Sensei Michael Johnson
Greensboro Martial Arts Academy takes quality and safety seriously. We want you to get to know our instructors even before you walk into our school.  Our instructors aren't just good martial artists, they are good people too.

How many years have you been involved as a martial artist?

I have been a martial artist for the better part of 23 years, as of 2016.  I have a difficult time believing its been that long, because it doesn't seem like it could have been over two decades ago that a slightly-over-weight-geeky-comic-book-loving-kid walked into his first Kung Fu Kwoon (school).

What is the most difficult obstacle you had continuing your training?
Life.  It can try to kick our tails.  Albeit, I've always enjoyed life, nearly every moment of it, but it sure can try to stomp you down.  I've always worked a few jobs at once. Most of my life I would stay busy with 3 to 4 jobs and for over a decade was a part-time/full-time college student, so between those responsibilities, I sometimes had to skip training...and that was always tough on me.  I need training; it helps to center my focus and remind me that without its presence in my life I lose part of myself.

Why did you pursue martial arts?
My best friend Ethan Roberts joined two days before me.  He only mentioned it in passing and asked me to come along.  My uncle Rick was a Black Belt in Karate and he always knew how to intimidate people by splitting the punching bag with his devasting side kicks...I saw an opportunity to have some fun in life and a way to connect more with my uncle.  Joining kung fu was the best decision I think I've ever made, but at that time, we joined 'in secret'...we didn't want others to know we were taking Kung Fu.

Were you bullied in your youth?
I didn't come from the inner city bronx that you see on television where kids pack a semi-automatic...at least in those places parents and adults were aware of how dangerous kids could be.  I come from a small town, buried deep in the mountains of East Tennessee, where kids could be kids...and some kids just didn't know how to be nice.  Me and my friends were picked on daily...it was very difficult to keep a good sense of self because we were mocked, hit, beaten, terrorized really.  The kids who did it were country boys, always with their pocket knives right in hand, or the throwing stars they decided to bring to school.  Our teachers were oblivious that this was wrong.  I'm not lying, or exxaggerating, in Elementary school these same boys decided to see how long it would take to turn another boy blue by hanging him from the swing set...the teacher walked over, and asked the 'silly boys' to untie him immediately before someone got hurt...he was dangling & grasping at the rope around his neck!  So, yeah...we were bullied.

How long have you been teaching martial arts?
I taught at my home school for a couple years as an assistant instructor.  My Master allowed me to take some control over the Demo Team time, and we had our own class that we could practice for hours at a time.  It was some of the best times of my martial life.  I was also an assistant instructor in the regular classes.  My biggest regret is that I didn't realize how young and arrogant I could be at that age, and I have yet to properly find a way to thank my master for being the patient and gentle Master that he was to me.

​When I moved to Greensboro in 2006, I noticed that there was a large population of middle school aged boys and girls who were without direction.  So I worked with LL Reid, a local non profit, and began my own after school program called SHIELD.  This program ran in 4 different middle schools, with over 100 kids involved and ran consecutively for 4 years before we had to shut it down because of the increased cost to the schools for after school bus fees.  I didn't teach between 2009 and when we started Greensboro Martial Arts Academy in 2014.

What kind of teacher are you?
I am the kind of teacher that wants the student to work for the answers.  If I simply tell you all the details all at once, then its given, not earned.  I'll show a technique, then ask the students to explore how to get it done.  After some time of working with it, I'll help guide their progress until they have it.  But I don't simply just hand techniques out in great detail at first because I believe that when a student fights for the truth of a technique, the secret of its existence is theirs to keep.

What do you teach best and what don't you do well?
Honestly, what I teach best is empowerment.  What I don't teach well are all the reasons the world tells you that you're not good enough.  Learning martial arts is more than just learning to punch and kick.  It's about learning yourself, knowing full well what your limits are and how to over-come or safe-guard against your own weaknesses.  On an application level, I am a Chin Na guy...I love joint locks and complicated holds that make your toe's curl in fear...but I'm not a details person with my words.

