By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — James L. Clark grew up in a troubled home with a mother who was addicted to alcohol and drugs. However, one bright spot in his life made all the difference.
His mother signed him up for free martial arts classes at the YMCA. Only 16 when he was born, she was happy to use the classes as a free baby-sitter.
In those classes, Clark met male mentors to fill the void lacking in his single-parent home. He found purpose, confidence and a reason to hold up his head up.
Mostly, he found a reason not to find trouble.
Martial arts teaches discipline and self-confidence, Clark said, and he wants to share that empowering knowledge.
“I grew up on welfare and government cheese,” he said.
Now he has two master’s degrees and is working on a Ph.D. and has served 19 years in the U.S. Army. Those accomplishments probably wouldn’t have been possible without his training in martial arts and the confidence he gained from that experience, he said.
Clark first came to Oklahoma about nine years ago after a friend told him it’s a great place to live. Attracted by the university community of Norman, Clark recently opened a mixed martial arts academy, First Strike, at 230 W. Gray St. across from the Norman Public Library.
“You are the first line of defense in any problem,” Clark said, which is why he chose the name First Strike for his business.
Clark and wife, Cherie, and son, Jamie, said they love the college town, low cost of living and friendly people here. He’s anxious to connect with the community, and his martial arts studio will be a starting point.
Clark offers free self-defense classes for women, along with his regular evening classes for a variety of age and skill groups. As classes fill out, he plans to expand his calendar to include day classes, as well.
“Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve taught martial arts,” Clark said.
He treasures the opportunity to mentor young men and teach children and women self-defense.
“I learned it from somewhere else, and I’m passing it on,” he said. “I’m paying it forward.”
A six-degree black belt in bujutsu and aiki jutsu, Clark said his gym is family friendly.
Clark also teaches bully prevention. The Bullyproof class teaches children, teens and adults how to prevent bullying and how to de-escalate close encounters before they become violent. While the first line of defense is words, he also teaches defense against a physical attack.
Clark has studied several forms of martial arts and now teaches a well-balanced system. He also teaches the color code of awareness.
“I started out in aikido, but like many people, I became more progressive in the 1990s,” he said.
His mixed martial arts classes include kicking, trapping, striking, grappling and ground work.
“Self-defense is much more mental than it is physical,” he said, “but if you don’t train physically, then you can’t respond physically.”
Clark invites anyone to stop in and get acquainted or join a class for a free workout. A weight room in the back also allows for weight training in a cozy environment, he said.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.