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Young People say East Side Milwaukee Gym Instills Confidence

John Holman

Eric (Red) Schafer opened his Mixed Martial Arts Academy, in 2010, to teach fighting and self-defense, but he says his ultimate goal, runs deeper.

Schafer began mastering mixed martial arts and their rituals in 1996, while attending UW-Oshkosh. He says a few guys formed a club and entered weekend tournaments. Winning paid $500 to $600. "When you're in college $500 is a lot of money. So, that was our great workout, it was my free time, that was my hobby and paid some bills, so that was kind of fun," Schafer says.

Schafer says his plan was to become a doctor so he could help people, and he had the grades. But first, he wanted to give professional fighting a try and succeeded for several years. As he was getting near the end of his fighting career, he decided to pursue a dream to, "have a gym that's cutting edge science and psychology and technique, to create champions and better people. I believe the profit will come after that," Schafer says.

Malcolm Childs is one of Schafer's students. Childs says he buses tables at a restaurant to pay for his gym membership. “I plan on being in the cage one day, to fight professionally and I want to be the greatest and I think this gym will help be where I want to be and reach all my goals.” Childs adds that the discipline he's gained helps him "focus on any task and try to accomplish it."

Credit John Holman
The coach demonstrates a move on Mike Adams

Fellow gym member Mike Adams says he initially came to the gym because he loves sports and being active. He tried jiu-jitsu and became hooked but agrees, what he’s gained extends beyond the matt. "The more and more I do it, I become more confident with myself. I can keep my chin up a little higher. I’m happier and I feel like I’m doing something right. I’m growing," Adams says.

Both young men praise their coach. “Just like how Michael Jordan was - made everyone around him better? That’s what Red does,” Adams says.

Credit John Holman
Coach Courtnie and Isabelle discuss the book the young members read

Two years ago, Schafer started a program for kids. He says it’s become popular, mainly because of coach Courtnie Korpela. She leads kids in jiu-jitsu two nights a week. Her full time job is teaching third grade in St. Francis, and she’s brought some of those skills to the gym - she started a book club. "We talk about books often in the gym, and a lot of the students just love reading in general," Korpela says. "Throughout the week, they read their assigned readings, and then we come back, discuss what happened and continue reading on."

The younger members just finished reading May B.  Isabelle Kiekhofer is pleased the young girl in the story overcame obstacles. "I like to know that girls are strong because sometimes boys think they are stronger than girls and that kind of disappoints me," Kiekhofer says.

Her dad Neil is pleased. "Seeing the book club is one of those times where it's kind of like you get the vitamin that tastes really good, so the kid's are like, I totally want my vitamins," he says.

“I think I can even touch more lives in this career than I could as a doctor," gym owner Red Schafer says. He seems to take great satisfaction in knowing he followed his passion and the results have flowed to others. "We had this one guy who went to high school in the area. His father is in prison and we were letting him train, like for $10 a month, just to kind of help the guy out, and his mom wrote a letter. It said something like, thanks for being there; we can see the difference. His father's not here and you guys have become big brothers or father figures to him," Schafer recalls.

Schafer says he knew he had to share his blessings of a great family and healthy middle-class life in Fond du Lac. “This is just the first time I’ve actually had power to do anything good and I think that’s what everybody should be looking forward to in life. What you can do for the world? What can you do for the community? That’s what we’re looking for here,” Schafer says.