Reggie Perry's Labor of Love

A former world champion in karate, Reggie Perry [Intermediate Student '86-'87] has opened a martial arts school where he teaches students the importance of self-discipline and community service

At Perry's Tae Kwon Do, students repeat after their instructor.

We are dedicated. “We are dedicated!”

We are motivated. “We are motivated!”

We are disciplined. “We are disciplined!”

The teacher calls out instructions and students pivot from one stance to the next, chanting with each movement. The room throbs with the cadence, the call and response of teacher and student.

Suddenly, there is a pause, the rhythm is broken. Silence falls in the room as students wait for their next instruction.

The instructor, Reggie Perry, eyes his class — circling them slowly, walking thoughtfully with his hands behind his back. The students stand in rows, facing forward, each holding their pose. The rows reveal a strict hierarchy in the classroom: highest ranking students in the front, beginners in the back. The implication is clear. You have to work your way forward.

“Alright,” Perry says finally. “Let’s play some dodgeball.”

Smiles break out. There is a hiss of yesss! followed by fist pumps and high fives.

“Students versus teacher,” Perry says. “You guys versus me.”

More smiles, more giddy anticipation. Getting a teacher out in a game of dodgeball is a special kind of thrill reserved specifically for 9 and 11 year-olds. And for students in this class, that is only all the more true because their teacher is Reggie Perry, master martial artist and former karate champion of the world.


To hear Reggie Perry talk about it, you know it was special. Not just to him, but to everyone involved. You hear the pride in his voice and the fondness he has when he recalls his teammates. Two of them he says are his best friends, one he asked to be the godfather of his son, another he simply refers to as “my road dog.”

Perry finds old photographs of the team that he has stashed away in desk drawers. He pulls one out and tells you that it’s his favorite. It’s a shot from a hotel lobby in Las Vegas in the summer of 2000. It is from when his team was at the height of their power. Picture in hand, Perry goes down the line and gives you each teammate’s name — Johnny, Mike, Raymond, Preston — and tells you that together they were like “five fingers on a hand. Can’t have one without the other.”

In the late 90s and early 00s, Perry’s team was a dominant force in the international karate circuit — “like Michael Jordan’s Bulls,” Perry says. During the team’s reign at the top, for six years from 1996 to 2001, members of the team won four individual sparring national championships — with Mike winning in ‘96, Perry in ’99, and Raymond in ’00 and ’01.

Describing his own fighting style, Perry says, “I'm my own animal. I don't do anything like anybody else. Nobody does anything else like me. I had a friend of mine say, ‘Reggie doesn't remind me of anybody. He did all the wrong things at the right times.’”

While competing with the team, Perry traveled all over the world, fighting in tournaments in South America, North America, Europe, and Asia. Fighting in Paris in 2003, Perry achieved maybe his greatest individual accomplishment, winning that year's sparring world championships.

Yet in 2004 the team suddenly and shockingly broke up, sending shockwaves through the sport. Perry, for his part, attributes the abrupt split simply to “politics,” not between teammates but with management. Shortly thereafter, with the team breaking up, Perry decided that he would rather retire from the sport than continue fighting. “There was no way on God's green earth,” he says, “that I was going to be competing against my teammates.”

With his retirement, Perry knew what his next step would be. In 1996, he had started a small karate school in Waltham, Massachusetts. He decided from that point forward he’d devote all his energy to his students at Perry’s Tae Kwon Do.


Perry’s Tae Kwon Do sits in an alleyway just off of Moody Street in the center of Waltham, a town about 10 miles west of Boston. The gym is five rooms — two training areas with padded floors, two observation rooms, and Perry’s office.

In the observation areas, the walls are lined photos from Perry’s fighting days, as well as news clippings about the gym. On one wall outside Perry’s office, there is a small portrait of him and Muhammad Ali. Next to it, there is a framed poster of a younger Perry standing in his fighting robe with his arms akimbo. He has a championship belt over one shoulder, three championship trophies on a table in front of him, and a stern, menacing look on his face that suggests he's confident that, should you or anyone else challenge him to a fight, he would be the one left standing once it was over.

Yet these pictures are all part of the past. It’s teaching that concerns Perry these days, and right now, he has a class of about 25 elementary and middle school students in his gym. Today’s lesson is roundhouse kicks. Perry lines up a dummy bag and demonstrates for his students, spinning and hitting the bag with a force that produces a loud popping noise.

Having received their instructions, students line up to duplicate the feat. Some accomplish it ably though with less pop, others struggle and do an awkward pirouette. For one beginner, a redheaded boy who looks to be about 7 or 8, Perry kneels down and holds the boy's left foot to the ground. He tells the boy to spin off that foot and then kick with the other.

“There you go,” Perry says after the move has been completed. The boy bounds to the end of the line, his confidence now soaring.

Perry says his goal as a teacher is to be a role model and to instill in his students the respect and self-discipline that the sport demands.

As part of that, community service is one of the school’s primary tenets. Before graduating, all black belts must complete a service project, and every November, Perry and his students – black belt or no – prepare Thanksgiving dinner for families in the area. This past year, “Perry’s Turkey Brigade” served 50 families, a new record, with Perry himself personally pitching in 25 sweet potato pies.

On top of his service and commitment to the sport, Perry is as loyal as he is tireless. Many of his former students work at the gym as instructors, and his gym is packed daily with after school classes for kids of all ages and evening classes for adults.

“There's nothing more gratifying then seeing these kids, these teens, these adults learn something new,” Perry says. “It never gets tiring and it never gets old.”

When asked about the accomplishment that brings him the most pride, Perry simply points to a wall in the corner of his gym. Tellingly, on it is not a photograph capturing a piece of his own athletic glory or greatness. Instead, the wall displays the belt and name of every student who has earned a black belt at his gym. To achieve the distinction, students will train for years, and on the wall, there are more than 90 belts.

“It's not a sprint," Perry says about what it takes to become a black belt. "It's a marathon. It's a labor of love.”