and with the help of my family, my wife who was very supportive, all of my students who were very supportive, I went to Marworth, which is an in-patient rehabilitative facility. I spent some time there and then I did some outpatient counseling and I continue to go to AA meetings, just to make sure that this is something, not that I conquer but that I keep myself aware of so that it doesn’t creep back into my life. That would be something that, at the same time, I am ashamed of but am proud. It’s made me a stronger man and will probably make me a better father because I’ll know signs and symptoms. When my children hit a certain age, I’ll be able to talk openly about it and it’s not something that I hide behind. It’s something where I’ve taken a negative and turned it to a positive? Now I’m able to help others do the same.
GR: Is that something you may have learned from martial arts?
Eric Kovaleski: Yes, I would say that martial arts teaches you to overcome any obstacle, whether you think something is bad or it IS bad. It helps you keep a positive focus on life. Just the same way you have a journey to get your Blackbelt, you see that there are certain steps that you need to take; this is what I have to do. You learn to stay dedicated and work with conviction. This process in my life with addiction, I’ve come out pretty well. I’m proud to say I’ve been clean since March 12th of last year. Things are going well and everything is positive.
GR: And, you have a new baby?
Eric Kovaleski: I do. I have my daughter Natasha who is almost two years old. She’s my best friend next to my wife, and I have a brand new baby, Erik Kovaleski. He’s just about two months old.
GR: Let me ask this question now, and perhaps you can frame your answer as something that you could leave to your children. If you had to put a message into a bottle, that might be the only thing anyone would ever find in the future that would prove you were here, your most important lesson or the thing that you wanted to make sure people knew about you or your time or planet or human beings in general…and you had to sum it up in just a short span, what would you say?
Eric Kovaleski: There is one message that I have to leave behind for everyone else and I guess that would be to always be true to yourself. Do the things that you know are right, whether in adversity or not in adversity. Do the next right thing and if you make mistakes in your life, you push through to correct those mistakes. You just need to be true to yourself. If you’re not true to yourself, then you are not true to anybody else. Believe in your beliefs, whether somebody else believes in them or not. Be positive and remember that being true to yourself is very important. And, if my children were to get this message, I would also like to tell them that I love them, that they are my best friends and they were the best things to happen to me in my life.
GR: Tell us something that you’ve learned from one of your students.
Eric Kovaleski: I have learned a lot of different things from a lot of different students. I’m trying to think of which one thing might be the most memorable.
GR: Whatever jumps into your head and you could tell me more than one thing.
Eric: What jumps into my head as something that I’ve learned the most from my students comes from that Special Needs Program, and from them I’ve learned is this: Here you have children who have different sorts of disabilities or imperfections in life, as we all do, with our without a disability. It’s their outlook on life that I’ve learned the most from. Some people say they are “blessed” but when you really look at these children, where one child has trouble walking, one has trouble talking and another has learning disabilities, but their outlook is always positive. The smallest things in life make them happy. These Special Needs Children are like the chosen few. I mean, everything makes them so happy. They never focus on the bad. They don’t focus on things that they can’t do. All they do is focus on the positives. Everything makes them happy. So from them, I’ve learned a real positive attitude that’s is reinforced back to me through that program.
GR: Would you describe yourself either as “what you see is what you get” or “there’s more to me than meets the eye?”
Eric Kovaleski: A little of both, I’m very forward and honest person. So, part of me is what you see is what you get. I’m very forthcoming. At the same time, there is more to me than meets the eye because I think I come off as being very humble. I do what I do for a living, but I’m not the kind of guy that brags or shows off. So, I guess I might be 50-50.
GR: Tell me about your training. What is your favorite part of training?
Eric Kovaleski: Forms of Tang Soo Do are moving meditations. I love sparring. I love weapons. I love all aspects of martial arts. But, the moving meditation of forms are probably the most important in the Tang Soo Do curriculum and the forms or Hyungs are my most favorite part of training.
GR: What’s your least favorite?
Eric: Running. I run, but I don’t enjoy running that much. I would say that is my least favorite.
GR: There is a section in The Five Principles of Everything book where I talk about running. You might want to take a look at that.
Eric: I will do that. That’s what I need to work on the most.
GR: Who should NOT take martial arts classes?
Eric Kovaleski:I don’t think I’m one to judge, necessarily, because, no matter what your background or outlook there is something to be gained for everyone. I honestly think that everyone should take martial arts classes, whether it be for self defense, the physical fitness, the mental attitude, aggression release. Everybody has different needs and wants and martial arts classes are the only place you can go where you have all the exercise components, the mental, the physical, the spiritual. It’s like going to a doctor, a physical therapist, a psychologist with the whole thing wrapped up into one.
