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For Martial Artist, Teaching’s the Game

White River Junction — Gregarious and talkative, Ron Treem was rendered speechless for perhaps the first time in his life last summer.

Teaching at the United States Martial Arts Association’s annual training camp in Manchester, the Quechee resident was shocked when his son, Colin, alerted him to a presentation to be delivered by USMAA President Mike Makoid.

“I thought, ‘What could be so important?’ ” Treem, 64, recalled at his White River Budokan studio in the Tip Top building this week. “I couldn’t believe what happened next.”

Makoid bestowed Treem with the honorary title of Hanshi, the Japanese phrase meaning “teacher of teachers” and reserved for only the most highly skilled and experienced martial arts instructors. Treem was the first of USMAA’s more than 10,000 members to receive the title.

Despite 35 years both practicing and teaching five Japanese disciplines ranging from karate to kobudo, Treem never envisioned himself a Hanshi.

“Anyone who’s had me as a teacher knows I love to talk,” said Treem, a personal therapist with offices in White River Junction and Springfield, Vt. “But for once, I really didn’t know what to say. All I could say was ‘thank you’ over and over. I was awestruck. In all my years of practice and instruction, I’ve never asked for anything, never had any expectations.”

Yet Treem has done plenty for his own advancement. A South Boston native and Framingham (Mass.) State College graduate, he began martial arts training in earnest while in his 20s. When he moved to the Upper Valley 30 years ago, it was hard to find a dedicated training center. He finally discovered one on South Main Street in White River Junction and, about five years later, took over ownership of the facility.

“The sensei was retiring and was going to close the place if I didn’t want it,” Treem recalled. “I said, ‘No, we can’t close it!’ So he gave it to me and I’ve been running it ever since.”

Always interested in the breadth of various disciplines, Treem’s ranks have piled high over the years. He’s reached the eighth dan, or level, in Karate, jujitsu and akido, the sixth dan in judo and fourth in kobudo, which incorporates the use of weapons.

All martial arts contain unique combative aspects. To varying degrees, karate emphasizes punches and kicks, jujitsu utilizes joint locks, aikido encourages blending with an opponent’s force rather than against it, and judo hones in on grappling and submission maneuvers.

Treem sees more similarities and parallels than differences between the disciplines. For each, the philosophies and mindsets involved are more important that the combat.

“It’s all about developing a central focus, an inner balance and posturing,” Treem said. “It’s not about conflict. It’s about understanding the nature of conflict and avoiding it.”

Treem has worked at both Oxbow and Hartford high schools, he said, sharing his knowledge of martial arts during physical education classes and after school programs. He’s been summoned by Hartford football coach Mike Stone to help Hurricanes’ players develop physical and cognitive discipline. About 15 of the 40 or so pupils enrolled at his Budokan studio are under 18, he noted.

“It’s all about developing character, especially with the younger guys,” Treem said. “I’ll ask kids how they would react if someone said to them, ‘How would you like a broken nose?’ and most of them say something like, ‘I’d tell them to bring it on!’

“The real conflict resides in how we perceive the question. If someone asks me how I would like a broken nose, I tell them, ‘I’ve already had about five. I don’t want another one!’ ”

A winner of countless medals at regional competitions, Treem teaches at annual USMAA training camps in both Manchester and Bloomfield, Ill., and hosts an annual event sanctioned by a different national organization, The United Martial Arts Association (TUMAA) at Hartland Elementary School.

Treem’s highest competitive achievement came in 1995 in Japan, where he placed second overall in an open judo division against an international pool. His only regret was over-celebrating and his subsequent reprimanding by the masters on hand.

“I threw someone and got so excited I did a moon walk, a very bad version of a moon walk,” Treem said. “The judo teachers there called me over and started out by giving compliments, because that’s what they always do. Then they finished by saying I had no focus. It was a very humbling experience.”

After 35 years of training, Treem says it’s the enjoyment of interacting with the people martial arts beckons that keeps him eager and involved. While his son, Colin, has taken over about half of the teaching duties at the Budokan studio, Ron Treem plans on practicing for years to come.

“Whether it’s the people in Illinois or here in White River, it’s like a family,” he said. “You meet a lot of respectful people, a lot of role models. Martial arts people are some of the best people in the world.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.