When Chuck Coker was introduced to martial arts at age 19 he couldn’t have predicted that the sport would change his life.
“I was the typical 94-pound weakling with a big mouth who got in trouble a lot,” he said. “I started when I was young and it’s been a part of my life ever since.”
The nearly 70-year-old was a Kung Fu competitor while in the United States Marines and continued until 1983 when he retired after Black Belt Magazine ranked him second in his division internationally.
After retiring, Coker launched Yeshá Ministries, a non-profit that combines martial arts and ministry, at Neptune Baptist Church in Neptune Beach.
“In the instruction of martial arts, there are a number of techniques you have to learn including basic stance, the way you stand to fight or defend yourself, and I connect Scripture to it,” he said. “In the book of James, it says resist the devil and he will flee so I teach our students that if you stand confident the devil will flee."
More than 10,000 students have participated in free taekwondo classes at Yeshá Ministries, which is celebrating its 34th anniversary this year.
The non-profit boasts 17 schools including nine in Jacksonville, one in St. Augustine and seven others throughout South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland and northeast Florida.
“We’ve had children in the program who have been abused as well as orphans and foster children,” he said. “We strive to reach the people who are considered unreachable and give of ourselves in a way that will have a positive impact on the community.”
Yeshá Ministries has grown to include more than 125 instructors at its 17 schools.
Instructor Kyle Scott started teaching martial arts nearly two years ago at the Oakleaf School on Lake Gray Boulevard in Jacksonville.
Scott said his class, which meets twice a week, is comprised of all ages and skill levels.
“We have one big class and we teach the basics as well as a self-defense program too,” he said. “My number one goal is to make sure everyone knows how to protect and defend themselves.”
He added that being an instructor has given him an experience he might not have otherwise had.
“It’s been a fantastic experience to get to know everyone and I learn as much as I teach,” he said. “It’s amazing to see younger kids start out and be really good by the time they’re teenagers.”
Coker said he anticipates that Yeshá Ministries will continue to increase its outreach in the future.
“We’re serving the people who need this the most and that’s how it’s evolved and that’s how it’s going to continue to evolve,” he said. “We need people who have an interest in reaching people who are unreachable.”
The organization has also begun looking into streaming its classes at various locations across the country.
“We’re trying to find the funding and systems to stream our classes so people can come to a church or community center and go through the class with one of our master instructors and be certified for that belt level so we can begin multiplying much faster,” he said. “The person who starts something is rarely the person who can finish it and I want to leave this legacy to someone who can take it to the next level.”
Written by Ann Friedman at the Florida Times-Union published February 23, 2017