The distance from La Union
Narino, Colombia, South America, to St.Louis, Missouri,
United States of North America is measured in miles by
most of us, but for Edgar Montenegro, the milestones he
has passed since leaving his homeland are much more meaningful.
Armed with a Bachelor
of Arts degree in Economics from La Universidad de Narino,
and a teaching certificate from Escuela Normal da Occidente,
in Pasto, Colombia, Edgar came to St. Louis University
to learn English and enter the world of business.
His talent as a teacher
lead him to a position with Berlitz Language Center, teaching
Spanish to employees at McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing)
from 1991-93. And from there, his life would take an unexpected
path. An engineer at Boeing knew of a karate master who
was interested in learning Spanish from a native speaker,
and he encouraged Edgar to go to Tracy’s Karate Studio
in Kirkwood to meet Tim Golby.
He did, and, “I was
so delighted and nervous…I think ‘How about if somebody
punch me?’ I was so skinny, no exercise, no fighting,
very shy. When I was a kid, my brothers made me stay inside,
afraid I would be beaten.”
Edgar began teaching Mr. Golby Spanish, and became interested
in karate. After a few months, “Mr. Golby asked me if
I wanted to take karate lessons. I said, ‘Oh, they (other
students) are so strong – they are going to kill me!’
My mind was so closed. Mr. Golby said, ‘Because you are
little and not strong – you need it the most.’”
Despite his initial
trepidation, Edgar began private lessons. Of his first
experience, he says, “My first teacher was so very patient
and friendly. He gave me confidence.”
“You don’t need to be strong or speak the language – they
are so good and perfect, they give you confidence.” After
several private lessons, Edgar added group classes to
his training regimen. “I was kind of behind, but I looked
at the other people.
They always complimented
me, they knew I was new, and I started to feel like, ‘Oh,
yes, I am good.’” Edgar trained hard, and achieved his
next goal, an Orange Belt. He says of this milestone:
“I was so happy. An Orange Belt to me was like a Black
Belt for someone in America.”
During this time of
tremendous growth for Edgar in Karate, he was also realizing
his professional dreams. He continued his education at
Webster University and received his Masters Degree in
Education. He began teaching at Forsyth School, then at
St. John the Baptist College Preparatory High School.
It was at St. John’s that Edgar’s next milestone appeared.
As the Spanish teacher and as advisor for Student Council,
Edgar saw a need for teaching respect and tolerance and
for infusing self-confidence in the students. Indeed,
the very things he was learning and using at Tracy’s Karate
Studio could be integrated into the curriculum at the
The incidence of fighting
was very high: “Every day during lunch, the students asked
(each other): ‘Who is going to fight today?’” There were
three or four fights daily, 75% of them between the females.
This gave Edgar the idea of implementing karate techniques
and principles into the regular Physical Education curriculum.
No, not to teach how
to fight, but rather, how not to fight. At first, students
signed up “to learn to beat people up, and they thought
because I was little, they could beat me up. But because
of my training and my confidence, they couldn’t even touch
me – they realized they were not as strong as they thought.”
Edgar targeted the
behaviors, and combated them with respect and concepts
of how to be a good athlete. The result? Fights declined
from that 3-4 per day to zero. This tremendous success
resulted in aFox 2 News presentation featuring Edgar and
his program in 2003.
Now Edgar himself began
to dream of another milestone, one he was not sure he
was ready to approach. But “Mr. Golby said, ‘Edgar, it
is time for you to compete’. I had been dreaming of having
maybe a little trophy – thinking, ‘how ‘bout I steal one?”
Since that clearly was not a good idea, Edgar began training
to compete and to earn that trophy.
He worked with Carla
McDonald at Tracy’s, the top female fighter in the country.
In 2002 and 2003, Edgar earned not just a little trophy;
he won championships in both Sparring and Kata at the
National Karate Classic tournaments.
His teaching career continued
successfully, and although St. John’s School closed, Edgar
went on to teach at Ft. Zumwalt and, currently, Ladue
Middle School. The
confidence he attributes to Karate has served him well:
“I am not nervous – every job I apply for, I get – I can
express myself. I used to be so shy…now I talk more than
He began competing again
in 2009, and won First Place Black Belt in both Weapons
and Kata at the National Karate Alliance tournament in
2010. “Anybody from Tracy’s can go and win – here they
What is ahead for Edgar Montenegro?
There is no doubt that his journey is not over. He continues
to grow professionally as a teacher, respected by students,
parents and colleagues, and he attributes much of his
success to his karate training.
He teaches at Lindenwood
University and at St. Louis Community College – Meramec,
in addition to his teaching job at Ladue Middle School.
He continues to hone his skills in Karate and wants to
train others to be champions.
He also hopes one day to return to Colombia and teach
women there who suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands.
But for today, he offers these words:
“I was the person
who started with nothing – not mentally or physically.
Karate developed both. It changed my mind.”
is, quite simply, a teacher who brings his compass to
class and teaches us that the path to personal achievement
may have unexpected twists, but the direction we need
to go is constant.