Man of action John Stewart believes in importance of helping others
BEDFORD — John Stewart, owner of Bedford Martial Arts Academy, requires his students to do community service so they learn the importance of helping others. But Stewart is not all talk; he's a man of action.
Stewart, 31, is in his 20th year of teaching karate. He started as a junior instructor after he earned his black belt at age 12 and became a full instructor at Goffstown Tempo Karate by the time he was 15. He grew up in Goffstown and earned a bachelor's degree from St. Anselm College. He now holds a third-degree black belt in karate.
In 2007, he bought the Lawrence Martial Arts Academy, changed the name and moved the school to Bedford. As the school was developing, he worked as a police officer at the state Bureau of Marine Patrol, the Department of Safety and at the Department of Diplomatic Security. In 2011, he was able to devote his energy full time to the Bedford Martial Arts Academy and set his goals on making it more than just a karate school.
"About three years ago, I started noticing that some students had cognitive, behavioral and emotional disabilities," he said. "A friend, who is an employee at Easter Seals, got me involved, and I trained at Easter Seals and started their first program on handling children with some sort of disabilities. That spiraled into my teaching at Easter Seals every other week in Manchester."
He has been a volunteer at Easter Seals since January 2011 and now offers a similar program at the academy twice a week for students with autism, Asperger's, attention deficit disorder and other special needs to help them focus and learn self-control and discipline.
"Karate is an individual sport. You can adapt the technique and instruction to the person, whether they have a disability or not. It doesn't matter if they have been training for two days or 20 years," Stewart said. "It's a team environment, but each individual trains at (his) own pace, and that's why people with disabilities can flourish."
Stewart is also on the consulting board of the Adaptive Martial Arts Association, based in Burlington, Vt..
He strongly believes that youngsters need to step out of their comfort zone and help others.
At the academy, every student is given multiple opportunities to do community service.
"Most of our students are well off, and they don't need things, they want things. They don't know what it's like to need clothing or food, and it's important to see why others need these things," Stewart said.
A party called the Summer Bash raises money for local charities. In 2013, the school raised about $2,000 to benefit the Our Promise to Nicholas Foundation, which was named in honor of a Bedford boy who suffers from Batten Disease. All money raised helps support research to fight the disease.