Guttenberg martial arts instructor inducted into hall of fame

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Jerry and Nancy Trowbridge, who have operated a martial arts school in Guttenberg for 13 years, attended the U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Fame on April 17 and 18. Jerry received the high honor of being inducted into the hall of fame. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

“I never dreamed in a million years I’d be inducted into the hall of fame,” said Guttenberg Tang Soo Do instructor Jerry Trowbridge. “It’s pretty unheard of,” added his wife Nancy, also an instructor.

It may be a rare honor, but in the Trowbridge family, it’s a familiar one. Jerry and Nancy have seven children together, all of who practice martial arts. Their son Josh was inducted into the U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Fame last year, and Josh’s wife, Abbey, was inducted along with her father-in-law Jerry at this year’s banquet on April 18.  

Jerry was given the Golden Life Award by the U.S.A. Martial Arts Hall of Fame for his 41 years in practice. Instructors who have devoted their lives to teaching martial arts may be nominated for the hall of fame and honored for their commitment. Jerry is a sixth degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and has spent a combined three decades teaching in Dubuque, Monona, and Guttenberg. Currently, he estimates that he and Nancy have 75 to 100 students between their schools in Monona and Guttenberg.

“We decided to open a school because we saw what martial arts does for people,” Jerry explained. “Our ultimate goal is to build character. We are building the future leaders in our communities.” 

During both adult and children’s classes, which meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in Guttenberg, the Trowbridges use Tang Soo Do to build confidence in their students. Throughout class, students learn lessons that help develop their character – things like making eye contact, focusing on others, and practicing alone in front of their peers to earn their rankings. As they make their way up in belt color, they are also taught to teach – so by the time they’re black belts, Tang Soo Do students can run a class by themselves. 

Children in the Trowbridges’ classes need parent and teacher signatures confirming their character improvements before testing for the next rank. Jerry tells his students, “The only difference between a white belt and a black belt is that a black belt never gave up.”

When Jerry took his first martial arts class in the 70s, there were very few women in the sport. There were no children’s classes offered, and most instructors had been trained in the military. Jerry’s own inspiration to begin a martial arts practice came from his work as a bodyguard and owner of his own detective agency.

He and Nancy make their home in Rickardsville, and she began to study martial arts about 25 years ago. With their children in the business, the Trowbridge family’s martial arts legacy continues. “We have 13 grandchildren, and those that are old enough to walk have trained in martial arts,” Jerry told The Press. At age 18, one grandson is already a black belt in kung fu. 

On April 17, the Trowbridges traveled to Indianapolis, Ind., for the induction ceremony. There, they met their son and daughter-in-law, who live in Madison, Wis., That evening, the family observed a black belt testing. “In our style, fourth degree black belts and above are considered masters,” Jerry said. 

The following day, the Hall of Fame offered seminars hourly. Grand masters taught Kung Fu, Kempo, Qigong, and many other forms of martial arts. Josh Trowbridge taught a seminar himself, and his parents attended one led by one of their martial arts idols. “Superfoot Bill Wallace is like the Elvis of the martial arts world,” Nancy smiled. “He’s famous for his kicking technique.” Superfoot’s kicks have been clocked at over 70 miles per hour. “At 72 years old, you still can’t stop him from kicking you,” said Jerry. 

That night, Jerry was awarded a plaque and a medal with a gold ribbon for his dedication to teaching martial arts. When asked if he expects to someday become a 10th degree black belt, he says no – because the 10th degree means perfection, and no one is perfect. Even so, he says, “I will train until I can’t train anymore.”

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