It is an old building, well-worn but erected to last beyond the length of the mortgage, and
in the past it has served more than its current function.
At one time, the place was a stopover for people on the way to the cemetery, and during
the infrequent historical tours he conducts, Joel Ertl will point out a mortuary light here
When the lights go on these days, though, there is nothing funereal about the activity
within. The place is filled with active, lively bodies, with men and women and children
working on their kata or kumite en route to a green, brown or black belt. It has been this
way since the sign went up in 197
In 1979, Ertl took over as instructor at the school on East Seventh Street, having served his
apprenticeship in St.Cloud. He moved into the apartment above the studio. It now is the
place he and his wife, Anita Bendickson, call home.
The husband-wife team spends its days and many evenings teaching Shotokan, the Japanese
karate style, or JKA as it is more popularly known. But with home so close to office, they
have discovered even when they leave the job behind, it is never far away.
Ertl, from Watkins, was introduced to karate when he was 15. "My brother was going to
St.Cloud State and he brought home a school newspaper with a karate advertisement in it."
"I used to hitch-hike the 30 miles to St.Cloud to train. Sometimes I'd catch a ride with
someone I knew, but for the most part I'd thumb my way. It'd generally take take me an
hour to get there, but sometimes two. There was a lot of just standing around on the
Ertl became a dedicated disciple of Shotokan. "I wrestled when I first started high school"
he said "but I gave it up, that and everything else after I got into karate."
By age 17 he was a black belt, a year later an instructor in St.Cloud. He was a second-
degree black belt by age 19, and at 22 had moved up another step.
"I saw him when he first tested as a beginner," said Robert Fusaro, who founded the
Midwest Karate Association in 1961. "He was always very serious-minded about karate.
He took it very seriously. He was dedicated to the point that he started to shine."
It was something other than a newspaper ad that drew Bendickson to karate while studying
philosophy at the University of Minnesota. She was assaulted, and decided to learn
something about self-defense. "I was a passive person before," said said. "Karate turned
Karate as Bendickson and Ertl practice it, is somewhat different from what has been
popularized in Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris films. Shotokan emphasizes control of the
body, its muscles and the mind. It is a physical and a mental discipline.
Neither Ertl nor Bendickson has had to use its physical aspects in self-defense. The knowlege I've gained has helped me avoid some situations that might have become
physical," Ertl said. "In karate, you learn about distances between you and another
person. Sometimes, just maintaining your distance in a bad situation can keep it from
Bendickson says it might have made a difference when she was assaulted. "I would have
reacted differently," she said. "Karate teaches you to recognize and react to your gut
feelings. They're seldom wrong, but women aren't real good at asserting those feelings. I
probably could have avoided the av
oided the assault if I knew what I know now."
For Bendickson and Ertl, karate is not so much a form of aggression as it is an excercise in
self-awareness and self-preservation. It has little to do with destroying but a lot to do with
Try getting that message across in a funeral home.