Do you consider yourself a good martial artist?
Yes!  I'm a great martial artist.  Oh, I'm not the best fighter in the world...or the county...or the city...there are so many other martial artists that could beat me up if they chose to, and there wouldn't be much I could do about it.  But that doesn't mean I'm not a good martial artist.  There's always someone better than you at anything you do.  The only way to Master over this inferior complex it could cause is to accept it...know it and believe in yourself completely.  I know that I've learned and trained enough to hold my own in any normal physical confrontation...however, if Don the Dragon Wilson decides he's going to beat me up....well, it's going to happen. :)

What do you recommend for students who have anger issues?
Anger is not as special as it might feel to you.  Let me say that again...Anger is not your super power that you can call on and scare all the bad guys away with while you turn into a super saiyan or the hulk.  Being out of control and angry at the world is not anything to be proud of.  I see it all the time, people bragging about how angry they can become and how they aren't responsible for what they do.  They have little grounding in what's real and what's in their heads because EVERYONE can have issues managing their anger...and your anger is just as fierce as the person next to you.  I think that some kids hold on to their anger and use it as a defense against being hurt...but there are others who use their anger to actually hurt others.  Neither situation is ideal because neither actually addresses the problem.  It's the reason why I chose the 7th grade boys and girls who were deemed 'at risk' by the school board and teachers.  They had reasons to be angry, but no one was showing them how to deal with anger and manage it.  Despite all the punching, kicking, rolling and fun we had...that was the main reason I was there for those 4 years...anger management and self-respect.

What experience do you have teaching outside of the martial arts?
I've always considered myself to be a teacher and a healer.  I started teaching my first martial arts class at 18 years of age as an assistant instructor.  This gave me the confidence I needed to believe in myself enough to pursue the theatre arts. I concentrated in Theatre Stage Performance, and eventually minored in Theatre Education, so I had lots of practice with my formal education.  I was also somewhat of an adventurer in life, so I took on a Senior Practicum in College to travel the State of Tennessee teaching theatre workshops to highschool classes.  This led me to being invited as a guest lecturer at the University of South Carolina, where I spent the better part of a Semester working with them.  I founded my first performing arts theatre company soon after and taught nearly 250 kids and about the same number of adults in three different states over the next two years.  After leaving the theatre company life, I concentrated on building my career, which led to more teaching opportunities in the Marketing/Retail Side of life, which further led into working with ASU's Applachain Regional Development Institute (ARDI).  In this role, I worked with local entrepreneurs and upcomings in what it takes to build, market, finance, create and maintain a newly formed business in the local areas.  After moving to Greensboro, I relinquished my role with them and went to work for the City of Greensboro City Arts, where I fell back into my love for teaching theatre.  It was here that the Four Seasons Mall found me, and hired me to host their Weekly Kid's show, which I did for the next 3 years.  In my spare time, I partnered with LL Reid, a local non-profit, and created an after school martial arts program called SHIELD MARTIAL ARTS.  This program was placed in four different middle schools in Guilford County, targeting 'kids at risk' due to their family situation or their behavior (or possible future behavior) in the public school atmosphere.  I met and worked with 300 kids for the three years we had the program active.  Since that point, the majority of my teaching time has been directly involved in just martial training.

What is your career?
In my lifetime, I have held 56 jobs, owned 29 vehicles, attended 2 Universities and 4 colleges...picking a career wasn't the easiest of decisions for me.  Most of my life, I've worked more than one job, and at one point, held 3 different jobs in three different states, and would make the drive to each job on a daily or weekly basis, while attending school.  From early on, I learned that life isn't meant to be at a stand-still pace.  My career that I chose to focus on more than the others is medical massage therapy.  As a neuromuscular massage therapist, I've been successful at finding a purpose that gives back to others, just as it fulfills my desire to give back to the world.  I help people in pain.  I couldn't be more blessed to have such a fulfilling career.  Oh, and then I am the co-owner of Greensboro Martial Arts Academy, where I get to fulfill the other sides of me that need the constant business stuff to keep me even busier, and I love teaching/participating in the martial arts world!  I love being surrounded by so many wonderful and talented martial artists!

