He’s James to his dad Daniel Witt, but ‘Master J’ to everyone else at Langley’s Pacific Coast Taekwondo (PCT).
‘Master J’ is a master instructor at PCT, which his dad founded and owns – and his story is inspiring.
Like any father, Daniel was thrilled when James was born.
Daniel remembered his son as an “unusually cute little guy” who spoke sparingly until he was almost five years old.
In his early years, James visited BC Children’s Hospital several times, however his smaller stature was the focus.
It wasn’t until James turned six that his cognitive challenges were addressed, beginning a new series of ongoing assessment and therapy.
Smaller than the other kids, James, who has Asperger’s syndrome, survived bullying during his school years.
Aggravating this further was James having to wear a cast from his mid-section to his ankles for many months. This was followed by many more months wearing a Medieval-like Scottish Rite brace and abduction bar mounted between, and connecting, his knees, forcing him to hip swing as he walked or ran.
“This is what makes James’ special,” Daniel said, “is not only that he was born with some learning challenges, but he also had to wear a half body cast for a better part of a year, and a Scottish Rite brace between his knees for another half year.”
After high school, James took computer courses and worked briefly at a few outside jobs.
In time, Daniel gave James a choice: either work in the community or become a working member of the family business, the taekwondo school.
James started practising taekwondo at the age of five, training under Master Jin Kang, prior to Kang founding Sung Hang Do.
Meanwhile, James and his sister often accompanied their dad to his own taekwondo classes and events with his school in Vancouver.
Health issues dictated James restarting the martial art several years later in another club close to his mom’s house, before finally settling into a daily routine with PCT at age 13.
Today, the now 37-year-old James is a Sixth Dan black belt and master instructor. He practises every day on his own time, while attending class at least five times weekly at PCT, which opened in Langley in 1988.
Over the past 28 years, more than 5,000 students have learned taekwondo at PCT and, Daniel said, “we’ve seen so many success stories, so many kids who’ve had challenges. At any given time we’ve had 15 to 20 per cent of our student body of kids who have assessed challenges.”
“Taekwondo is for everybody,” James added, “no matter if you’re disabled or not.”
Repetition is second nature and effortless to a person born with Asperger’s, Daniel remarked.
“James learned early on the value of perseverance and indomitable spirit,” his dad said, adding, “as an instructor ‘Master J.’ was forced to pay close attention to the needs of his students and develop his ability to read their emotional cues, no easy thing for someone with Asperger’s.”
In pursuit of his own rank advancement, James has created specialized curriculum and bo-staff poomse now practised by PCT black belts.
James teaches directly or assists in a minimum of 10 classes each week, and is extremely active in its after-school busing program.
“There’s authentic, meaningful engagement [to instructing] because you take responsibility for people and it’s not just about them putting in time, they have somewhere to go and we want to make sure they get there,” Daniel said.
To characterize what is taught at PCT, Daniel said, “it’s life skill coaching.”
“We have a very simple code of honour: spirit means you bring your heart and energy when you come to class, purpose is knowing why you’re here, and respect is valuing yourself, what you do, and the world around you,” Daniel elaborated.
James also maintains, updates, and constructs the school’s computer network. As well, he films, designs and produces video and digital picture disc production of all PCT events.
Daniel said martial arts in general is about goal setting, something that drives not only his son but other students at PCT.
Away from the studio, James has long since had his own apartment and handles his own life, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Although he does not drive he is comfortable to take the bus or SkyTrain in the Metro Vancouver area and Fraser Valley.
On May 2, James and 45-year-old Don Ferguson were given special recognition at PCT.
Ferguson is a Seventh Dan black belt.
Originally from Saskatoon, Ferguson has acted and stunted in 15 feature films and numerous TV shows. Ferguson has lived in Bangkok the last 20 years and runs one of the largest, if not the largest, taekwondo school in Thailand.