GR: You’ve been around the world a little bit.
Eric Kovaleski: Yes Sir.
GR: What’s the best place you’ve ever trained?
Eric Kovaleski: I really enjoyed, in 2005 I went to China on a 14 or 16 day trip with master Cynthia Rothrock and grandmaster Eric Lee. I got to do some training at the Shaolin Temple, with the Shaolin monks at the Shaolin training school. We got to do demonstrations on the Great Wall of China and I got to shoot a traditional Tang Soo Do, Hyungs DVD in the Shaolin Temple. That was a lot of fun. This past August, again Cynthia and I ran the trip together. We took 30 of our association members and students and masters and all color belts. We all flew to Korea and we got to go to the Moo Duk Kwan headquarters. It was basically the place where Korean martial arts began. We got to train with the second and third blackbelts ever recorded in martial arts history. They are the most senior members in all the world. Grand Master Young Duk Kim Dan #2, and Grandmaster Hee Suk Choi Dan #3 who just came to the United States to visit and teach at our school. Just to be able to meet these legends was an absolutely remarkable experience. They were so inviting. They were as happy for us to be there as we were to go there. I found that to be incredible. Somebody of their rank and honor, for them to be as excited for Americans to come to Korea as we were to go there…When I was growing up, learning a Korean martial art or Chinese or Japanese martial art, then going to the place of origin is your dream. Students want to go to Korea, China or Japan and for that to come true for me I would have to say to anybody: If that is your dream, then seek it out and go.
GR: Good Answers! Do you have notes written on your hands?
Eric: No, I’m an off the cuff type of guy and I don’t read that fast. (Laughing)
GR: What do you think your legacy will be? What WILL you be remembered for?
Eric Kovaleski: What will I be remembered for or what do I want to be remembered for? That’s two different questions.
GR: That will be the next question.
Eric: What do I think I will be remembered for…I think that it depends on who is doing the remembering. If it’s my children I want them to remember me as being the best dad ever. If it’s my wife? For being a great husband. If it’s my parents…for being a great kid. If it’s my students: For being a positive role model, even when I’ve made mistakes myself. I want them to have the feeling that it’s o.k. to make mistakes and then do better the next time. I think we’ll be remembered for the events that we put on, the families that we’ve touched. In teaching, you really touch a lot of people. I’ve been training since I was three, but I’ve been teaching since before I was a teenager. There are so many people that you come across on a daily basis, you just hope that you make a good impression and leave positive thoughts with as many people as you can.
GR: So does that answer the second question: What would you like your legacy to be?
Eric Kovaleski: I’d like to be known as somebody who was true to their traditions. I teach traditional Tang Soo Do and I’ve always been true to my teachers and my students and to myself. I’d like to be known as a decent Tang Soo Do master, and I want to be known as a person who tried to help as many people as I could while I was here. I’m the type of guy if I can do something for someone, that makes me happy. That’s fulfillment enough in life. So, I’d like to be remembered as someone, when there was someone who needed help then I helped them to the best of my ability.
GR: Do you think that is a human quality?
Eric Kovaleski: Yes, absolutely. I think some humans don’t have that quality, but most people do care about others. I am very giving of everything that I have, so I guess I’d hope that each individual appreciates everyone else. How we treat each person should be based upon what they do. Don’t take anything for granted.
GR: So, you’ve always studied Tang Soo Do?
Eric Kovaleski: Yes sir.
GR: Never any other styles at all?
Eric Kovaleski: Yes, I’ve been doing Sin Moo Hapkido with Grandmaster Ji Han Jae and Grandmaster Ken Mackenzie. I’ve been doing that for well over six years, perhaps seven years since I started with their Federation. I absolutely love it. Dojunim Ji Han Jae is an absolutely remarkable individual. He’s a very, very humble, smart man who can throw down with the best of ‘em! No doubt about that. He’s tossed me around many times. You know, I really look up to people like Dojunim Ji Han Jae, grandmaster Hee Suk Choi and Grandmaster Young Duk Kim…guys who’ve been around since the 1940s or early ‘50s and they are still out there doing it, everyday. That to me is a measure of a master. Not somebody who says, “I’m going to…” but actually gets out on a regular basis, at that age…
GR: And not because someone is watching!
Eric Kovaleski: Exactly. They are doing it because it’s their love. It’s their driving force in life. It’s their Passion!