When he came to Hillsdale College on a four-year football scholarship in 1975, Brian Anderson anticipated graduating four years later with an art major and going on to teach. The possibilities of that life path lasted only until he saw his friend practicing some kind of strange martial art in his dorm; this was Anderson’s first encounter with Taekwondo.
Now an accomplished blues guitarist, aspiring author, artist, and 6th degree black belt, Sergeant Master Anderson is passing on his skills to current Hillsdale students in his self-defense class and still credits his friend and teammate Ronnie Parker with introducing him to the world of martial arts.
“I was watching Ronnie practice, and it was during our football early camp, and he was always practicing over in the dorms, and I’d say, ‘Where did you learn that, man?’ and he would say, ‘You want to learn martial arts, you’ve got to take the class with Grand Master Tae Zee Park.’”
That is exactly what Anderson did.
“I was just going to try it for a semester, because I used to be into Bruce Lee, and I would make up my own moves when I was in high school,” Anderson said. “But I fell in love with it the first day.”
Anderson began class his freshman year and, by his sophomore year, Grand Master Tae Zee Park had put him in charge of the class, though he continued to mentor Anderson.
“I spent a lot of one-on-one time with him learning real self-defense techniques — how to hurt somebody really bad, finger pressure points, things like that,” Anderson said. “I learned a lot from him.”
After graduation, Anderson worked as a counselor for a few years and then went on to work as a corrections officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections and Defense.
“I was just a beginning cadet, and they found out my history, that I am a martial arts instructor at Hillsdale College — I was a third degree black belt at the time,” Anderson said. “A lot of techniques were being taught wrong so I was correcting a lot, and so that’s how I stepped into the position of training people.”
After 17 years, he moved up to training the Emergency Response Team for Lansing, Michigan and the Lakeland Correctional Facility.
In the midst of his self defense work, Anderson continued to practice the non-martial arts he is passionate about. He still jams with a blues band he started with some friends after college called “Who Dat? Blues,” which has produced two CDs to date. He is also currently writing and illustrating his own book on self-defense, marrying his passions for martial arts and fine arts.
About 10 years ago, Anderson brought his skills back to Hillsdale, and began a self-defense class that he still teaches.
“When I first started teaching I tried to show everyone so much stuff,” Anderson said. “And, you know, nobody retains that information. When you’re teaching anyone how to do something in a short period of time, you’ve got to pick out one or two things that they can remember to do, and so I show them mainly how to use their feet, knees, and elbows in tight fighting.”
Even as he educates students about how to protect themselves, his first piece of advice is always to avoid getting into potentially dangerous situations in the first place, and also how to defuse potentially dangerous situations before they come to blows. He advises students to always remain conscious of the doors, to keep obstacles like furniture between them and their aggressor, and to hold firm eye contact with their aggressor.
“If you can psych someone out before things start to get crazy, then you really win,” Anderson said.
Junior Rebecca Henreckson enrolled in the class this semester.
“I wanted to take this class because, as a woman, I feel like there are a lot of situations that you encounter that you can’t avoid, where you feel uncomfortable, and you’re thinking, ‘what is my escape plan?’” Henreckson said. “‘What would I do if something happened in this situation?’ Knowing that I could defend myself if the situation arose was really attractive to me.”
While he teaches his students to elbow and groin kick their way to safety, Anderson also likes to keep the class light and fun.
“I really like Master Anderson. He is very amusing,” said junior Adrianne Fogg, who is currently enrolled in the one-credit class. “He always asks us at the start of class, ‘What moves have you seen on TV or in movies that you think would be fun to learn?’ We were watching Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend, and we saw a move and we said, ‘That’s so cool, we should try to learn it.’ So it’s awesome that you’re able to bring your world experience into the classroom.”
According to Anderson, beginning a martial arts class is like learning to walk as a toddler. He expects students to spend a large chunk of the class metaphorically crawling, stumbling around, and even falling before the truly begin to walk, or, in this case, kick.
But Anderson said one of the most important skills he can teach is confidence — and a good groin kick.
“You have to have the confidence to be able to protect yourself. That’s one of the things I like to instill into people, having confidence in yourself to believe that you can do this. And if you don’t have that belief, you will be taken,” Anderson said. “I watch all these action movies and I hate them — all these people screaming, help, and crying. I just think, ‘Get up and hit that guy, kick him in the groin.’”