The teases and taunts came regularly. And although at first they were just words, they were laced with enough venom, they stung. They made Chandler Taylor feel helpless, inadequate, self-conscious, and even depressed. But even as a child Chandler wasn’t one to complain. He took the bullying on, accepting the daggers of emotional pain that came along with it. He buried it deep, worried more about shielding his parents from their own concerns than his own self-worth. To the rest of the world he smiled, behaved, and acted like a regular kid. Inside, however, a tornado ripped through his gut. It was almost too much to bear.
At just 8-years-old, Chandler, the son of a pastor, was suicidal.
Then, if it was even possible, things got worse. As if the tongue-lashings weren’t enough, one day during Vacation Bible School at his father’s church, the kids ended up on the playground away from the adults’ watchful eyes. Things got physical. Chandler was bombarded. When the dust settled, the little boy with a big heart was left with a broken collarbone; it was Chandler’s 9th birthday.
Already self-conscious about his dyslexia and his awkward stature, Chandler’s depression at that moment kicked into high gear. Blackness wrapped around him like a straight jacket. Yet there he was, with a brave smile on his own birthday party as lightening bolts of pain sliced down his arm. He had explained away the sting to his mother as nothing more than children’s rough housing gone wrong. And he told himself they were friends that played a stupid prank. His mother, Twana Taylor never knew the difference as she smiled and passed out her son’s birthday cake to the grubby outstretched hands of the bullies who broke her son’s bones. “I had nothing left. Nothing,” said Chandler, now 19, “I was done. I was a kid and wanted to die.”
THE KICKSTARTER KICK
Twana Taylor was desperate for help. As her first born, she knew her son Chandler better than anyone. Something, however, was amiss, and she didn’t know what was wrong or what to do. She prayed with her husband Scott. The pair needed some guidance, structure, something, anything. They tried to enroll the boy in soccer, which didn’t take. Then they tried basketball. That was a non-starter too. Then one day while watching an episode of “Super Nanny” she saw a troubled youth enroll in a boxing class. A light bulb went off.
She made some calls; nobody offered boxing programs. But her best friend, Brandy, told her of a martial arts academy nearby. The next day, Chandler was enrolled in a Taekwondo class.
The Lord was at work and used the simple act of a mother’s love that would years later ultimately change the trajectory of the entire family forever, placing a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with an associates degree in business; in charge of managing a 170-client roster with a pair of teenage boys as the face of a the family’s small martial arts academy. With community impact stretching way beyond the studio doors. Taylor’s Martial Arts Academy is now one of 21 finalists nominated this month for the esteemed Kingsport Office of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurships Award, better known as the KOSBE awards.
At the time though, Twana’s goal was basic. She simply wanted to save her son’s life. “(Chandler) was praying God would just take him,” Twana said. ”He thought he was too stupid to live. He thought he was taking up my time, my other children’s time. But none of this was true. None of it. I needed God to help him see his worth. So I began teaching him the truth of Jeremiah 29:11.”
MASTER OLSON’S MASTER CLASS
When Chandler first entered Master Glenn Olson’s Johnson City-based martial arts class, he was slightly intimidated. With his little brother Landon by his side, he gathered the courage. This one, after all, only ever saw a giant in his big brother.
As crazy as it seems, Landon has only ever wanted to impress Chandler. Chandler did not want to disappoint him, so that pushed Chandler to try and succeed.
Chandler recognized a structure within it all, one paved by discipline, control, and a sense of honor among accomplishment. He was wearing camouflage pants and a green shirt when he met the man God would use to save his life and give him the promised future. With Master Olson, Chandler finally felt safe.
He started off with the Taekwondo basics, learning the beauty of its rhythm, pace, and form. It was an art, like a dancer paints the stage with masterstrokes of body movements. He learned not only how to protect himself, but also how to restrain himself. Most importantly, he learned how to hone his pain, and channel his emotions into something bigger than himself.
The Light had pierced his darkness. The fog dissipated. His confidence grew. Somehow, the little boy who once wanted to die was becoming a stranger. Chandler slowly grew out of his awkward stage. Week by week he grew tougher. Class by class he grew stronger.
The real Chandler re-emerged. He was a born leader, waiting for this moment.
And soon enough he had the hardware to prove it too. Today, wrapped around his waist is a 4th degree black belt nobody can take away, especially anyone who dares to physically try it.
“I was never an athlete. I was clumsy. I was awkward. But I practiced and worked harder than most and finally began to succeed.” Chandler said. “Failure is only failure if you let it be failure. If you want something, you can become something.”
“It was an encompassing circle of support–God’s love and faithfulness, Master Olson’s compassion and mentoring, Dad’s working around the clock to allow Mom to stay at home and teach me, my brother Landon’s undying faith in me–that has made me who I am today. I am not a self-made man. I am a product of a lot of love and support. And I try every day to be that for my students too.”