How did you choose your career?
So I've been a professional actor, a theatre teacher, a performing arts director, the Facility Manager for "Horn in the West", and at one point, even a dancer for hire.  The smart companies decided not to hire me as a dancer ;) and chose to put me doing shoulder rubs backstage.  I realized then that I had a pretty good understanding of how the body worked because I learned so much about it in the martial arts, so I got better and better at doing the shoulder rubs.  This eventually made me curious enough to enroll myself into massage school...then graduating...and seeking licensure...which then led me down a long path, which involved working with two professional ballet companies, Burt from Burt's Bee's, receiving invitations to working for the Olympians, Justin Beever, NFL clients and President Carter...and here we are now...and my head is still spinning from the long adventure to get here. :)

Do you enjoy teaching children?
I do very much!!!  :)
But if they are younger than 9 years of age....not typically martial arts. :/
This is why we have wonderfully talented Sensei teachers who love to teach kids...besides me. :)
I am more than trained, and am fun enough to teach the kids in one or two classes, but I'm afraid my personality doesn't do well with the responsibility of teaching kids on a regular basis.  I love teaching them many other subjects, but I'm a combat teacher, and not really suited well to teach kids on a regular basis unless they are at least 9 years of age.

What groups of people/students are you best at teaching?
Like most teachers, I love to teach those who are hungry to learn.  But what I've learned about people is that it's not their ability to learn martial arts that I love about teaching, it's about helping them understand their own potentials and how to better knock down those mental and emotional barriers.  So I enjoy teaching the people who don't have their lives all together, who find themselves over worked and possibly under appreciated in their lives...because it's these people who have the most to gain from training.  These are the people I seem to connect with the best because I've spent most of my life wrestling with those ideas of who I am meant to be versus what I actually am in life, and how to reconcile the differences.  I love people, especially people who really live life and want to find an escape from it so that when they return home they find themselves to be better at being 'mom' or 'dad' , 'husband' or 'wife'.

How are you going to help your students be successful?
I'm going to smile and laugh our way through life and training with them.  I'm not a traditionalist myself, so I won't be the military-style teacher, nor will I pretend to have all the life answers, as if I was written out on a fortune cookie.  But what I will do for them is teach them some very practical self-defense, instruct them in the traditional arts of Kung Fu, Karate, Arnis, and Judo...and hope that everyone has just as much fun with it as I do teaching them.  Oh, and most importantly, I'm going to teach them to believe in themselves just like I believe in them.  I will never set a student up to fail.

Do you have a formal education?
Yes.  I have a total of 12 years of formal education behind me...and while I can't say it was all enjoyable, I will say that it was some of the best experiences of my life because it taught me to look beyond my incapabilities and to believe in what can be accomplished outside of my 'upbringing'.  I was raised in a very small town, surrounded by mountains...hence the name, "Mountain City".  I love that many of my friends who I grew up with are still there...but I love that I'm not there anymore even more.  I am formally trained as a professional actor, with the diverse concentrations in performance, stage combat, light design, and education from East Tennessee State University.  I have my formal education training and education as a medical neuromuscular massage therapist, and from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I have an education in Communication Theory, and was an active associate of the Speaking Center while there.
In addition to my formal education, I worked for the State of Tennessee Child protective services and the State of Virginia police departments, but from this time with them I was trained and certified as an instructor in "Handle with Care" and "Nonviolent Crisis Prevention" (Safety Restraints).  From this training and certifications, I conducted Women's Self Defence Classes and worked with children and teens under State custody who were court ordered a danger to themselves or to others.

