Leaping to his Dreams
Nick Elliott finds personal peace as a martial artist
by Laura Baird
Nick Elliott became a black belt as a teenager and a successful entrepreneur in his 20s. These two talents eventually overlapped, and he opened Family Tae Kwon Do Champions in Delafield in 2011. His childhood interest in martial arts not only became a career, but also satisfies a higher calling. Elliott’s real passion lies in serving others — helping people gain confidence, lose weight or generally lead a more-fulfilled life — and tae kwon do is just a means to that end.
MAKING ENDS MEET
The oldest of seven kids, Nick Elliott spent his childhood in Milwaukee. “I’ve always had an interest in martial arts,” says Elliott, but his family couldn’t afford lessons. Instead, he learned from a neighborhood friend who studied tae kwon do. “I knew almost all the black belt curriculum by the time I was 8, but I wasn’t part of any martial arts school,” he says.
When Elliott was 15, his family moved to Menomonee Falls, and the enterprising teen sought out formal training. Almost like a scene from “Karate Kid,” Elliott did chores — such as washing windows and cleaning mats — at the local dojang in exchange for lessons.
The master instructor was well respected by his small group of students, who would wash and press his uniforms, repair his car and more. “He didn’t have much money, but he was an excellent teacher. He was a struggling martial artist,” explains Elliott. Taking care of the master was “an old-school way of martial arts,” he adds.
Elliott trained four to five hours daily. “I just loved it that much,” he says. “If I was going to be a black belt, I wanted to be the best black belt that I possibly could be.”
At 17, Elliott earned his black belt after five hours of grueling testing. The test covers jumping kicks, sparring with multiple attackers, sit-ups, pushups, running and breaking a brick with your fist — all communicated in Korean.
“They break you down to a point where your body is just about to give up and you have to really come from within,” he explains. “It’s you controlling your body rather than your body controlling you.”
After high school, Elliott enlisted in the Marines, but an accident interrupted those plans. A fire erupted at the oil-change station where Elliott was working for the summer. He tried to stomp it out and douse the flames with windshield-washer fluid, which turned out to be flammable.
The resulting chemical fire left third-degree burns on his leg. An infection set in, and doctors wanted to amputate at the knee, but Elliott refused. He chose antibiotics and excruciating debridement to try and save his leg.
The experience made Elliott reflect on his life. “I always had a passion to help people live to their fullest potential,” he says. “When they talked about (amputating) my leg, I just realized more that I want to get out here and make a difference.”
BACK TO BASICS
Elliott went to work with his father and uncles in their flooring-installation business. “I didn’t enjoy (the work), but the work ethic my father instilled in me made such a difference later on,” he says.
The economy was booming, and Elliott urged his father to expand. When his dad declined, Elliott branched out on his own, starting his own flooring-installation business. The business prospered but left him feeling unfulfilled. He moved into sales in a carpet store, where he smashed sales goals but felt like he was just going through the motions. “I got to the point where I called it ‘boring flooring’,” he recalls.
After several years, he returned to tae kwon do — and immediately felt at home. “Without martial arts, I felt empty,” he recalls. “Nothing gave me the feeling of going into a dojang,” he explains. “This was a higher level of living, it seemed like to me. These people held themselves to a higher standard, and that really drew me to tae kwon do.”
He started over and progressed through the curriculum from white belt to a black belt very quickly, in less than two years.
By the time he was a purple belt, he had started working at the school part time. Seeing the positive effect he was having in kids’ and families’ lives was powerful. ‘At that moment, I knew this is what I’m here for, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he says.
ALL ABOUT FAMILY
Elliott managed several branches of the school before he opened his own branch in Germantown. He was tied to a prescribed curriculum, though, which became tiresome. After two years, he sold the school and opened a flooring store in Brookfield.
He continued training with another master and made plans to open his own school. In November 2011, Family Tae Kwon Do Champions (FTKDC) opened its doors in downtown Delafield.
“I always came (to Lake Country) fishing with my dad and grandpa,” recalls Elliott. “We would stop (in Delafield) to eat, and I was like, I love this town. You would see families everywhere.” Family is important to Elliott, who lives in Pewaukee with his wife and daughter. His brother, Jason, who is also a black belt, teaches at the school.
The school offers children’s classes for ages 3 to 12 and family classes, where parents and older kids train side by side. “You can’t go play baseball as a family in an organized league,” explains Elliott, “but this is something you can do with your children.”
Kids’ classes include stretching, conditioning, and a curriculum of punches, kicks and traditional forms. Each class concludes with a message from either Nick or Jason. Topics include nutrition, anger management, and ways to make your parents smile, for example.
“When you have another person reinforcing what parents are saying, you have a better chance that a kid will make the right decision,” says Elliott.
After all, martial arts are 90-percent mental. The physical aspect grabs kids’ interest, he explains, but tae kwon do is about gaining confidence, showing respect and serving the community. Students are expected to build a more peaceful world, and the teachers strive to create black belts in life.
“‘Black belt’ we really use as a metaphor for excellence,” says Elliott.
Elliott is a fifth-degree black belt, and one of his life goals is to become a grand master — a ninth-degree black belt, the highest level. To do so will require extensive training, and he would like to test in South Korea. “It will take me my lifetime,” he says, to earn that elite rank.
In the meantime, he has thrown himself into teaching.
“I would like to help people live to their fullest potential, and, in turn, that helps me to try to live to mine,” he says. “We’ll never reach it, but in that way, we’re always getting better, always improving and moving forward.”