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Wheeler’s wise way of life: ‘Not just a good fighter’
(Published March 8, 1999)
By ANTHONY EDWARDS
Much like any young boy growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Ron Wheeler fantasized of performing the spectacular kicks and punches he saw on Saturday afternoon’s Kung Fu theater.
"It inspired me, but then again that was what every 14-year-old’s dream was at that time," he said.
Fast forward 20 years and you would still find Wheeler dreaming about martial arts moves.
A product of the Washington area, Wheeler grew up on Adams Mill Road, in the heart of Mount Pleasant. His infatuation with martial arts landed him in many different classes dealing with a variety of disciplines. These included Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, but eventually the art of Wu Shu really acquired his serious interest, and he has been proving that to countless competitors, peers and students ever since.
Even as an accomplished martial artist, who has since been trained in other disciplines such as Tai Chi and Jow Ga, Wheeler has never become engulfed in the ego problems to which many exceptional competitors seem to fall victim.
"Too many guys spend time building their images," he said. "But if you’re good, your art will speak for itself."
So how loud have Wheeler’s skills spoken for him? While others may have more trophies and medals, Wheeler is quick to point out that he participates in the tournaments that really count. Wheeler has his share of awards, and among those is the U.S. national title in the discipline of Wu Shu. He won the title at the U.S. Nationals in the summer of 1997.
This may seem like just another accomplishment, but it’s much more significant. The field of Wu Shu is traditionally dominated by natives of China, where it originated, but Wheeler quickly shook up the field two years ago by becoming not just the first African-American to win the title, but the first American, period, to do so.
Wheeler credits his success in and out of the fighting arena to the other aspects of martial arts.
"It’s a way of life that has probably kept me out of trouble my whole life...It is everything," he said.
He is quick to illustrate this by pointing out that the lessons, and the hard work he put into martial arts, helped him deal with tragedy he had to endure at a young age.
"I lost four close members of my family within a 10-ear span, and without martial arts, I don’t know how I would have dealt with all the stress," he said.
Wheeler never seems to be satisfied with his art, though. Not necessarily in the physical form either.
"All of the things I’ve learned have helped me become a better person, not just a good fighter," he noted. He also emphasizes that the more he learned about martial arts, he realized the mental and spiritual aspect of it was 99 percent of what counts.
"It’s an ongoing process of learning, just like life," he said. "You just keep on learning, and then pass it on to others, so you can keep on learning yourself."
This explains what Wheeler enjoys doing most these days. He regularly plays the role of instructor/teacher to many young aspiring martial artists. He admits to liking the coaching position slightly more than that of the person who is actually in there performing. The team he heads is only five people deep, but much deeper than that with actual talent. Wheeler proudly points out that his team is undefeated and has never come home from a tournament empty-handed.
"In the last two years, we have won 80 awards with only five competitors," he noted.
Equally amazing is the fact that his team has no support from the surrounding business community. "With no sponsors it’s hard, and we’re looking every day for someone to back us up a little bit," he said.
Even as his professional career may be nearing its end, the 34-year-old father of two has tapped into the media field. He is regularly published in several different martial arts magazines. He also has produced seven instructional videos and is scheduled to publish a book in the near future.
Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator