Growing up in Hudson, MA, Dan Vigil was bullied.
That experience propelled him to learn martial arts and eventually open his Academy of Taekwondo. Now, Vigil has a Kukkiwon certified fourth degree black belt and a first degree black belt in Kenpo Karate. He also has ranks in Judo, Jujitsu and Hapkido.
“I was a scrawny kid, the one everyone picked on,” Vigil recalled.
Inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Karate Kid movies, he dragged his mom to a karate school and began taking classes when he was 8 years old. Before starting high school, his family moved to Ann Arbor, where he attended a taekwondo school owned by former Olympic coach Han Won Lee.
Away from childhood bullies and equipped with the life skills that come from martial arts training, Vigil made friends and turned his life around.
“I learned discipline, focus and persistence, and gained confidence,” said Vigil.
He learned to make parallels between what made him successful on the mat with struggles he encountered in life. For example, when he had difficulties with a co-worker, he thought about how he handled himself when sparring: he’d calm down and wait. Vigil applied that response to his real-world problem and found that it worked.
At age 17, Vigil sold vacuums door-to-door, then found a sales job at a lumber yard. Later he founded a deck and patio business.
Then in October 2005, Dan Vigil’s Academy of Taekwondo opened in Northville Township on Five Mile Road. It measured 1,800 square feet. Students quickly joined and were soon parking along Five Mile. Within a year the academy outgrew the space and relocated to Seven Mile. Vigil thought its 3,500 square feet would be enough. After three years the parking lot was extended to accommodate his students.
A year ago the academy moved into the lower level of the historic Water Wheel Centre on Main Street.
“I wanted to stay in Northville,” Vigil said. “This has 7,000 square feet.”
The academy has about 200 students and eight instructors. Neil Kollipara became Vigil’s student in 2006. A first degree black belt, he also enjoys teaching at the academy. Kollipara described how Olympic taekwondo coach Christina Bayley gave a seminar there a couple weeks ago. Two of her students, both on the national team, were with her.
“I got to spar with one of them and got whomped!” Kollipara laughed. “But it’s fun working with other martial artists. It takes a lot of discipline, and I’ve developed my physical and mental strength.”
Paula Schanerberger and her kids Connor and Lauren have been training since the academy was at its original location.
“Two or three months after sitting and watching, I started training because it was a good workout,” Schanerberger said. “And it’s fun.”
Over the years Schanerberger has seen other benefits from training.
“Dan is a great instructor,” she said. “He’s a good role model and instills respect. He teaches how to be strong, to not be swayed and develop the confidence to stand up for yourself. It spills over into the rest of life. It’s a big bonus I didn’t expect. I expected physical activity and got a whole lot more.”