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Martial Arts

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:47 PM

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As a young teenager, Jay Blanton grew weary of the bullying, tired of the torment.

He did something to change all that, and now he wants to help others by sharing his story — if he can just find someone to publish it.

A 52-year-old Brookridge resident, the local martial arts grandmaster has written a book about bullying, and in early June was honored for his work.

In a ceremony in Orlando, the World Head of Family Sokeship Council, having gotten wind of Blanton's writing, inducted him into its Hall of Fame.

It's not the first such accolade for the 10th-degree black belt. Over the years he has been recognized by the United States Martial Arts Association, the United States Jiu-jitsu Alliance, the Hawaiian Islands Martial Arts Society, European Jiu-jitsu Union and International Hall of Fame.

All of that is a culmination of Blanton's attempt to not only fight back against his personal hardship, but help others do the same.

"All the kids being picked on and bullied, I've been in their shoes," Blanton said. "They're afraid to let on to other people what's going on. They suffer through the mental anguish and then commit suicide.

"I wrote a book about this. I'm tired of seeing kids getting bullied."

His son, Master Robert Blanton, a fifth-degree black belt, has recently begun holding training sessions for mang ho — a form of martial arts created by the elder Blanton — at Brooksville Elks Lodge 2582 on Cortez Boulevard.

Blanton has 39 years experience in martial arts. It began when he could no longer handle the teasing, or worse, over his lifelong speech impediment.

"My friend told me 'You need to get into martial arts.' He told me if you get in that it will help you mentally, give you self-confidence and then people will leave you alone," Blanton said. "I took one class and bam, I was hooked."

The Alabama native initially learned the art of taekwondo but soon felt he needed to go in a different direction.

He would eventually create mang ho — named after the Korean translation for tiger — a combination of taekwondo, judo, jiu-jitsu and aikido.

"I loved taekwondo. It's beautiful, I'm not putting it down," Blanton said. "But it's not going to work on the street."

Blanton honed mang ho while training for 20 years with Grandmaster Kang Rhee, who once worked with Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn.

Rhee met Blanton at a tournament and was instantly impressed when he learned Blanton had honored his commitment to attend despite a severe spider bite on his leg.

They worked together until Blanton was involved in a 2006 car accident in which he was rear-ended, leaving him with three herniated discs in his neck and one in his back.

"If it hadn't been for martial arts, my doctor said I would have broken my neck," Blanton said.

Nevertheless, he now walks with the aid of a cane and was forced to retire. At that point he had been working as an unloader at the Walmart Distribution Center in Brooksville.

He also had to cease performing martial arts. One wrong move, he said, could leave him paralyzed.

"It killed me when it first happened," Blanton said. "The doctor told me, 'You're done.' I didn't believe it and I tried it and he's right, I can't do it."

Prior to his accident, Blanton had worked with local law enforcement officers, teaching them his self-defense techniques.

Additionally, he taught senior citizens how to defend themselves using a variety of methods, including a walking stick such as the one he now uses himself.

Julius "Pops" Finley earned his first-degree black belt at age 74 under the Blantons' tutelage.

"I went to the Jerome Brown Center (where the Blantons were performing training sessions) and saw them and liked what I saw," Finley said. "I wanted to get my body in shape and see if I could do it.

"The master here put me through the test and I came out a winner."

Blanton has passed the torch to his son, a 24-year-old Central High and University of South Florida alum who was accepted into Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Orlando last week.

The younger Blanton has already notched one Hall of Fame award, from the U.S. Martial Arts Association as "Instructor of the Year" in 2002. His father was named "Founder of the Year" that same year.

"I enjoy it," Robert Blanton said. "It's great stress relief. It's great exercise. It gives me something to do."

The son worked diligently to find a place where he could hold his new training sessions but faced stiff resistance around the county, he said.

Most suitable locations weren't comfortable mixing seniors and martial arts, the Blantons said. But Elks Lodge 2582 has welcomed the classes with open arms.

"The Elks are always willing to help out the community, and when it was brought to my attention, I spoke to the rest of the House Committee and they said it'd be a good idea," said Michael Minotti, the lodge's leading knight and chairman of its house committee.

"We were more than willing to open our doors to this because it's a good cause."

Current programs include:

All classes are open to the public. The cost is $60 monthly for Elks members and $75 monthly for non-Elks. Or participants can elect to pay per class: $15 for Elks and $18.75 for non-Elks. The four-week programs must be paid in full.

For more information, contact Minotti at (352) 596-2582 or Robert Blanton at (352) 345-1292; or visit Mang Ho Martial Arts on Facebook. (352) 544-5288

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