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Learning martial arts is commonly linked to a desire for improving self-defense. Master James Franklin quickly discovered that he loved the discipline of the art more than anything else. Through countless national accomplishments and career-threatening injuries, he’s back on the map, instructing at his own independent school in Coon Rapids, Minnesota Star Martial Arts.

“I moved all around the world and got to sample martial arts in different places,” he said. Franklin tried karate, taekwondo, kung fu and jiu jitsu in his travels, but found taekwondo to be the most centering.

“I started taekwondo in Mankato in 1994 after a demonstration at a mall there,” he recalled. “I never planned on finding such a love for my art.”

After his instructor in Mankato had to leave for Korea, Franklin took over teaching at the school and was part of the organization for 20 years. He qualified for the Minnesota State Championships for the first time in 1998, and still has the trophy from that event.

Franklin moved to the Minneapolis area in 1999 to teach, but his personal competition days were far from over. He added medals from the Minnesota State Championships throughout the next decade and even picked up some hardware on the national level. He’s ranked number one in the nation for the Ultra Heavyweight division right now. In May he was named the USA Taekwondo Region 3 State Coach, which is the main pipeline to Olympic competition and coaching. But the accolades are simply a byproduct of the passion.

“Taekwondo has been a way of life for me,” he said. “It has kept me healthy through training and given me a community for support in trying times and the reinforcement of a ‘get back up’ attitude.”

“Get back up,” indeed.

Franklin tore his ACL in 2011 and told himself he would retire if he rehabbed and won another national championship. Then he was injured again in 2012 after winning the title he promised himself, so he trained to get back in shape once more. By 2015 he was in the national ring winning another championship.

“I slowed my competing and concentrated more on coaching,” Franklin said.

His love of the sport kept nudging. In 2018 he began competing again, tallying victories in the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois state tournaments, which have led to his top ranking today.

When he’s not in the ring winning medals, Franklin’s school, Minnesota Star Martial Arts, paves the way for students of all ages to receive opportunities for growth.

“Of course, martial arts is physical,” he said. “Martial arts training also aims to make the student stronger mentally and emotionally along with physical fitness. As an instructor, one of the best feelings I get is when I watch the growth of my students and know that I have impacted their lives in a positive way.”

Franklin says Minnesota Star Martial Arts came about because he wanted to return to teaching in a traditional style. Franklin’s success in Minnesota has developed connections with other top instructors in the metro, allowing for students from all over to come together and scrimmage in preparation for the national tournament in Minneapolis this summer.

Franklin has seen many faces come through his doors. “I have had students from all walks of life,” he said. “Men, women, children. Some stay, some go, but they all make a impression on me.”

Fellow Minnesota Star Martial Arts member Harold Williams sees the impact Franklin has, along with the many students at the school.

“This year he has done incredible things,” Williams said. “We are very proud of him.”

Franklin does have one support system he clings to most: he says his family is his most important positive relationship. His wife, Kelly, and four kids, Isaac, Tyler, Tyra and Madelyn, are all black belts, too, and they have bought into the school’s dreams.

“They are not only my biggest supporters but they are my reason to strive to be better every day,” Franklin said. “We believe that the family that kicks together, sticks together!”

For more information about Minnesota Star Martial Arts, go to mplsmartialarts.com.

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