Interview with ITAV Karate Sensai, Marquinn McDonald
By: Tara Shedor, Director of Communications
How did you become a martial arts instructor?
Marquinn: I didn’t know I was going to teach, and I started teaching from my instructor at the school south at TA Karate, South Shore Martial Arts. I started teaching for him when I was around 19 years old doing work at the dojo. I thought I was gonna become a police officer. I just knew I was gonna become a cop or something, but eventually fast forward through time miss Anita Andrews-Hutchinson, she’s friends with my wife, her and my wife approached me together.
They came to me and asked one day, “Hey, you might wanna consider teaching karate. We have a daycare. Have you ever taught?” I’m like, “Yeah…” but I wasn’t really interested in teaching kids. That’s the second time in my life that I wasn’t interested in it. At first I was like,” Eh, I don’t wanna teach kids.” I wasn’t even sure that’s what I was going to do for a living. I was kind of in this place where I didn’t know if this is what I wanted to do. She was like, “You should try it.” I went ahead and said, “All right, cool.” To make a long story short, that’s how I got into teaching martial arts.
I started at the ITAV-River City location. Then later that year after they saw that it was quite successful. We had a nice group of students. Then one day my daughter and I demonstrated for the families, and I didn’t think we did a very good job. I didn’t think we’d get anyone new to join. Then all I know is about 40 kids signed up later that week, and I’ve been teaching at ITAV ever since. I teach at all the schools now: ITAV- River city, ITAV- West, and Village Leadership Academy.
I also teach across the city at other schools: CPS schools and charter schools. I’ve been using martial arts to give back to the community. We teach free women’s self defense workshops. I was just recently on CBS news. They interviewed me because we had a workshop teaching women how to defend and protect themselves.
Why do you think you’ve stuck with teaching karate?
Marquinn: I’ve always loved karate. I love martial arts. I personally believe in martial arts and from what I’ve seen, from my personal experience, I had a temper when I was younger. It helped me with the curve that temper. It helped me to think critically. It helped me with my social skills. It helped me to become stronger physically and mentally. It gave me a sense of security. I was shy as a kid too. I’m no longer too shy – as you tell you know! I love expressing myself. It taught me how to express myself. It gave me direction. So I always wanted to give that back and as well as teach me how to defend myself.
Can you speak more about the benefits of martial arts?
Marquinn: Those who have experienced it, those parents who’ve seen their children grow up in it, or those individuals who themselves have experienced it by my practice. They can all tell you, but I still don’t think it’s as valued as it should be, but it’s incredible.
I’m in talks now with a psychologist. Over the summer we did a program in Roseland with a well decorated psychiatrist by the name of Karen Crawford. I worked with her side by side. We did a program working with at-risk youth where they did what’s called “brain mapping.” We used martial arts to help them understand aggression and learn how to recognize their emotions, to learn how to navigate those emotions, how to think critically, and to think through those emotions. It was an incredible summer. We did a six week program. It was really fantastic, and we plan on doing that again this summer. We also did a six program with an organization that I co-founded called WatchGuard Chicago. We partnered with CHHA, and we took 50 young men and mentored them. We taught them martial arts.
Will you tell me about your work with community safety and particularly what does community safety mean to you?
Marquinn: I am a former president of MASK, which are Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings and Men in Patrol. I started doing patrols and community safety close to 10 years ago. With that organization, which is still active to this day, the founder, Tamar Manasseh, created that organization because of a lot of the senseless violence that was happening in our communities. They created this thing where they were giving out free hugs. They would have moms come out and stand on the corners or walk down the street and give free hugs. I remember a text going out one day that said, “Hey, these mothers are out here doing these patrols and they need protection.” Can we get some men?
So, myself along with several other men went out to make sure they were safe. Then I became president of the men’s association. When it comes to safety or community safety, the key phrases are, in the two words, “community & safety.” A lot of what we’ve seen out here nowadays because we don’t have community. We don’t have a village. If you want to see a change happen within your own community or your own block, organize your neighbors, get to know your neighbors and watch the change that happens.
By building relationships with your neighbors, and you’ll see an immediate shift. When I helped co-found Watch Guard Chicago, that was the purpose of the group. Watch Guard was about the men in the community, coming out and patrolling their neighborhoods to make sure that people were safe and people were not being bothered. People can stand on the bus stop and walk to the store. Kids could play outside and know that there’s someone that’s watching it, watching your back, and covering you. We’re not the police, we’re not a security agency, we’re neighbors. We’re just men of the village. It was about connecting those dots and bridges, those gaps between our neighbors.
Marquinn: We started in May of 2020. We’ve gone out every night from 8:30 PM to 1:00 AM. We patrol every night Sunday through Saturday in our neighborhood of Bronzeville. If Bronzeville is quiet, we’ll go over to Kenwood and Hyde Park, but we’ve mainly focused on Bronzeville. On Saturday mornings, we are at the gas stations. We’re at several gas stations between the hours of 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM. This is to counter the car jackings. It started with a collaboration between myself and my assistant, Africa. We created a movement called Community First Safe Passage.
We record and we report anything that we may see in our neighborhoods or on the blocks that may seem strange. We let our police know and let our Aldermen know. We’re gonna continue doing that. Recently we just partnered with an organization called Chicago Beyond. This is just the first time we just got some funding so we can continue our work. We do trainings for everybody. It’s mandatory that every month we do First Aid, CPR, and Stop the Bleed training or gunshot wound training. We do psychotherapy and crisis intervention. We do de-escalation training every month. We want to be able to give quality.
That is amazing. I love how your career has continued to blossom for the sake of the community and using your talents to inspire and support others. Do you have any final words?
Marquinn: Oh, I’ll just say this. For anyone listening: I know things can appear to be difficult, especially in the times that we’re in. To stay optimistic, to understand the best way for us to deal with our issues and to come up with solutions that we need to is with each other. We are the cure. It’s just my personal opinion. It’s us, we’re the cure. We’ve built this beautiful city, this country, this world. We’re the cure. Everyday should feel like Christmas for us. I know every day’s not going to be that, but when you have a good village or you create a good village, you have a network. It changes everything.