Thanks to decades of hard work and strict dedication, one Greenwood man now stands at the top of the martial-arts mountain.
Dr. Monty Atchley has received his 10th-degree black belt in Shinjutsu Kempo Karate and Kuai Shou Pai Gung-Fu. The black belts, which are the highest honor awarded in martial arts, were given to Atchley by his instructor and friend, Great Grand Master Hanshi Lou Angel, head of the National College of Martial Arts International, during a recent awards ceremony in Greenwood.
"It’s something that has taken me a lifetime, and it’s a great honor," said Atchley, a national and international martial-arts champion who teaches students ranging from elementary school students to senior citizens. "I’ve studied with and been associated with Lou Angel for over 50 years, and I wouldn’t be here talking about this today if it weren’t for him."
During a demonstration in his home studio Thursday, Atchley revealed himself to be skilled in precision, power and speed. The World Head of Family International Martial Arts Hall of Fame member’s hands and feet frequently became tan-colored blurs as he performed punch and kick excercises, and his balance was equally impressive as he practiced with a Katana, a Samurai sword similar to those used by Japanese warriors in Medievel and early/modern Japan.
"I’m proud to be a martial-arts teacher for years now," said Atchley, who works as a psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist and adjunct professor in psychology and counseling at John Brown University. "There’s no telling how many students I’ve taught over the years — probably in the thousands now. It’s a privilege to be in martial arts."
Bullying from third-grade classmates on an Oklahoma City playground first pointed Atchley to the path of martial arts. His father, C.E. Atchley, was skilled in martial arts and encouraged his son to learn how to defend himself.
"Back then, there weren’t any martial-arts schools in the Midwest, until Great Grand Master Lou Angel opened his school in Tulsa," Atchley said. "I had to drive 60 miles to take martial-arts classes from Lou Angel, and it was so worth it."
Atchley absorbed Angel’s methodical teachings, but he kept an open eye and ear to the streets. One of the most valuable lessons Atchley learned happened when he was a college student in Ada, Okla.
"I was a bouncer in a nightclub there, and I learned not to take things personally," he said with a smile. "People would get drunk and fight in that place — you’d even see people break pool sticks over the heads of others — and they would yell and curse at me. I had to get them out of the club as quickly and painless as possible.
"See, in martial arts, you do everything to avoid a fight," Atchley added. "You remain calm, but if they lay a hand on you, you have to defend yourself."
Atchley once was forced to be employ his skills while teaching a martial-arts class in Paris. A belligerent stranger challenged Atchley, demanding a fight.
"The guy said, ‘I’m the toughest guy in Paris,’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah?’" Atchley said. "As I said that, the guy swung at me, but I ducked, and he missed me. I was forced to choke him unconscious."
Atchley then laughed.
"The guy woke up, and I said, ‘Hey, are you OK?’" he said. "The guy said, ‘Yeah.’ I then said, ‘So does this now make me the toughest guy in Paris?’ He then wanted to be my student, but I wouldn’t accept him.
"We in martial arts are peaceful people," added Atchley. "We don’t use it to hurt other people. We use it to defend ourselves. We begin and end everything with courtesy."
Atchley continues to model part of his techniques after the late Bruce Lee, the martial-arts icon who appeared in the movies, "Enter the Dragon" and "Game of Death."
Lee’s drive and concentration continue to impress and influence Atchley.
"Bruce Lee was only 5-foot, 6-inches tall and weighed less than 150 pounds, but he had the strength and skills to hit someone like a 250-pound man would hit," said Atchley, who worked as a counselor at Booneville High School for 20 years. "Bruce Lee has been gone since 1973, yet he’s everywhere with us today. Pick up any martial-arts magazine now, and there you’ll see Bruce Lee."
Atchley also admits to being a fan of Chuck Norris, who appeared as Lee’s opponent in the movie, "The Way of the Dragon," in 1972.
"Chuck actually taught Bruce Lee his high kicks for the movies," he said. "Chuck taught Bruce, but then, Bruce also taught Chuck. You can never know everything about martial arts. You always learn and grow."
A recipient of an Arkansas Senate Citation for his skills and teaching in 2001, Atchley credits much of his success to his wife, Colleen, their four children and grandson, as well as his late son, Kirk.
"Kirk was a national and international martial-arts champion, like my other son, Spencer," Atchley said. "Kirk was actually training to go over to compete in the 2008 Olympics — that was the first time martial arts was included in the Olympics — but he passed away, sadly."
When he’s not teaching or exercising, Atchley dabbles in guitar, although he views his days of being a rock guitarist in a college band as the distant past. He shyly admits to playing Jimi Hendrix covers back then, but any mention of ZZ Top still brings a smile to his bearded face.
"We used to play the music of Jimi Hendrix and stuff like that," Atchley said before laughing. "I’ve gone from Jimi Hendrix to now playing James Taylor."