Methods of teaching transpose from one discipline to another

By Tammy Keith Originally Published June 30, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Dan Martin of Dover is a professor of sociology and chairman of the department of behavioral sciences at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. Martin said he uses a similar method to teach in the classroom as he does in his martial-arts studio, which he opened in 2000 when he took his job at Tech.

Arkansas Tech sociology professor Dan Martin’s trophies for power weightlifting line the shelves, and his accolades in aikido hang on the wall, but he isn’t looking for a fight.

“I just want to be a better person,” Martin said.

Martin, 45, of Dover is an eighth-degree black belt in aikido — the only person with that rank in Arkansas, to his knowledge — and he has an eighth-degree black belt in judo and sixth-degree black belts in jyodo, which uses a short staff, and jujitsu.

Martin said he learned martial arts out of necessity after he was bullied as a child.

Born in Oklahoma City, Martin moved with his family to North Little Rock, “and I was the youngest, smallest, weakest kid in the neighborhood, and I got picked on and beat up on a lot,” he said.

His oldest brother, Mike, was taking karate.

“When I was 5 or 6, he started teaching me karate,” Martin said. “He took me to the North Little Rock Community Center, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Martin switched from karate to aikido and judo, which don’t have the kicking and punching that some of the arts do.

“They are both arts of off-balance and using the other person’s strength, or force, to your advantage,” he said.

When the neighborhood boys bullied him, Martin’s parents didn’t intervene.

“They came from the school, ‘Take care of yourself,’” he said.

He’s thankful for that now.

He started weightlifting when he was 12 or 13.

“I lifted all the way through college until the last couple of years, and I had some injuries,” he said.

His best bench press was 585 pounds during a competition, he said.

Martin’s family, which includes two older brothers, moved to Mount Vernon in Faulkner County, and Martin graduated

from high school there.

He went to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, briefly, he said, and then to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

A teacher, Elaine Fox, inspired him to go into sociology. She “wasn’t an uppity professor,” he said.

“She is an incredible teacher, very personable, very realistic,” he said. “She inspired me and had confidence in me that I could do whatever I wanted.”

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and a doctorate in sociology from Oklahoma State University.

Martin worked his way through school doing everything from repossessing cars for his father, who sold used cars, to working as a cook on the third shift at the Waffle House.

His first sociology teaching job was at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, but when his father died, his mother needed him, so Martin moved back to Arkansas.

He was hired at Arkansas Tech in 2000.

“Looking back now, I realize how fortunate I was — I didn’t realize it then. Arkansas Tech is a fantastic place to be, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else to be honest.”

Martin said that when he moved to Russellville, he thought he’d get out of teaching martial arts.

“I couldn’t manage to do that,” he said.

He also opened Enso Dojo in 2000. An enso is a Zen circle, he said.

“It represents finding perfection in imperfection,” he said.

Martin said he doesn’t know if it’s intentional, but he said Arkansas Tech’s mission follows the judo maxim of “mutual welfare and benefit.”

“Faculty are not just here for themselves; they’re here for the students, and the students are here for the faculty,” he said.

One of his martial-arts students is Josh McMillian, chief of public safety at Arkansas Tech.

McMillian, 34, has been taking martial-arts classes from Martin for almost 20 years, McMillian said, starting when he was a student at Louisiana Tech.

McMillian said a friend asked him to go with him to Martin’s martial-arts studio. The friend dropped out, but McMillian stuck with it. He’s a sixth-degree black belt in aikido and fourth-degree in judo.

“I had limited experience before I met Dan,” McMillian said. “His ability to teach is phenomenal.”

The chief has also taken university classes under Martin, at Louisiana Tech. After Martin moved back to Arkansas, McMillian taught in the dojo Martin had founded in Louisiana, and McMillian also opened a martial-arts studio in Dallas when he took graduate courses at Southern Methodist University.

“I came to Russellville and started with Dan again,” McMillian said. “He’s been my teacher the whole time.”

He said Martin’s teaching methods include one-on-one interaction and that Martin can “break it down to simplest forms” and has the ability to reach out to people of all backgrounds.

“He’s very reality-based in his training, and as a police officer, we take that to heart,” McMillian said.

McMillian said he believes the increased self-esteem and confidence he gained through martial arts helped him land the chief’s job.

“I think it’s improved my life greatly,” he said.

“I believe in the system because I’ve had to use it in the course of my job,” McMillian said.

Martin became chairman of the Arkansas Tech Department of Behavioral Sciences in 2003.

“I came from a working-class background. … If I can do this and be successful, maybe other people can, too,” Martin said.

“Just because your grandparents didn’t go to school, or your parents, or you come from a small town, doesn’t mean you can’t make something of yourself and do well.

“I don’t see myself as being extraordinary or exceptionally talented; I just showed up all the time.”

He said his teaching methods are similar for university students and his martial-arts students.

“It’s sort of experiential learning coupled with positive reinforcement,” Martin said. “In the classroom, they read, write and do research every day in my class. They discuss every day in my class, plus I lecture every day.”

He said his martial-arts classes always have Arkansas Tech students and other faculty members enrolled.

Martin said he’s selective about who he lets in — if someone wants to learn to fight, he recommends another dojo.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a pacifist. You can only be a pacifist if you have a choice.”

The average age of his martial-arts students is 30, he said, with almost equal numbers of men and women.

Martin said his own teacher, Karl Geis, 80, of Houston, Texas, is “legendary.”

Geis is a former Olympic judo coach and trained in Japan, Martin said.

Despite Martin’s appearance — shaved head, goatee, stocky, muscled build — he said he considers himself laid-back and calm.

“I’m not a tough guy. I’m not a great martial artist — I consider myself average,” he said.

He said martial arts teaches lessons for life.

“Above everything else, they teach you honesty. Things either worked or they didn’t,” he said.

“I think they teach you not to hesitate at critical times.

“People learn to fall safely and learn self-confidence. If you can overcome that fear of falling, you can overcome anything in life.”

Martin said he used martial arts to defend himself once in another state. He doesn’t discuss details, but it worked, he said.

“I’ve sort of learned that getting upset and angry — those things don’t pay off,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to be as honest and ethical as we can be and defend those who can’t defend themselves,” he said. “Just because you’re a martial artist and people think you’re enlightened, you’re still a human being, and you still deal with all the human frailties of life.”

He acknowledges that his is “kind of a Charles Atlas story,” referring to the body-building guru who started because he was the 97-pound weakling at the beach who got sand kicked in his face.

Martin’s not the weakling anymore.

“If you kick sand in my face today, I’d probably walk away — if I could.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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