By R.J. MORGAN
For Starkville Daily News
Longtime Mississippi State geology professor and martial arts instructor Chris Dewey turned in his retirement papers yesterday.
Dewey, an Englishman who moved to Starkville in 1984, is leaving Mississippi to start a five-year graduate program at the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin, Texas. His eventual goal is to settle in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for 20 years but just kind of danced around it,” Dewey said. “Health is the other side to the yin-yang of martial arts.”
Dewey has also owned and operated the Starkville Martial Arts Academy downtown for 16 years, but sold the dojo earlier this week to instructor Doug Bedsaul. Bedsaul has studied under Dewey since 1997 when he took a beginning karate class Dewey taught at MSU.
Bedsaul was one of many who honored Dewey with a potluck event at the dojo, now called Downtown Martial Arts Academy, on Thursday.
“His interest drives his passion, and his level of knowledge makes him a good teacher,” Bedsaul said. “But it’s his desire for and openness to new knowledge that gives him the mind set of an eternal student. And that’s something all great teachers have.”
Dewey is leaving Starkville with his wife and son, but he’ll take much more than family with him on his next adventure.
“I’ll miss the community, the business, the people,” Dewey said. “I’ve never lived anywhere for longer than I’ve lived in Starkville, so in many ways it’s my truly my home. I’ve met a lot of great friends and I’ll miss them, but I’ll say this: In life, you find what you’re looking for. So I expect to find more great people at my next stop and surround myself with them as well.”
Growing up in England, martial arts appealed to Dewey after a few run-ins with bullies at age 12.
“I didn’t like being bullied,” Dewey said. “I started martial arts, and the bullying stopped. I wasn’t all of a sudden a deadly weapon or anything, but it was an immediate attitude change.”
When he came to Starkville in 1984, he immediately got involved in the university martial arts program, which was very small. He worked with a small judo club in Hamilton for a time, then he and six others eventually started the University Judo Club.
In 1996 he moved his efforts into the community and started his academy, originally on Main Street. The dojo moved to its current location on Lafayette Street in 2006.
This is all in addition to his day job as a full-time professor. Dewey is an accomplished academic with multiple publications to his credit. He’s served as the sole academic adviser for MSU’s general science degree for over 20 years.
But Dewey says his accomplishments in academia aren’t separate from his accomplishments in learning and instructing martial arts.
“They’re gestalt,” Dewey said. “I don’t put on different hats at the dojo or in the classroom, I just play in different environments. Being a geologist is just like martial arts. It’s all about learning, understanding and discovery.”
His positive, self-assured attitude and purpose-driven mentality have made him a favorite among students and peers at both the university and the dojo. Cheryl Chambers took Dewey’s geology class before eventually getting involved in his martial arts program.
“After that first class I remember feeling very welcome, not overwhelmed,” Chambers said. “It’s empowering. I’m a small girl, and basically everything I’ve learned to do here is something I didn’t think I could do.”
Chambers now assists Dewey and Bedsaul with the youth karate program and leads the new yoga program on Sunday nights at 6 p.m.
“It’s one hour where I can forget about every other thing and concentrate on breathing, movement and ... self-awareness,” Chambers said.
Yoga is one of several new programs that Bedsaul would like to see continue to grow.
“One style doesn’t work for everyone,” Bedsaul said. “I’d like to see us continue our current programs, but also branch out into new areas.”
The academy, founded by Dewey and now led by Bedsaul, serves around 100 students and has a variety of classes for both children and adults multiple nights per week.
“(The dojo) isn’t about me; it’s an idea,” Dewey said. “And if an idea is good enough, it take on a life of its own, beyond you.”