The book of paternal lessons may include a chapter about how to tie a tie or put a power drill to good use. For one family in Murfreesboro, the pages list tips for tying a taekwondo belt or tutorials for executing proper defensive footwork on a foam mat.
Father and son martial arts instructors Master Jack Stevens Jr., 56, and Mr. Jack Stevens III, 35, are part of that family. Jack Jr. opened Stevens Family TaeKwonDo, a martial arts studio in Murfreesboro, for children and adults interested in learning self-defense in the 1990s.
He had been teaching the martial art to local church clubs before opening his first facility in Murfreesboro. For a time, there were two facilities in the city before they merged to operate under one roof on Commercial Court about 11 years ago. That is the only facility to carry the family name.
The elder Stevens, a Nashville native but longtime Murfreesboro resident, now owns nine commercial taekwondo facilities in the area.
The elder Stevens, a father of two, started formally training in taekwondo in 1978 at the age of 13 after being introduced to the Korean style of fighting by a cousin. Jack Jr. has held an eighth-degree blackbelt, or eighth dan, ranking making him a Senior Master in taekwondo since earning his certification in 2018.
The Master title is earned when someone obtains their seventh-degree blackbelt. Instructors with a sixth-degree blackbelt ranking or lower are referred to as Mr., Mrs. or Ms.
Jack III, who holds a sixth-degree dan ranking, had a bit of a head start in training, suiting up in the standard dobak uniform as a 3-year-old.
“It was cheaper than getting a babysitter, so they just put me in class” Jack III joked. His interest in the sport came as a result of extensive time spent soaking up the studio atmosphere around multiple instructors. He said his father still is his main source of tutelage.
“He’s a good example to look at when you’re not sure of what you need to be doing,” said Jack III, who now has a child of his own. “He’s always gonna be there. I don’t know anyone with a stronger work ethic. If you need anything, he’s got your back.”
He’s still coached by his father as a member of the Choong Sil Taekwondo Federation’s International Team that has taken them on journeys to tournaments in multiple countries. Together they’ve traveled to Poland, Italy, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Russia. Later this year, they are scheduled to pack up and head south to a tournament in central Mexico.
Jack Jr., who has been a CTF coach for seven years, has been teaching the sport for approximately 43 years. His son, lightheartedly known as Jack 3.0, has been helping to run the program for almost two decades.
“He was actually raised in a taekwondo school, pretty much. I can remember hanging his carry chair on bag racks in the back of the classroom when I was teaching,” said Jack Jr., a father of two children involved in taekwondo. His daughter Jamie Stevens has earned her first-degree blackbelt.
Father and son spend hours each week together, helping to lead the program with the aid of nine other instructors. During the academic year, the taekwondo school brings in about 140 K-8 students by the van-load from 12 schools in the area to participate in the after-school program. A separate homeschool program has gained an enrollment of nearly 80 children.
Additional evening classes are offered for both children and adults. The school teaches a wide variety of ages from 5 to senior citizens.
While the duo has never competed against each other because of their differences in rankings and age groups, they have competed at several of the same tournaments. They do occasionally face-off in studio sparring sessions every few weeks.
Jack Jr. described his son as a hard worker who’s willing to bring something new to the table of tradition as business, marketing and programming models continue to evolve.
“I’ve given him everything I’ve got from a business standpoint, from work ethic to instruction to get him as talented as he is today and raising that bar,” said Jack Jr. “I guess the best thing I can say is he’s taken what I gave him and is making it even better, still trying to improve on what I’ve given him.”
The main goal for the family business is longevity. Jack Jr. said he has no doubts in his son’s ability to one day take over the business and pass it on to his own children or one of the future blackbelts immersed in the Stevens Family school.
“Every couple years we’ll have a new school open up, and every couple years we’ll have another school close down. We’ve thankfully been able to ride the storm out for decades now,” said Jack Jr. “The main thing is to just keep existing and keep up the quality of what we’re doing.”