Story by Jeannie Stone
“This is what we call giving the devil his due,” shouts John Terry as he thrusts a four-finger jab in the eye sockets of his sparring dummy. Eight women mimic his moves during the self-defense class at River Valley Martial Arts Center on Weir Road.
After graduating from Russellville High School, Terry attended Arkansas Tech University where he became involved in Chi Alpha, the student ministry of the Assembly of God Church. He earned a degree in business management, economics and finance and served as campus pastor for six years.
“My dad was a youth minister and, as soon as I was old enough to put a sock puppet on my hand, I joined him in church service,” he says.
Terry is a hometown boy on a universal mission. That mission presented itself to him while pasturing at Tech in the early eighties.
A sense of safety was taken away from the community. Terry wanted to get it back.
“We had a great youth group and a great college program, but I felt such a loss, so I began to search for ways to help women who were struggling with that type of grief and fear.”
His search led him to Paul Northcut, a police officer who ministers to other law enforcement agents. Through Northcut’s organization, Cross and Shield Ministries, Terry worked closely with police officers who suffered traumatic experiences as well as the helplessness of being unable to help every victim.
Terry currently serves on the board of the organization and volunteers in a chaplain capacity.
“We have a good police department and a good sheriff’s department here,” he says. “But with more growth comes more big city influences, and we owe it to our citizens to educate them on danger awareness.”
“I kept thinking there had to be more we could do.” he says. His faith supplied the message which has served as the backbone of his current training and educational philosophy: God can bring hope; God can bring healing.
Spurred by his dedication, Terry discovered the National Security Alliance Kid-Safe Network/Women-Safe Network headquartered in Detroit, Michigan and became affiliated with the program in 2001. The NSA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and is currently the largest “danger awareness” certification program in the world.
The NSA created and maintains the Rapid Search Network which is a predator- proof Internet-based security system. The network allows law enforcement and emergency services personnel access to stored digital profiles of members.
Terry is master-certified in both the Kid-Safe and Women-Safe programs, and he is a frequent speaker in the local and national community. He solicits enrollment in the Rapid Search Network and offers self defense training.
Through the River Valley Martial Arts Center, which Terry co-owns with Kyle Bennett, they have offered a 12-week holistic self-defense course for women emphasizing the skills they can use to become less of a target. Teaching the women how a predator’s mind works influences changes in their behavior, and that change in behavior can reduce the risk of them becoming victims.
Terry is also a chaplain with the Christian Black Belt Association. He seems to have boundless enthusiasm for this work, sharing crime statistics and testimonies of former female students.
“They need help in building confidence, and the best way for them to gain that confidence is to teach them methods to keep from being victimized again. Some of these women have been really beaten down over a long period of time,” Terry says.
Terry feels blessed to witness these women grow in his class. “We teach each woman that she can be a victor and not a victim. When they gain that understanding you can see it reflected in their eyes and the way they interact with others.
“Gone are the hunched shoulders and downcast eyes. It’s like a flower opening up. This beautiful woman is able to go out in public and not feel as if she’s a second class citizen anymore just because something bad happened to her in the past.”
“We had a teenage girl go through the class. Her mother had enrolled her after she was physically beaten with a pistol during a break-in at their home. This girl was dating a football player from Tech, and he was skeptical of the self-defense techniques she was learning, so she tried a web hand move on him. Well, all of his six-foot four- inch, 250-pound body fell.
“They thought they were going to have to call 911 to revive him. Even she was surprised, but that young man did not question those techniques again.”
Terry is the owner and president of IMGA Financial Group, a regional insurance and investment firm. He has authored two financial books, Dollars and Sense and Debt to Surplus.
“The elbows and knees can generate tremendous power,” he tells the class. Pointing to the flip chart, he tells the women, “The eyes, the throat, the ears and the groin. Those are the hot spots, ladies.”
As the women turn to practice their elbow strikes and their knee thrusts with their partners, Terry is on a high: “Actually, my vocation supports my passion.”
Terry does not take a salary from his work with the children and women’s classes, but he and co-owner Kyle Bennett re-invest the funds in their work.
Additional fund-raising efforts supply the funds necessary to keep the public informed of the NSA registry, tips for safety and the ID kits used for the Rapid Search Network.The kits include a DNA swab, fingerprint cards, and profile cards used to build the database.
Terry is a regular contributor to local and national media on children’s and women’s safety issues as well as martial arts and fitness related articles.
Married and father of six children, Terry places high regard on family time.
“Well, the time we spend together here is quality time,“ he says.
Kathy Weatherl and her daughter Jessica are members of the self defense class for women.
“Jessica just turned 16 and she’s out on her own a lot, so I thought taking this class would be good to do together. It helps me not to worry about her so much,” she says.
Weatherl, a social worker in charge of developmentally-delayed adults, had another reason for wanting to take the class.
“I can use this information and take it back to my clients and teach them how to be safe,” she says.