KATY, Texas -- A Taekwondo instructor in Katy never let a disability stop him from becoming a two-time U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee. Now, he's hoping to build confidence in his own students through martial arts and encourage them to pursue their dreams.
"With me, not having hearing is a big obstacle," said Master Joseph Santarose of Rock Solid Martial Arts. "I just want to encourage other students that, hey, you might have these big obstacles in life, but you can keep going no matter what."
Santarose is legally deaf, with about a 90% hearing loss. Growing up, he says competing in martial arts tournaments helped him build confidence.
"Hearing is very important in martial arts, I believe it is, because one of the things they teach you is to be aware of your surroundings," said Santarose. "When you're 90% deaf, being aware of your surroundings is kind of hard. So it really helped me learn how to adapt to my surroundings, with my hearing loss."
In 2013, Santarose represented the U.S. on the world stage at the Deaflympic Games in Bulgaria. Now, two of his own students are in the running to compete in the U.S. Olympics in 2024.
"I don't want to take all the credit for it. These guys do come in, they put in the work, they put in the hours, and they do what they're supposed to do," said Santarose. "My job is just to help push them, to give them that edge, hey, we're going to go further. If they want to quit, no we're not quitting. They want to give up, no, we're not giving up."
But he says the most important thing to him as a Taekwondo instructor is that his students learn to become better people through martial arts.
"Whether they're here for one day or for ten years, my ultimate goal as an instructor is to help these students become better people," he said. "We accept you for whoever you are. And I've been blessed with these students who accept me for who I am, with my hearing loss, and my speech impediment. I know one of my students said I'm goofy and all that, but they accept me and love me for who I am and I accept them and love them for who they are."
For more on Rock Solid Martial Arts, click here.