It’s been one month since Kuk Sool Won of Pekin closed down its location at 1530 N. 8th St. The traditional Korean family martial arts academy, opened in 2011, had outgrown its building and needed to relocate.
“Parking was a big issue, and our lobby was crowded,” said Michael Yates, Kuk Sool Won of Pekin owner and head instructor. “We wanted parents to stay and watch their (child) train, but they couldn’t do that comfortably. Many nights were standing room only.”
Along with Teresa, his wife and business partner, Michael has been looking at properties for a while.
“We love Pekin but were having trouble finding the right space,” Teresa Yates said. “A lot of the properties we looked at were connected to other businesses. We really liked the old Goodfellas (at 1414 N. Eighth St.), but couldn’t get a guarantee of what type of business would move in. While the parking was great, we would have been between a gambling facility and a vape shop. That’s not an atmosphere appropriate for our students. One of our parents told us about the old Creative Landscaping building (at 122 S. 14th St.), and we knew it would be perfect.”
Michael Yates did the remodeling himself with the help of family, friends and students. The demolition began in August 2017 with a martial arts twist.
“While taking the old office down, Mike decided to side kick a stud to break it in half,” said student Jeromie Buckley, 39, of Pekin. “The stud flexed and bounced him back across the room. I wish I had video of that one. It was hard work, but we had lots of laughs.”
Student Corey Wolfe, 37, also of Pekin, lent his artistic talents to the renovation. He designed the two 9-foot-tall “Kicking Guy” banners that hang outside as well as the student posters inside.
“I was honored to be a part of building the school at that level,” Wolfe said. “From helping design paint schemes. . . to wiring speakers, and anything else I could do. It was fun and exhausting. It was like being with family.”
Despite the long hours and a few big setbacks, the Yateses never took their eyes off the prize. The new school was unveiled on Feb. 7 with an open house for students and their parents.
James Kerr, dad to 7-year-old Jack, was impressed with both the new Academy and the instructors.
“The facilities are amazing - especially compared to the old one,” Kerr said. “Many times, I’ve seen instructors take the time to talk to the students and walk them through any issue they are facing: Bullying, esteem issues, you name it. In class, all the instructors push the kids to do their best but never at their expense - a far cry from the experience I had at ‘similar’ schools back in the 80s. Additionally, the attention the kids receive is equal regardless if they are competition-bound or merely casual participants. And, on a personal note, their understanding working with children with ADHD and confidence issues is inspiring. Bring in a kid who can’t sit still and gives up too easily and you’ll see in the first few weeks a child who blossoms into someone eager to challenge themselves and eager to push further than they thought that (they) could.”
Andrea Bartlett, mom to 7-year-old Jacob, is positive about the school.
“I like the feel the new school has, mostly the energy,” Bartlett said. “I love the friends I have made just getting to know other parents while my son is in class. I also love watching each child succeed in their own skills from class to class. With regards to the instructors, I love the patience they have with my active high energy child. I love watching the interactions each of the instructors have with each child and the personal connection they each try and make with each student.”
Angela Mahr, 37, and her 8-year-old daughter, Ava, are both students.
“The new building is much roomier, and I love being able to do techniques and falls right on the new cushy floor,” Mahr said. “The waiting area is awesome and airy, and I love that there are now tables to sit at. The instructors are absolutely amazing and very patient. They treat us all as family.”
Martial arts and Kuk Sool Won hold a lot of meaning to the Yateses.
“My wife and I love Kuk Sool Won for its traditional value it brings,” Michael Yates said.
“If a child grows up with a traditional martial art, their attitude towards the world is changed a bit,” he added. “They know what it feels like to work hard and reach their goals, to never give up or quit, to keep pushing, and they have had the satisfaction of their hard work paying off. These things don’t happen overnight. It takes time, hard work, dedication and perseverance.”
The new facility has more to offer both students and parents.
“Our new training facility has a custom mat floor with double the training space and a large parent seating area with a complimentary coffee bar and free Wi-Fi,” Michael Yates said. “We are close to the Pekin Park, so parents can enjoy taking a walk around the lagoon while their child is in class. We have plenty of parking, and we are excited to have the ability to expand in the future.”
Michael Yates has high hopes for the new facility, and the opportunities ahead for both current and new students.
“My goal is to improve the lives of children, adults, and our community,” he said.
“The bigger facility allows me and my amazing team of instructors the opportunity to reach more people and provide more programs,” he added.
A grand re-opening celebration will be held on June 23 to celebrate the new Academy and to celebrate their seventh year in Pekin. The Yateses will be giving away several six-week introductory programs, and there will be martial art demonstrations throughout the day. Refreshments will be served.
“I have some incredibly talented students, and we couldn’t have made this move without them,” Michael Yates said. “Teresa and I are forever grateful. I also appreciate the patience of our Kuk Sool parents as well. The completion date was changed more than once, and the parents stuck with us.”