What life lessons can you teach well to students?
Hopefully, my students have a few life lessons to teach me too!
I love life.  I want to see everyone I'm connected to love life just as much or more than I do.  I can help younger students deal with their identities and how to better understand who they are and who they want to be; while helping adults understand more about why they have the obstacles they do in their way.  Martial arts gave me the courage to take a hard look at these things in my life, and I want to give others the opportunity to do the same.  Fear is a numbing, difficult beast to overcome, but when you learn to overcome your fears on a daily basis of training, then overcoming your fears and obstacles becomes easier.  Through Martial arts, we can teach our students the nature of what fear is, and how and why they can overcome it.  In time and practice, the students will learn that it doesn't just apply to them in the dojo, but also can be transferred to other parts of their lives also.  They become more complete, more bold, more of who God intended for them to be...daring the world to try and push their spirits down.  This is why I love our school creed.  If you haven't read it yet, please check it out under "MORE" on our website button Selections.  We wrote this creed based on what we want our students to believe about themselves and each other.

Why do you teach martial arts?
I teach for the love and joy it brings to me and to the students.  I teach because its my calling, it's my manifest...it's one of the reasons why I was placed onto this earth...I teach martial arts because I certainly can't be a math teacher in life with my poor math skills...and because I want to pay back some respect to the people who have spent years working with me in my youth to make me the man I am today.  There are two Masters who have helped shape me, and I want to thank them both for their patience, and their dedication to the ideas they passed onto me: Sifu Chris Lang and GrandMaster Rick Ward.  

Have you ever been in a physical fight outside of the dojo and what we're the circumstances surrounding it.
So I learned in the 7th grade what it looks like right before someone gets the courage to punch you in the face...I also learned that kicking that person in the shin afterwards only makes him hit you harder...ah, life lessons.
Once I got more involved with martial arts, I still found that I wasn't immune to being bullied, the difference was my martial arts school had a strict 'no fighting' code of conduct.  I didn't understand it when I was younger, but I see the wisdom in it now that I'm an adult and a martial arts instructor myself.  I wasn't allowed to fight in public schools because I was being taught that no matter how many times those bullies made fun of me, or hit me...they couldn't break me.  It was not a fun lesson.  But I when I received my Black Belt I understood just how hard I worked for it, how much I wanted it, and what it cost me...my training gave me the ability to see that the world may try to break me, but I was pushed harder than that in the Dojo.  I learned that because I was tempered hard in my martial arts school, no one outside of it could actually hurt me in my life, no matter what names they called me, or petty fights they tried to have with me.
Now, there was one real instance when I was in Boxing class and a guy randomly walked in hyped up on drugs...and he was unstable and angry.  Out of no where, he decided to try and hit me with a tire iron, I didn't even have a full few seconds to realize what was going on because I wasn't even engaging in conversation with this guy.  Those precious miliseconds I was able to recognize that I was in danger, determine what to do and how to not die...and my body did all the work.  My conscious mind was lagging still on the idea that someone I didn't know was trying to hurt me.  Meanwhile, my reflexes and 'habits' kicked in and I was able to duck under his deadly swing and use the momentum of it to move his arm out of my direction.  His shoulder dislocated at that moment because he wasn't using any control and I had directed his arm to swing at an unnatural angle.  I secured him down to the ground until other people could come help carry him out and the police arrived.  I was only able to do that because I trained in Modern Arnis, a stick fighting art, and my reflexes knew what to do way before my brain did.

How do you feel about recreational drugs in your personal life?
In my lifetime, I've had 2 wine coolers, 1 sip of champagne, and 1 shot of Sake.  I have never enjoyed alcohol or drugs because I've seen the negative effects on one's life and health. 

