Grand master and eighth dan black belt John Feast is the head of four tae kwon do schools in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, but to get where he is now, he had to take a couple of punches.
But John is quick to stress that he teaches tae kwon do as a tool for a healthy lifestyle.
"I'm not running a class that beats people up, I teach flexibility, fitness, balance, and discipline."
It was the discipline that was part of the attraction for John. That and martial arts overall as a healthy lifestyle tool helped him deal with the anger he had in his early life. He developed the dedication that helped him learn a side kick he first saw in a Bruce Lee movie. He went to the movie 13 times as he developed and mastered the kick.
John, now in his 70s, has been a top swimmer and even wanted to make it to the Olympic Games, but in the late 1960s, he started in the Japanese martial art karate in New Zealand.
"I started because I came from a very violent family. I had lots of anger inside me and martial arts helped me to keep it under control."
The Japanese martial art was very violent, he says.
"They asked for extreme discipline. You were taught from the back of the class, instead from the front like today and when you did something wrong, you got a slap. If you have ever experienced a Japanese slapping, you know it is not funny and quite brutal."
But he stuck around and even got his black belt in karate. John, originally from Hamilton, trained in the building and carpentry industry before going to Australia for an OE, spending a long time in Perth.
"The city didn't look like it does today. When I was over there, Perth only started to get built, so there were plenty of jobs for me to finance my trips around the country."
Wanting to continue martial arts, John was looking for a place that offered karate - but couldn't find it.
"One day, I went through Perth town and heard yelling. I looked where it came from and found a tae kwon do class, led by world master Chong Chul Rhee - I joined straight away."
Master Rhee from South Korea is named as one of the 12 original masters of tae kwon do and founder of tae kwon do in Australia. He is the president of the Tae Kwon Do Instructors' Federation of Australia and New Zealand, and the head of Rhee Tae Kwon Do, Australia's first and biggest school.
John's start with Rhee Tae Kwon Do would soon turn into a 25-year relationship, which they maintained even when John returned to New Zealand.
"Master Rhee taught me everything I need to know. I used to think that I have to always win, so I would fight people. But tae kwon do is not a sport, it's an art. It's a tool for a healthy lifestyle."
There is an unwritten rule of tae kwon do, which says the master never follows the student. Rhee broke that rule: When John went back to New Zealand after a couple of years in Australia, the world master followed him to Rotorua.
As Rhee had been an unarmed combat instructor in the Korean Marines, he taught John "Korean" and "army style". Tae kwon do is very spiritual and Rhee tried to break him to see his spirit, John says.
"One time in summer, it was a hot and sunny day and Rhee made me practise turning kicks outside the motel where he was staying. I was so thirsty, but I didn't say anything. After a while, he asked me whether I could bring him a bottle of Coke out of the fridge in his room, I was so relieved, he finally made a break to drink.
"So I went and grabbed the ice-cold bottle and ran back to Rhee - I had to hold myself back to not take a tiny sip. I made it, didn't even touch the bottle. Rhee thanked me, poured himself a drink and made me continue training."
After several unsuccessful attempts to have a look at John's spirit, Rhee stopped trying. John started a Rhee Tae Kwon Do school in Rotorua, which led to additional ones reaching from Kerikeri to Wellington. After 25 years with Rhee, John went out on his own and started Feast Tae Kwon Do in the early 1990s.
"It still contains traditional techniques and values of tae kwon do, but I introduced a different stance and punching to it. And I added a side kick, inspired by Bruce Lee. In his movie The Way of the Dragon Lee did a side kick aimed at one of the villains and I thought I gotta do that! I ended up going to the movie 13 times to see how he did it, so I could copy the move."
John received the black belt of the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) and says that fitness is only one part of tae kwon do.
"It takes about two years to become physically fit. That is when most people achieve their black belt. But after that starts the spiritual work and that takes a lifetime."
John was married twice. His second wife Liz McKeown, a former nurse and ballet dancer, he met through a letter writing friendship.
Liz says: "John and I have been together for 20 years. We don't have any children together, but looking around, he has a whole class full! We are one big family."
She helps John with the paperwork side of running four schools: Feast Tae Kwon Do Tauranga, Te Aroha, Morrinsville, and just recently, they also opened a school in Matamata.
John says: "I teach the art, not competition. I'm not running a class that beats people up, I teach flexibility, fitness, balance, discipline. I want my students to enjoy what they do."
John says he and Liz are a team. "I wouldn't be, where I am today, without her. She understands the discipline you need for this. She is always behind me."
He has dedicated his life to martial arts.
"I will probably do this until I die. Tae kwon do and my schools helped me to find a way of dealing with my anger from the past. And I don't want my students be angry, I want to show them how to have a calm mind, how to breathe and deal with pressure and stress."
Regarding the number of students, John says he is not interested in the number of people in his classes.
"I never cared about how many, I am interested in who comes and wants to learn. I am certain that every person learns something when they are in class, and that is what counts. Even I am not done learning, but I have set my life to it."
Feast Tae Kwon Do classes always run Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8pm. The new class trains at the Matamata Intermediate School Hall and is run by 21-year-old second-degree instructor Mathew Hart.
What is Tae Kwon Do?
Tae kwon do is a Korean martial art that focuses on punching, jumping, blocking and kicking-techniques with bare hands and feet. Additionally, weapons like chaku and swords are included.
The art especially concentrates on speed and flexibility. In addition to the physical part, tae kwon do also consists of mental and spiritual work.
There are 10 coloured belts for 10 ranks with the black belt being the highest rank. After the black belt, starts the senior section characterised by nine ranks with each rank called dan or degree.
Roughly every four months participants sit a test and can move up a rank until the black belt. Grand master John has the eighth dan or the eighth-degree black belt.
With the black belt achieved, there is no set time on when to move to the next dan which can take several years. Also, the majority of physical work is completed and black belts then focus on mental and spiritual work or breathing techniques.