UP CLOSE: Still teaching after all these years

Former Lake Placid principal passionate about helping others with self defense

Bob Schiller, owner and sensei at Placid Martial Arts, poses on Nov. 7 at the Fitness Revolution gym in Lake Placid. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — When Bob Schiller began his new job as the Lake Placid High School principal in the summer of 1988, his theme was, “We’re good, but we’re getting better.”

You could say the same about Schiller today — and about his students at Placid Martial Arts, based at the Fitness Revolution gym on Saranac Avenue. On Oct. 22, he was promoted to 7th Dan (degree) black belt — a senior master — at the International Combat Hapkido Federation’s 30th anniversary celebration in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Yes, senior master.

“I don’t like that (wording) too much because it sounds like I’m an old master,” Schiller said on Nov. 7 at Fitness Revolution.

He’s 78, but showing some high kicks at the gym, he didn’t look like a “senior.”

Bob Schiller of Placid Martial Arts demonstrates a kick on Nov. 7 at Fitness Revolution in Lake Placid, where he teaches combat hapkido self-defense classes from 5 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“I don’t feel it, either,” he said.

In Tennessee, sensei Schiller was also inducted into the ICHF Founder’s Hall of Honors. He only has two steps left in the grandmaster hierarchy for combat hapkido: 8th Dan Grandmaster and 9th Dan Grandmaster.

“I hope I’m around long enough to get an 8th,” he said. “That just means that I’m going to be helping that many more people get to where they want to get to.”

Schiller began his martial arts training in Lake Placid in 1990 with sensei Peter Peck, who was an officer at the Lake Placid Police Department before moving away. It was the local branch of the Butch Marino Shorin Ryu Karate Institute.

“Karate is different from what I teach now,” Schiller said.

Bob Schiller of Placid Martial Arts demonstrates a punch on Nov. 7 at Fitness Revolution in Lake Placid, where he teaches combat hapkido self-defense classes from 5 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Karate is designed more for sport, but combat hapkido — which he teaches now — is designed for self-defense.

Hapkido was founded in 1948 in Tae-Gu City, South Korea. Forty years later in Tennessee, John Pellegrini began developing his own style of the martial art — combat hapkido — and founded the ICHF in 1992, becoming the organization’s grandmaster.

“He took a traditional martial art, hapkido, which is a Korean martial art, and he added to it to modernize it and make it more functional in today’s society,” Schiller said. “An old martial art doesn’t deal with defense against hand guns, just as an example.”

Combat hapkido includes a variety of disarming techniques, strikes, kicks, joint locks, ground survival and pressure points.

Schiller made the transition from karate to combat hapkido in 1996. Over the years, he’s received extensive training in various martial arts, including judo, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, Okinawan karate and Russian systema. He holds a black belt in Shorin Ryu karate and combat hapkido. Schiller took over the Lake Placid dojo after Peck opened an “I Love Kickboxing” franchise in Clifton Park.

Bob Schiller, of Placid Martial Arts, poses with real-estate agents during a self-defense class at Fitness Revolution on Sept. 21. From left are Chase Jermano (Tina Leonard Real Estate), Brooks Reynolds (The Reynolds Group), Jodi Gunther (Berkshire Hathaway Adirondack Premier Properties), Schiller, Gregory Suzanne III (student assistant, Placid Martial Arts), Kathleen Fischer (Berkshire Hathaway Adirondack Premier Properties), Nancy Colon (Berkshire Hathaway Adirondack Premier Properties); Jennifer Ledger (Merrill L. Thomas), Jean Alper (Engel & Volkers) and Daci Shenfield (Tina Leonard Real Estate). (Photo provided — Brenda Goulette/Engel & Volkers)

Schiller’s regular classes are held from 5 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but he also teaches special classes upon request.

Realtor self-defense

On Sept. 21, for example, he gave a 90-minute Self-Defense and Situational Awareness Course for local Realtors at Fitness Revolution. It was sponsored by the Northern Adirondack Board of Realtors as part of September being Realtor Safety Month.