What advice could you give a young student who is being bullied at school?
I would want more information about this student first, but in general, I'm going to tell this student that they are being bullied because someone wants to climb a social ladder and make themselves feel better.  There are insecurities behind why kids bully.  Some do it because they model the behavior they are taught at home, and maybe they don't realize the insecurity there, but most of the time, its done to control fear.  To help a student who is being bullied, I would help them conquer their own fears, encouraging them to take a close look at what they feel are their 'weaknesses' and talk to them about them and how that affects them.  There is much advice I'd give to the kid being bullied, but in general, this is the approach I'd take...the beginning is helping the student understand why they are being bullied and teach them that they don't deserve that kind of treatment, nor should they let it hurt them.  No other person has the right to hurt them physically or emotionally, and that hard truth is worth learning from the start.

How old are you?
It's 2016, and I just turned 38 years of old. :)  I really enjoy being an adult much more than a teen ...or even classified as a college kid!

What styles have you Learned?
I am trained in Sil Lum Kung Fu, Shaolin Chin Na, Modern Arnis, Western Boxing and Judo.  I have further training in about 6 different systems, all involving the Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian arts.  I am a collector of martial techniques and enjoy the blend of each of them.  

What is your favorite style of martial art?
Kung Fu is my chosen style, but I want to learn all of them.  Yeah, I'll never learn all of them, but that doesn't mean I don't have the interest.  I have enjoyed training with Sensei Howell in Goju Ryu Karate, it's so beautiful and powerful for a traditional Karate.  I also love Weapons, almost any kind of weapon.  If I'm new to it, then I want to know all about it and how to use it effectively.  The only weapon that has ever scared me is the 3 Sectional Staff...that I've learned that I'm not coordinated enough to use without a few more years of training. :)

What's more important, showing that you're a competent martial artist or demonstrating that you're a competent teacher?
This is a tough question for me.  There was a young man who was assigned as my acting partner at East Tennessee State University.  His name was James (last name omitted for respect to his family).  A few years younger than me, and much less secure in his identity, he was still very well-liked by most people.  He ran with some diverse crowds of people, some of which decided that wearing leather trench coats and not showering for days was socially acceptable.  James and I got to know one another after working together on scenes for a few months and became friends.  He told me about his relationship with his dad, the girls he liked, and about his future goals and career.  One day, James approaches me asking if I will teach him self defense.  I said of course...then I went back to whatever it was I thought was more important at the time.  He came to me two days later, and asked again, saying that he felt it was really important for him to learn how to defend himself.  I was, busy ...or course...but I said that once our assignment was over with, I could teach him some techniques.

The next day, James doesn't show up.  A week later, he still doesn't show up.  His bicycle hasn't moved from where it was chained under the Culp Center Ramp.  We were all upset with James because he just quit his responsibilities.  Then one morning on the news we see that there was a local bank robbery and Jame's car was identified as the get away car.  We couldn't believe it, our friend James was a bank robber!!  As the youths that we were, we celebrated in knowing that our friend was quite the criminal cut up...we didn't know how else to react to the news.  But then the following day, we see on the news that his body had washed up from one of the local rivers...James had been dead for a long time.  As the story unfolded, we learned that the friends he was hanging around...the trench coat guys wanted to rob the bank and told James that they needed his car.  They pressured him into thinking he had to join them, but he refused.  They beat him...he didn't survive the beating.

James asked me for help, and I didn't listen because I didn't think it was important enough at the time.  I do now.  I was a competent martial artist then, but I wasn't a very good teacher because I didn't think it was as important.  Decades later, I still feel the guilt of my decision, so when I'm asked this question, I know the answer is its more important to be a teacher.  Its not possible to be a good teacher without being a good martial artist, but I do believe that passing along the knowledge is more important than keeping it all for yourself, especially if you never use it.  I'm not saying that I could have taught James what he needed to know to save his life in two weeks time...but we will never know that for certain.  

Life is real, and it can be unforgiving.  This is why we build a community of people, of Masters and students, to have someone to turn to for help, advice, encouragement and support.  Having the right kind of people in your life is a necessity, and Greensboro Martial Arts Academy is dedicated to keeping a strong community of martial artists to help give back to the people in this unforgiving world, so that love, and not hatred & fear, is spread.