Teens have a lot of experience under their belts

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 MUSCATINE, Iowa — About a year ago, Jake Walker was faced with a decision. The taekwondo academy he had been a student at for years was going  to close and his instructor was getting ready to retire.

He could have tried finding another academy to attend or just decided to hang up his belt. But there was also a third choice.

He could open his own school.

Determined to help students continue their martial arts education, Walker, a fourth-degree black belt, opened Walker’s Taekwondo and began teaching out of his basement.

“I didn’t want what the kids had learned to go to waste,” Walker said. “I didn’t want the kids to not have somewhere to go.”

Eventually, Walker taught enough students to move out of his basement and into a bigger location.His first academy away from  home was at the Lincoln Center, 810 Park Ave. After a brief time there, he settled in a space behind Just for Kicks, 105 Ford Ave.

“We went to the mall looking for space, but they were booked up,” Walker said. “About a month later, we found this place and quickly moved in.”

While most business owners struggle to juggle time at work and time at home, there's an added twist to Walker's business.

He's still in school.

Walker, 18, is set to graduate in May from Muscatine High School. Because he’s still in high school and running his own business, he has little free time. Walker — the son of Jamey and Heather Walker — said he uses his free periods in school to get homework done “and my nights are dedicated to this.”

He said many people told him not to try and open a business while he was still in school, but his students, their parents, his family and his girlfriend supported him.

“They’ve made what we have possible,” Walker said.

At his academy, Walker said taekwondo isn’t just about fighting; it’s about teaching his students about “respect, discipline and honor.”

“It’s about building character and helping the students grow mentally and spiritually in the long run,” Walker said.

But he couldn’t do all of this on his own. He asked another former student, Kolten Hagers, a first-degree black belt, to be an instructor.

“We’ve been working and training together for the past four or five years,” Walker said. “He stuck around when I started the new school.”

Walker told Hagers that becoming an instructor is key to achieving the next degree of black belt.Hagers, 13, of Muscatine, now teaches children as young as 5 all the way up to young adults.

“I’ll lead classes and if I see someone doing something wrong, I’ll help them improve,” Hagers said.

Hagers said he could see himself being an instructor for a long time, especially at Walker’s Taekwondo.

“I might have to go away for college but I would definitely come back [and continue instructing],” Hagers said.

Caption: Kolten Hagens, left, and Jake Walker, right, work with a two of their students at Walker's Tae kwon do. Walker opened the academy about a year ago after the academy he, Hagens and other students were going to closed down.

April 01 2013 TaeKwonDoTimes.