SOUTHWEST HARBOR — After 30 years of hard work and practice, Mike McEnroe has achieved ninth degree black belt. That’s one away from the highest rank possible in Tracy’s Karate, an organization founded in 1971 that incorporates aspects of karate, judo, jujitsu and savate (a French form of foot fighting).
When he was 27 years old, McEnroe began taking martial arts with his stepson. The child’s school had recommended it to help with an attention deficit disorder diagnosis.
“He made it two years and I’ve made it 30,” McEnroe said. “I liked the de-stress it did in me. I liked the physical contact. I didn’t have any plans on how long I was going to do it.”
Seven years into the practice, McEnroe was asked by his sensei, Gordon Young, to take over teaching at the Southwest Harbor Legion Hall where students gather every Monday night.
There were 25 students at that time and classes have continued to be between 15 to 30 participants since he became the sensei.
“I love teaching kids,” said McEnroe. “I love yelling at them. I’m part of the loud family.”
In addition to being a sensei, he has also been a soccer, basketball and baseball coach for youth in the Mount Desert Island community. But, his longest stint has been with martial arts.
“It’s about having fun,” he said. “It’s about realizing when you need to be aggressive.”
“Karate is like a team sport with individual growth,” said McEnroe, who has tested 25 students to black belt level. “You work as a team, growth is up to you.”
The various parts of the martial art practice each help build confidence, respect, responsibility, teamwork, self-assessment and accountability, he said.
Students begin with McEnroe as young as five years old, just as his two children did. His oldest student, at 74 years old, will soon be testing for his black belt after working at it for five and a half years.
“We don’t ever set anyone up to fail, ever,” said McEnroe. “We’re there to help everyone succeed, but you still have to perform … I haven’t seen one person who didn’t pass, quit.”
And, age is irrelevant when it comes to achieving the various ranks.
All students start with a white belt. They can then earn a yellow belt, then green, then purple.
After purple is brown belt, which itself includes three levels. Once you reach the first level of brown belt, there is at least five years of training, and two more levels of that color rank, before being able to test for black belt, according to McEnroe.
As students move up in the ranks, part of their training includes coaching those who come after them with less experience.
“If you are a brown belt child, you could be teaching a white belt adult,” he said.
In his experience, kids usually test slower than adults because they are so busy with other activities. McEnroe’s two children tested to black belt but moved on from martial arts in eighth grade. They are both young adults now.
Outside of martial arts, McEnroe runs McEnroe Builders. “I have the best crew I’ve ever had,” he said about his current eight employees. “A lot of my guys have worked with me for a long time.”
As have a lot of his students. In each arena McEnroe encourages accountability and honest communication.
If a student is not going to attend class, he prefers a call from them, not their parents. When students get frustrated, not only do they get to yell and kick to release that energy, they also are encouraged to put words to it.
“They learn to get it out,” said McEnroe. “It’s never as bad as what you have in your mind.”
While he may not have known how long and far his trek into martial arts would go, once he was committed, McEnroe did have a goal, to become a master, which is achieved at fifth degree black belt.
“That was my goal, I wanted to be involved in the testing,” he said.
Those who assess and score students in testing must be a higher rank. That became difficult for McEnroe’s last round of testing.
“I can only be tested by people my rank or higher,” he said about the ninth level. “It has been really good for me. The whole way the organization is run has been great for my personality.”