2018-01-12 / Front Page

Masterful mentoring through martial arts

Great Person of 2017
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Andy Campbell, owner of Dragon Fire Martial Arts in South Portland helps Franklin Lindner (right) and Ayla Scott with a kick technique during an intermediate karate class last week. Campbell, a Scarborough resident, has been named the Leader’s 2017 Great Person award winner. (Michael Kelley photos)

Andy Campbell has been helping build a community through martial arts at his Dragon Fire Martial Arts Studio in South Portland for more than 15 years and has been involved in the industry for close to 40 years.

Martial arts, however, was not always a passion of his, but soon after taking his first class at 10-years-old, saw the benefit of the craft.

One summer, when Campbell was 10, he was spending the summer with his aunt and uncle in Texas. He was due to come back to Maine soon when he received a call from his mother informing him that she had signed him up to join his best friend at martial arts classes through the Westbrook Recreation Department. At the time, he had never expressed interest.

Martial arts not only gave Campbell something to do, it also proved to be life altering.

“It became a passion for me and was something I really enjoyed doing,” Campbell said.

Campbell, a Scarborough resident, was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at 7 and was told by his doctor if things did not improve, he would be in a wheelchair by the time he was 20.

He underwent regular checkups, but it wasn’t until a visit nine or 10 months after he began his martial arts training that he wowed the doctor with the progress he had made and was told by his doctor to continue to do what he was doing.

It was advice Campbell took to heart. Motivated by this, Campbell, who put in four to five hours of practice in a day from age 10 to 15, advanced through the ranks and earned his black belt before most of the kids who had started before him and by 14 was teaching his first class.

With the help of Keegan Morong, Andy Campbell demonstrates some karate technique to a class of blue, purple and green belt students. Campbell has been teaching students of all ages the art of karate for more than 30 years at recreation programs, daycares, the Jewish Community Alliance and his dojo Dragon Fire Martial Arts on Main Street in South Portland. (Michael Kelley photo) With the help of Keegan Morong, Andy Campbell demonstrates some karate technique to a class of blue, purple and green belt students. Campbell has been teaching students of all ages the art of karate for more than 30 years at recreation programs, daycares, the Jewish Community Alliance and his dojo Dragon Fire Martial Arts on Main Street in South Portland. (Michael Kelley photo) Now, more than 30 years later, Campbell is still teaching and sharing his passion for karate with a new generation of martial artists.

It is these years of teaching that has earned Campbell the respect of countless martial artists in the area and the recognition of being the Scarborough Leader Great Person of 2017.

Campbell was nominated by Scarborough resident Laura McCormick, whose son Ryan, 10, has been studying at Dragon Fire Martial Arts for close to three years.

“Not only is Andy a world champion fifth-degree black belt, but he is also the most genuine and kind person I know. He cares about each and every one of his students as if they were his own, which is very evident if you ever watch him interact with them,” McCormick wrote. “They have fun in his class, but they also know when it’s time to be serious. As my son says, even when they are being serious he still teaches them in a fun way.”

McCormick said Campbell’s lessons are not just for the dojo.

“Whether it’s giving them a pep talk before a tournament or helping them resolve a conflict at school, Andy always makes time for his students. He believes in them and helps them believe in themselves,” she wrote. “He inspires these kids to do their best and never give up. Andy is a true leader, role model and genuinely great person. I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of this award.”

Campbell also works to remove the barriers – transportation or finances – that can keep kids from being able to take classes, by offering financial aid and after-school pickup. For the last 10 years, Campbell has stopped by Pleasant Hill and Wentworth schools in Scarborough and Brown, Dyer, Kaler, Skillin and Small elementary schools in South Portland, to pick up students and bring them to his dojo where they can do homework as they wait for their class to begin.

Campbell, bested a field of six nominations, which included John and Ruth Hughes, who have given hours of volunteer time to youth and youth athletics; Art Dillon, an active member of the Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce and softball boosters; Rob Bryant, a friendly and knowledgeable pharmacist at Walgreens; Lynn Gierie, a local school teacher and the founder of the Robbie Foundation, which provides equipment and services for special education youth and Lyndalee Landry, the first face students see when they come to Blue Point Primary School.

“When I read about what everybody did, it was cool to see my name and be nominated. To be honest, I was really surprised (I won),” Campbell said.

Campbell is quick to point out he doesn’t do that work he does for accolades, but rather to give student an opportunity to learn martial arts, which he said is much more than self-defense.

“I rarely get a parent who come in because they want their kid to learn self-defense. It is more about learning self-confidence, learning self-control and learning self-discipline,” Campbell said.

Franklin Lindner, 11, a sixth-grader at Mahoney Middle School in South Portland has been studying under Campbell for a year and has quickly picked up some of these important life lessons.

“He has taught me a lot of things I wouldn’t know on my own. He has taught me self-discipline, right from wrong and always to try your hardest,” said Lindner, a blue belt.

Campbell started Dragon Fire Martial Arts in February 2000 and for the first six months offered classes between the Lifestyles gyms in Scarborough and Portland. He then rented space at 70 Route 1 for five years, before moving to Pleasant Hill Road for six years and finally his current location at 650 Main Street in South Portland six years ago.

For the last 20 years, Campbell has also been teaching karate to 3 to 5-year-olds at the Jewish Community Alliance in Portland, as well as Toddle Inns across the state and Back Cove School in Portland.

“I do a lot of work with preschool kids. We get to reach those kids at an early age to learn things like self-disciple, how to focus and how to listen. We try to focus on those sorts of benefits of martial arts parents are looking for,” he said.

Although Campbell said working with such young kids can “be like herding cats, when they give you a hug and say ‘I love you’, it makes it all worth it.”

Dragon Fire Martial Arts has students from all over the area, including South Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Saco, Biddeford, Westbrook and Gorham, but has had students come on occasion from much farther away. For a year, a student came from Lewiston and soon a husband and wife duo will come up from Massachusetts once a month for training.

While Dragon Fire Martial Arts offers classes for students of all ages and currently has 140 students ages 4 to 62, Campbell said his favorite part is seeing how his young students grow through their martial arts training.

“We want our kids to be great black belts and martial artists, but more important is, we want our kids to be outstanding people. I have kids in here who are world champions and do really well against some stiff competition, but when they show me straight A’s on their report cards or hear they sat with a new kid at lunch, those are the things that are most important to me,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who holds 23 world titles and has competed overseas for years, said “competing is fun, but when my kids win, that’s what is most important. That’s the best part (of this).”

James Voltz, a sixth-grade student at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, who has been doing karate for more than five years, said he appreciates the style of Campbell’s instruction and his ability to scale instruction based on students’ karate level.

“It’s been amazing. I tried one other instructor before. But when I tried here, it really stuck with me. I can’t go to any other dojo now,” said Voltz, who now helps to teach beginning karate.

“It’s fun,” Voltz, a junior black belt added. “If you have a bad day, you are welcomed here. It is nice to be here and feel accepted.”

That is exactly the type of dojo Campbell aspires to have: one that is a safe and welcoming place for all students.

“My goal is to make as many kids as happy as I can,” he said. “They deserve an opportunity and a chance to shine.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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