Wade McQueen has high expectations for his young students and himself.

Wade McQueen has high expectations for his young students and himself. The 49-year-old black belt is both a teacher and a student of Shotokan karate and says his practice offers an opportunity for self-exploration and connecting with the world.

In addition to teaching karate, McQueen also volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for neglected or abused kids.

McQueen's own karate sensei, or teacher, Aaron Ortega, said McQueen's karate practice and his love of children makes him a positive force in the community.

"Wade guides children into character development. His own journey, and how he moves in our community, has been an evolving gift to all of us here in Ashland," Ortega said.

One of McQueen's students, 8-year-old Amara Sinnhuber, agreed. "He's fun. I was kind of nervous at first, but Wade plays a lot of games and he makes us laugh. I feel stronger and braver, I think," she said.

McQueen, who came to Ashland more than 20 years ago, spoke with the Daily Tidings recently about karate, motorcycles and the inspiring power of parenthood.

DT: Is there an ideal age to start karate?

WM: Not in my experience. Some kids are ready at 5 years old, some kids, like me, at 35 years old — it just depends on the focus of the student. I'd tell older people who are interested in karate to just go for it. Find a school that sings to you and do it.

DT: What degree black belt are you?

WM: I am a third-degree black belt and have been studying now for over 16 years. Belt rankings are an interesting subject for me; I sometimes feel as though I have so much still to learn I should just put my white belt back on. The original concept of belt rankings is really a safety issue, by knowing what rank someone is, it is possible to match them up with someone of equal skill level.

DT: Which belt award was most memorable for you?

WM: The belt test I remember most was for my brown belt. It was the first really hard-core martial arts test. One of the guys in my testing group pushed me to the point of nearly throwing up.

DT: How did you come to teach kids karate?

WM: I teach kids because I have one. It sounds like a pat answer; it's true though. When my daughter was born I fell head over heels for her. It was easy for me to then imagine how other parents felt about their kids. As a result, with each young person I get to work with is a special trust, a bond between me, them and their parents. It's very rewarding to get to work with kids and watch them on their journey to becoming young adults.

DT: What is your favorite aspect of teaching?

WM: My favorite thing is when I watch a student really get it. For instance, it is not uncommon for younger or more energetic students to really struggle with the opening of class. We just sit and breathe for a few minutes getting ourselves focused for the coming lesson. Some students have a hard time holding still. It is such a treat when I see a class really settle, no fidgeting, no wiggling, just quiet contemplation and steady breathing.

DT: What is most challenging?

WM: Making sure that I bring my best to these kids, that each day I show up I really show up, regardless of the dramas that inhabit my personal life.

DT: How did you come to be a CASA?

WM: I did it because of my daughter, how I feel about her. I want all kids to have a chance. As a CASA I could help protect kids and help parents reconnect with their children. It's easy to judge the parents, but the vast majority of people I've met love their children and want to be with their families.

DT: What do you do outside of karate and your volunteer work?

WM: I love motorcycles, getting out in the world, meeting people and traveling around on a bike. I used to try to talk everyone I knew into riding, but since an accident several years ago, I tell people only to ride if they really want to. I have a steel rod in my leg and a plate in my hand. Motorcycles are dangerous, but with them there is a feeling of freedom, a dance with the world.

DT: Talk about your family.

WM: The star of my life is my daughter, Mayan. She's 16 and she is absolutely amazing. The honor of being her father is what gets me through the tough times. She's also a black belt — she started training with me when she was 4 years old.

DT: Who inspires you?

WM: There are a lot of people who inspire me, ordinary people who get through extraordinary bits in their lives with grace and humor. On a personal level, my sensei, Aaron Ortega, inspires me to always look a little deeper and train a little harder.

DT: If a child can only come away with one thing from your class, what would you want it to be?

WM: A sense that they are in charge of their bodies, their energies and their lives. We just need to push our limits a bit, reach down inside, and trust what we find there.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com.