Chandler, alongside brother Landon, 17, a Sr. 3rd degree black belt, often used both love and support to instill a sense of pride in their students, but also on the routine visits to area schools to lecture on bullying’s impact. At first, the pair would call schools, requesting the opportunity to speak to studnets. Now, schools call them. They’ve performed at somewhere between 30 and 50 different engagements, starting with Master Olson at ages 10 and 8.
THE BULLY BUSINESS
When Chandler was 10 1/2, Master Glenn Olson belted him with his 1st degree Jr. black belt. The acheivement was so much more than physical: it was a personal breakthrough. He told his beloved instructor, “Someday I’m going to be like you. I am going to have my own school so I can help other kids who struggle just like me know that there is hope, they can succeed, and know they are going to be okay.”
Masters Glenn and Amanda Olson, 8th degree black belts, have been in business in this area for well over 20 years. They had two successful locations in Johnson City and Kingsport, but in mid-2016 it became clear that keeping both schools would be impossible.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Olson and his wife had become master instructors to hundreds of martial artists throughout the region. With a steady stream of students already signed up for months of classes, he couldn’t just abandon one of his locations either. Glenn needed a replacement. But who?
Chandler was not among the first candidates to spring to mind. He was only 16, but he had already been helping teach many of Olson’s students for years. “He just gets people and I can’t teach that. He also loves martial arts and is good at it,” Olson confesses. The once shy, self-conscious, depressed kid was the epitome of what martial arts represents. He barely even had his driver’s license, yet had more drive and dedication than men twice his age. “But more importantly,” Olson said over a recent phone interview, “this kid’s got skills, both in form and craft and as a natural born teacher.”
After going back and forth in his mind, Olson says God brought Chandler to mind, and decided to make the call anyway. Olson gave his pitch: Manage his Kingsport academy for six months, as a family, and try it. If it works for you as a family unit, then Olson would sell them the studio – and its steady stream of students – to the Taylor family for good. If not, the Taylor family had lost nothing but experience and could return to his Johnson City staff.
For Chandler this was his dream coming to life. He already knew martial arts was his future. Now, he had to convince his family it was their future too. “He just never gave up. We were trying to plot his future, looking at colleges but every time we asked, he kept saying the same thing: ‘I want my own academy and I want to help other kids,’” his mom Twana said.
After much prayer, it was agreed. In the next four months, the academy did 110% of the previous six months. God’s plan finally became crystal clear and on Jan. 2, 2017, Taylor’s Martial Arts Academy was born.
Walk inside the doors of Taylor’s Martial Arts Academy in Kingsport and you’ll notice it’s not the run of the mill studio. Hung on the wall are banners of the Taekwon
do tenets: Courtesy. Integrity. Preserverance. Self Control. Respect. Victory. While a family of six is hard enough to manage on its own, drop on top of it a new business which no members had any true experience running, and a team of teenagers as its face, you’d think trials and tribulations would rule the day. But inside these doors, everyone is equal. Respect, integrity, and love rule the day. Egos are tossed aside. Brothers and sisters who might argue at home, call each other “sir” and “ma’am” inside the studio. It’s one team, one business, one family. Decisions are made over family dinners, not boardroom lunches. The identity is hard to separate from the family members behind the namesake.
It’s the only way the Taylors know and it has paid off. Starting with 77 Taekwondo students when the family first took over two years ago, today there are about 170 students, a virtually unheard of feat in the cut throat mixed martial arts arena, and while it’s impressive to others, for Chandler, Landon, and their family, it’s only the beginning.
When Chandler earned his 4th degree black belt, it was important to him to have his favorite verse embroidered on the back of his belt. As he stands to lead classes, all of his students see those words. That’s by design. “I want all of my students to see my belt and to know God loves them and longs to bring about His good plans for his lives too.”
It’s this success that recently led the family to become one of 21 finalists for this month’s esteemed Kingsport Office of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship awards, better known as the KOSBE awards to be announced during a special recognition ceremony 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, December 13th at the MeadowView Marriot in Kingsport. The recognition evaluates community impact, innovation and leadership within the area’s small business community.
This relatively small 2,500-square-foot studio is on the verge of a possible 4,300-square-foot expansion, which gives the ability to run two classrooms simultaneously, alongside implementation of a new weapons program, an adult cardio kickboxing program, and a host of other new disciplines designed not just as a business offering, but rather a life-saving life style, and while the recognition is nice for the Taylors, public recognition is far from what guides this family affair.
The family agrees that what really motivated them is: “We teach martial arts–demanding legitimate skill before ranks are ever awarded–but at the end of the day, we care more about who your child becomes than we do about what they can do. We believe in support, respect, and leadership. That’s what makes a real black belt.”