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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Martial arts champion lives his dream

  • To meet Rex Willems outside of his profession, one might not guess that the mild-mannered man is a seven-time martial arts world champion.Since 2006, Willems has competed in every American Taekwondo Association worlds tournament save for 2009.In all those years, Willems, the owner and lead instructor of McPherson Blac...
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  • To meet Rex Willems outside of his profession, one might not guess that the mild-mannered man is a seven-time martial arts world champion.
    Since 2006, Willems has competed in every American Taekwondo Association worlds tournament save for 2009.
    In all those years, Willems, the owner and lead instructor of McPherson Black Belt Academy, has brought home 19 top-three medals and 35 top-10  medals, including five golds in traditional weapons and two golds in Xtreme weapons.
    Willems grew up on a small farm south of Windom, attending school in Little River. After graduating high school, he worked at Certainteed for 23 years, and lived for short spans in Hutchinson and Little River before moving to McPherson.
    “I was always interested in martial arts,” Willems said, “but I used the typical excuses of not enough time and money. A coworker named Robert Parkins was going to a school and asked me to come along.”
    Willems said that one class was all it took to get past his excuses.
    “The black belts had amazing skills, and I wanted to be like them,” he said.
    Willems, now 48, started his Taekwondo career at the age of 30.
    For his first year he trained in Salina under teacher Diana Tarver, who was a third-degree black belt at the time.
    “From that first class, she already was teaching me to be a leader,” Willems said. “She had me working with the ornery kids in the class. I have to thank her for that. I still love doing that to this day.”
    At the end of his first year, a McPherson school was founded by Gary Madison. Willems trained for three years under Madison, a period during which he earned his first-degree black belt.
    “It was fantastic,” Willems said, “and you soon learn black belt is just the beginning. If you’re not still training, you’re not a martial artist.”
    After three years, Madison said he was going to sell Willems the school, a prospect that intimidated him at first.
    “I wasn’t sure I was ready for it,” Willems said, “but martial arts is full of challenges besides just the obvious.”
    Now, having recently earned his sixth-degree black belt, Willems still has plenty to challenge him.
    “My sixth-degree black belt form is 96 moves long,” Willems said. “I’ve got down the first 56 and last 10 moves, but the 30 in the middle I have to come up with on my own.”
    Willems’ next step is to mastership, which he will have an opportunity to earn next July.
    “I could have never gotten this far without my lovely wife, Laura,” Willems said, “the grand masters I’ve learned from and trained with, and all of the amazing and talented ATA seniors who have taught and guided me. I’d also thank my peers I’ve competed and trained with, and all the wonderful students and families who have trained at our school and have helped me live my dream to teach martial arts full time.”
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