WHEELING – For Phil Lewellen, taekwondo has been a lifelong pursuit.
“Master Phil” has operated Golden Sunrise Martial Arts in one of the venues at Warwood Town Center since 2018. There, around 40 students of all ages and abilities come to hone their bodies and technique the “old school” style, as Lewellen puts it.
While other taekwondo organizations focused more on sport and competition, Lewellen said he preferred to keep his “old school” dojong, allowing students to learn how to defend themselves, play sports or fitness purposes.
“(World Taekwondo) doesn’t teach punches to the head or things like that, they just teach athletic style,” he said. “… I teach the old fashioned way. We hit on the head, stomach, legs. When you come here, the first few lessons, if you come in a fight, it’s going to be tough. But we will put you in touch with experienced people so that you don’t get stunned…. “
COVID-19, Lewellen said, has had an impact on the business somewhat, with people somewhat reluctant to enter group settings. He keeps the dojong clean, and with the exception of Fridays when the students are training among themselves, there is plenty of room to keep distance between them.
“Everything is wiped down with bleach, and it’s cleaned every day,” he said.
Lewellen studied with instructors in several different states, from Georgia to Illinois to California, and then overseas to Korea. In the country where taekwondo was born, Lewellen said, he took the opportunity to earn his black belt.
“I was like, if I’m where it all started, I’m finally going to get my black belt,” he said.
Lewellen was seriously injured around 2001 while in the Marine Corps. While Lewellen was in the United States, the driver of a truck he was in fell asleep at the wheel and crossed an embankment, crushing the right half of his body. Over the next two years, Lewellen relearned how to walk and use his right arm, combining 11 major surgeries with his martial arts training to regain the use of his limbs.
“I started doing taekwondo to learn to walk and keep my balance again,” said Lewellen.
Three lessons per week take place at the Golden Sunrise, with age ranges for under 10, 10 to 15 and over. Lewellen said the lessons are serious when they need to be, but more often than not a fun experience for everyone involved. He invited anyone interested to come and attend a class – the first one is free.
“I’d rather see a smile on their face, feel good about themselves, than anything else,” he said. “… Come and have fun. That’s what it is, and if you’re there for self-defense, you’re there for self-defense. If you’re in it to get in shape, you are going to get in shape. If you are there to win belts, you will win belts. What you put in is what you get.