Elkhart's Steve Travis has given his life to taekwondo and seeing students succeed

A local martial arts instructor's ninth-degree black belt marks a distinguished teaching career.

Posted on March 25, 2014 at 5:53 p.m.

It wasn't the kind of kick in the head that Steve Travis was expecting.

Travis and an old friend were playing an ordinary game of basketball as kids when he took a hard hit to the side of his head.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Steve asked his friend. When his friend told him taekwondo was where he learned his move, Steve said, “Well I'm going with you because you're not going to learn how to beat me up.”

What started as something for a few kicks soon turned into a way of life for Travis.

Then, a young man named Dominic Swetcoff came into his life — a wheelchair-bound boy who had muscular dystrophy.

“In 1978, sealing the deal then wasn't everything I was accomplishing myself, it was when I'd get other people involved and see them overcome their weaknesses,” said Travis. “To him [Dominic], becoming a champion wasn't necessarily become a black belt. To him, becoming a champion was when he broke his first board...Even though he had a physical handicap, he could break a board and feel good about himself.”

Travis knew he had really accomplished something when he saw his kids overcome their biggest weaknesses.

After countless medals, trophies, ribbons and championships, the former Elkhart police lieutenant is a nationally-known martial arts instructor, who three months ago earned a coveted ninth-degree black belt.

But what does that success mean to him?

“My first to fifth degree belts were all about the things I did,” said Travis. “My sixth to ninth degree belts were accomplishments of my students, I kind of live through them now...I didn't know it was going to be a way of life. I knew it was something I was really into.”

As a teacher, Travis pushes his students to be the best that they can possibly be. He says teaching is about looking at the students needs. Some come to him for physical fitness and some come to him for self-defense training.

Other may simply need a boot-to-the-fanny confidence boost.

“Each student is like a fingerprint...they're all different," said Travis, who takes takes his “Become a Master of Your Own Weakness” mantra to higher levels by pushing his students to achieve and providing support to make sure all his students feel like champions in their own way.

“[Steve] really has a keen insight in what it takes to be successful and a knack for being able to identify a student’s strengths and more importantly, their weaknesses,” said Jake Lilly, who has been training with Travis since 1999 and is a black belt in Hapkido.

“He shows the door to your goals and then plants a foot in your backside to help motivate you to go places you never thought you could.”

Travis motivates and pushes each and every one of his students until they reach success. He continues to train people of all ages every day.

"For me, it's an evolution of seeing the students I've had fostering the next generation," he said. "Now we got them from [ages] three to 82."

People don't go to Steve Travis expecting black belts. They come to him seeking a measure of success. 

"It gives them that void in their life to keep active in something ... their accomplishments are for different reasons," he said. 

Travis then responds by letting each student open the door into themselves.

"Steve demands perfection," Lilly said, "and finds a way to bring out the best in each and every one of his students."

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