“I think it was enlightening for a lot of people, making people aware of common items they have to escape a dangerous situation,” said Daci Shenfield, a real-estate agent at Tina Leonard Real Estate in Lake Placid. She took the class with eight other Realtors.

Shenfield — the daughter of Tina and Joe Leonard of Lake Placid — is no stranger to the martial arts, or to Bob Schiller. She began taking karate classes at Peck’s Lake Placid Martial Arts in 1988 at the age of 8, earning a junior black belt then a black belt for adults by the age of 16. By age 11, she had qualified twice to compete in karate in the Junior Olympics. And Schiller was onstage when she received her Lake Placid High School diploma in June 1998.

“He was my principal by day and co-student (by night),” she said.

Schiller said he was surprised to hear that real-estate agents need self-defense training. After all, on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a dangerous profession.

“When you think of a Realtor, you think of signs and sales,” Shenfield said. “You don’t think of the behind-the-scenes things.”

Such as safety.

“You’re putting yourself in a precarious situation on a regular basis,” she said.

Realtors are always going into houses — some without cellphone service — by themselves with strangers.

“And vacant houses sometimes,” she added.

The National Association of Realtors promotes a national safety month because it says real-estate agents face job-related risks every day and “being aware of potential dangers and taking precautions will help you avoid risky situations.” The goal is to reduce the number of safety incidents that happen in the industry, “so each of our members makes it home safely every night.”

In Schiller’s shorter classes, he goes over several different self-defense scenarios.

“What happens if someone grabs you by the arm and restricts your movement?” he said. “What happens if somebody chokes you or tries to? What happens if somebody goes to hit you with their hand and punch you? And how can you prevent that from happening?”

Schiller teaches awareness and sensitivity.

“Which means if you think something is wrong, it may be,” he said. “Trust your senses. Trust your own judgement.”

Combat hapkido classes

Schiller explained that hapkido is based on circular principles.

“So we try to use circular motion in self-defense scenarios,” he said. “It’s also based on blending or not resisting — blending with the energy that you’re getting from the attacker or the assailant or the would-be attacker or assailant.”

Another combat hapkido principle is based on water.

“Because all those situations are fluid,” Schiller said. “They continue, and there’s no prescribed path to where you are going. So you have to be prepared to move or change, adapt, to whatever the circumstance.”

Most of the students in Schiller’s regular classes are moving up the combat hapkido ladder — from learning the basics as a white belt to 10 other belts: yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, brown, red, red/black, black/white and black.

“What those belts mean is a level of expertise essentially, and the amount of training and hard work and sweat you put into it goes along with those belts,” Schiller said.

To achieve a yellow belt, for example, you need to learn 16 techniques in 20 hours of training. To earn a black belt, you need to learn 21 techniques — for a total of 197 techniques — in 60 hours of training — for a total of 300 hours.

“One good thing about a belt system that has progression to it is that you have a predetermined curriculum for that level,” Schiller said. “So I test them to get to the next level.”

Each class begins with a warmup.

“Then I teach the entire class something broad, something general, something that everybody does,” Schiller said. “And that could be at any level.”

Then he leaves 20 to 30 minutes at the end of class for individual instruction at each person’s level, getting help from other black belts and senior students.

A life in education

Schiller retired as the Lake Placid High School principal in 2001, but he hasn’t left the field of education.

“I’m still teaching,” he said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Cortland, Schiller began his career as a physical education/health teacher and a football coach. He earned a master’s degree in education at SUNY Brockport and went from teaching to school administration. Before moving to Lake Placid, he was the assistant principal at the Wayne Area Vocational Center in Williamson, part of the Finger Lakes BOCES, living in Seneca Falls.

“I guess I’m the kind of personality that, when I do something, I go all in. I do it to the max,” he said. “I did that with my job. I loved being a principal. If I was going to be paid to be a principal, I was going to be the best I could be.”

Now, he’s a proud sensei.

“Helping others motivates me,” Schiller said. “And helping others achieve what they want to achieve. I get tremendous satisfaction from putting a black belt on somebody. That’s one of my ultimate highlights. I try to tell my students, ‘My goal is to make you better than me.’ And that’s my job.”

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