Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The passing of a great mentor

On Wednesday of this week, I got some very shocking news.  My "old" Tae Kwon Do instructor in Bemidji passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children.

I don't mean "old" in the mere sense of age, as he was only 45, yet he had a patient, timely wisdom about him that he passed on to countless others.  A wisdom that is typically reserved for those who have lived for several decades and he achieved in much, much less.

And I was lucky to be one of them.

In the fall of my freshman year at Bemidji State University, I purposefully sought out the BSU Tae Kwon Do Club--a branch of the Bemidji Tae Kwon Do School.  This was not the typical path to "finding" the club, as most discovered it by watching us train or witnessing one of our many demonstrations, but it was my path.

When I was in 7th grade, a Tae Kwon Do instructor came to my small northwestern Minnesota town and taught about six or seven of us for close to a year before eventually leaving due to loss of work.  But that time spent training sparked a deep interest in me for the martial arts.  Keep in mind, in those days, ninjas were all the craze and Tae Kwon Do was the closest thing I could find to be one.  There was a girl in this class, who was a few years older than me, who went on to BSU after graduating from high school.  In the newspaper, just before I graduated, there was a front page article about Allison, along with a picture of her kicking a board.  In the article, she talked about her time training with the BSU Tae Kwon Do Club.  When I saw that, I knew I had to seek them out--oddly enough, after my first year at BSU, Allison got sick and passed away (and from the same disease that struck Jim Henson).

There are so many memories that I have about Grand Master Spencer Brandt.  Memories and skills that even go beyond Tae Kwon Do.  He taught with such passion, instilling the time-honored qualities that are attributed to this ancient Korean martial art: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit.

His teachings inspired hundreds upon hundreds of people.  For example, there was a student once who tried to make friends but was seen as an outcast by many.  Not me though.  I tried for several months to convince him to join TKD.  He eventually did.  He worked hard, and when he tested for his first belt (yellow), I watched his confidence climb to an amazing height as he broke one of the boards required for passing the test.  That was a memory I'll always cherish.  Even the pleased look on Grand Master Spencer's face was priceless.

Much of my time in college was devoted to Tae Kwon Do.  My friend Mike and I would continually train during the summer months, so we could get to our goal of black belt--we both remember on our first training day as a white belt, Grand Master Spencer Brandt said that out of the 20-30 white belt students, only one would go on to be a black belt, based on past stats.  We wanted to prove him wrong, and we did.  We both eventually achieved the rank of black belt.  But only because he also instilled a positive self-confidence in us.  There was also summer camps and tournaments that we attended.  We even helped him build his house--there's a room on the top floor that was insulated by Mike and myself.  We also helped him renovate to a bigger building (an old church, in its prior years).  There really wasn't anything that we wouldn't do for him.  The energy he exhibited was contagious.

I also learned a lot about leadership under Grand Master Spencer Brandt (and Grand Master Cindy's too, as she also taught, and even competed on the U.S. Olympic Team).  As the BSU TKD club president for three consecutive years, he pushed me into a lot of things that I wouldn't normally want to do.  I hated public speaking then, but pushed me to help teach and conduct classes when I achieved higher ranks.  And that involved a lot of public speaking.  With that, he also taught me about leadership empowerment.  By empowering me, he also gave me the tools to go out and empower other people to help improve their lives--a skill I carry even to this day.

I could go on and on . . . but for now, I'll let this sink in.  I'll pass on more later.  As a final note, not only did I achieve black belt status, I also went on to become a 2nd degree black belt.  Sadly enough, that was close to sixteen years ago when I moved away Bemidji and was no longer able to train with him.  I took my son to a Bemidji Tae Kwon Do tournament about 5-6 years ago as a spectator, and that was the last time I saw him.

Although there was no way I could've known then . . .

You will be missed, Grand Master Spencer Brandt.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, Grand Master Cindy Brandt and their two children.

Grand Master Spencer Brandt
\1967 - 2012


  1. I've known Spence since we were kids... The memories are long and cherished.

  2. He was such a great man

  3. I was fortunate to talk to him at last years Tournament.

    Mike Miller

  4. This man inspired so many lives, mine included. He certainly had a huge impact on my life and saw me grow up. He was loved by many. The wealth of knowledge that was lost is significant and irreplaceable. This man made me strive to do things in Tae Kwon Do and in life. He tested me for my orange belt! I was so young back then. He was such a wonderful man and will be missed by many.

  5. He held the board when I tested for orange belt! God, I must've been ten. My prayers go out to his family. Anyone know when the services are?

  6. Services for Spencer Brandt:
    Sunday, March 4. 3-8 pm at the Bemidji School of Tae Kwon Do. 1008 Washington Ave S, Bemidji. All public, former, and current students are welcome.
    Monday, March 5. 2pm at the Faith Baptist Church, 2531 Roosevelt Ave SE, Bemidji.

  7. I too was very shocked and saddened. The world just lost a very inspiring man, that will always be remembered for his wise teachings. RIP Grand Master Spencer.

  8. I've known him since i was 6, i went to his taekwondo gym since then. he had a rough time this past year but before then he was an amazing person. much like a dad to me. he will be missed by many and my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that knew him for the good.