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.