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Meet Edgar Montenegro

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 high school.

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 enough!”

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 train champions.”

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.”

Edgar Montenegro 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.