How Martial Arts Saved This Saginaw Man’s Life
Growing up wasn’t easy for Joseph Stricker.
The Saginaw native didn’t grow up in the best neighborhood and the temptations of a life on the street surrounded him every day.
“Fighting was something I was brought up in,” he explained.
Another constant in Stricker’s life was a focus on the martial arts. A karate student as a young boy, he had to give up the practice when his family could no longer afford to send him to classes. After he ran into minor trouble with the law at the age of 15, the assistant prosecuting attorney on his case asked him to check out his martial arts studio, even offering him free classes.
“The guy became my mentor,” he said.
Stricker, 45, still meets for lunch with retired prosecutor and martial arts master Garner Train every Wednesday in Flint. As a teen, having a positive role model combined with the discipline he developed through practicing martial arts helped him resist some of the negative influences around him.
“The martial arts is what really gave me the powerful attitude to say ‘no’ to many situations,” he said.
He cut ties with a lot of the people in his life who weren’t following the path he knew he wanted for himself.
“It’s tough. You get to the point where you just have to ask yourself what do you want to do and sometimes you just have to cut people off,” he said.
After that, he devoted himself completely to the martial arts, eventually opening up three Martial Arts Connection studios. In 2014, he earned the rank of San Dai Kichu, an elite designation and the absolute highest. He earned a special scroll marking his achievement. He’d seen the scroll several years earlier when he was a child and it had been in the back of his mind ever since.
“When I saw that scroll, I said ‘I’m going to get one of those someday’,” he said.
Stricker offers three scholarships to his studios every year to kids whose backgrounds mirror his own. At first, he was reluctant to talk about his past, worried what parents might think of him. He eventually realized that his tough backstory is exactly what some kids needed to hear about in order to be reached.
“When I talk to these kids in the inner city, I say ‘If I can do this … can you imagine what you can do?’” he said.
Just as Train helped out a young Stricker, changing his life, Stricker hopes to be the same positive influence to his students. He mentors a young boy who helps him out in his shop with cleaning and other light work in exchange for classes. The boy is being raised by his grandparents. His grandfather recently told Stricker the boy wants to be a martial arts instructor when he grows up, something that touched Stricker deeply.
“Being able to do that is just awesome,” he said.
In addition to running his studios, Stricker has volunteered the past four holiday seasons as a Salvation Army bell ringer, he volunteers at a local soup kitchen and he’s president-elect of Saginaw’s Rotary Club. He also puts on two community races every year, the Cinco K Cinco De Mayo and a Dia de los Muertos event, to raise awareness about Hispanic and Mexican culture and to encourage the community to become active. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan sponsors the races.
“I really try to work hard with the community,” he said. “It’s time to give back.”
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Photo credit: Vee (main), additional images courtesy of Joseph Stricker