John Patton has been involved in martial arts for 40 years and has currently reached the rank of sixth-degree senior master.
In the coming months, he will be honored twice for his achievements as an instructor and competitor in taekwondo.
Patton, 56, will be inducted into the Action Martial Arts Hall of Honors during a celebration which runs from Jan. 25-27 in Atlantic City, N.J. He is being honored for “outstanding achievements in martial arts.”
In early April, he will be inducted into the Martial Art Masters Hall of Fame. That ceremony will also be held in Atlantic City.
“It’s absolutely crazy. There’s people in their lifetime that don’t get one of these awards,” Patton said.
His love of martial arts began years before he took his first actual lesson. As a child, he loved watching “The Green Hornet” on television. Bruce Lee famously starred in this short-lived series, and Patton was intrigued by what he saw.
“I was four or five years old and it fascinated me,” Patton said. “From that time on, I loved martial arts.”
He took part in wrestling and boxing, and started formal lesson in martial arts when he was 16 years old.
He took lessons as part of the World Taekwondo Association for several years and then found himself without an instructor for a short time. He learned that Lee Stults was launching classes in Lebanon which would be affiliated with the American Taekwondo Association. Patton was in class on opening day in 1986 when Stults launched his program.
It was through Stults that Patton first became an assistant instructor in 1987. Patton remained affiliated with this school for the next decade and in 1998 he bought it.
Patton operated the school until 2010 when he sold the business and briefly moved to Roseburg, where he continued to be an instructor.
After moving back to Lebanon, Patton was recruited to join the Hwa-Rang Taekwondo Association which later merged with the United World Taekwondo Association, Patton’s current home organization.
A little more than two years ago, Patton launched a new training academy, Master Patton’s UWTA Taekwondo, at 96 East Sherman Street. Classes are available for students from 4-years-old and up and for all skill levels.
Cameron Mooney, 25, is one of his adult students. He will test for his first-degree black belt on Feb. 23.
“He has taught me a lot, not just in taekwondo,” Mooney said. “Respect, self-control, courtesy. We’re always going through the five tenets of taekwondo … He’s just an awesome guy. I wouldn’t be here without him.”
The business is slowly building back to where it was a decade ago and over the past year he has been able to work full time as an instructor.
Being able to make a living through martial arts is a fulfillment of his childhood dream.
“People always told me martial arts is where I belong,” Patton said. “At one of my class reunions for high school I got the ‘most unique occupation’ award. Not too many people teach martial arts full time.”
Helping him operate the studio is his wife, Dee. They have been married for a little more than four years and have five children and five grandchildren.
They met almost 30 years ago when Dee was a taekwondo student and Patton was still an assistant instructor.
Years later, they reconnected. Dee is still involved in the sport and in the next few weeks she will take the test for her black belt.
“She is the most supportive person,” Patton said. “There’s times I would go to tournaments and not plan on competing and she would say ‘You need to compete.’”
Dee Patton makes no apologies for insisting that her husband continue to event competitions where he regularly faces opponents who are half his age.
“As his number one fan, I hope he continues. I love watching him compete. It’s amazing. I don’t care how tired he is,” she joked.
One unique aspect of martial arts is its model of continuing education. Even a master instructor such as Patton continues to take lessons.
He travels weekly to Portland for classes with Steve Golden, 76, a former student of Bruce Lee. This class is by invitation only and Patton relishes being part of this circle.
“You continue learning. You never know it all. You never stop learning, even grandmasters I know train. There’s so many methods, systems,” Patton said.
Golden teaches Lee’s system of jeet kune do.
“Steve told me it’s going to make my taekwondo that much better, and I believe that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever trained in; it’s amazing,” Patton said.
The recognition he will receive this year has given him the opportunity to think about what martial arts have meant to his life and how much he enjoys sharing this knowledge with others.
“People look at martial arts with movies and it portrays so much violence. And honestly, that’s not what it’s about. Yes, it’s good for self-defense, but it’s about building yourself as a person,” Patton said. “It builds confidence, focus. I know it’s made a difference in my life.”