Black Belts tie this family together

by Jerry Oster, Eden Valley/Watkins Journal Patriot (2000)

The year was 1978. Joel Ertl and a friend entered Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud and noticed the large banners displayed around the mall.

The banners were advertising an upcoming promotion event and urging people to enter the contest. Those individuals who met the qualifications for the contest had a chance to be chosen as a contestant in a competition dubbed by it’s creators as “Hand Jive 35”.

“I remember that our first impression was that the idea was crazy.” Joel remarked.

During lunch at the mall, Joel and his friend joked about the contest but, it also piqued their curiosity. After lunch, they headed to the contest headquarters.

“I talked to this lady, and she thought I had a good chance to qualify. The next thing I knew I was filling out an application.” Joel recalled.

A few days later, he was contacted for an interview, and shortly after that, he became the very first contestant selected to compete. After 34 other people were chosen, Hand Jive 35 got underway.

It began in late September and twenty-nine days later, Joel drove away with the new car he had just won.

By that time, however, Joel, and one other person, had become more than just local celebrities. In the battle of the hands, their endurance and fortitude had gained the attention of the media.

It was heralded in front page headlines in major dailies. Television stations chronicled the now grueling competition.

Ironically, it was a competition that went awry. Hand Jive 35 went far beyond the expectations of its sponsors who had only imagined it lasting a maximum of two weeks, and more likely, less. Also unexpected was a run-in with the law. The sponsors were advised they were not complying with the Minnesota Marathon statutes.

Hand Jive 35 was being sponsored by radio station KCLD and Miller Pontiac, both of St. Cloud.

The sponsors were made aware that state marathon statutes declared that all contestants had to receive a rest period every 24 hours.

Joel’s scrapbook of the event is filled with photos and headlines from newpapers and lots of cards and notes from complete strangers offering encouragement as the contest wore on.

It drew crowds of curious spectators during store hours and during the night judges kept a vigilant eye on the contestants.

Miller Pontiac had placed a new, 1978 Pontiac Grand Prix, with a sticker price of $7800, inside Crossroads Mall. The object was to have the contestants place one hand on the car and leave it there, never to be removed. By mistake, or voluntarily, if a person removed his or her hand, they were immediately disqualified. The last person remaining would win the Grand Prix.

They brought pillow and sleeping bags and other allowed comforts. When it began, they were allowed only to leave for essential bodily functions, but only for a stringently, regulated amount of time.

Joel explained, “We lost a lot of people when they fell asleep or when they woke up and without thinking, removed their hand.”

Fourteen days into the contest, Joel and another man were the only ones left, still clinging tenaciously to the car.

Two weeks later, they were still there.

On the 29th day, the sponsors approached them. They were offered a compromise. By mutual agreement the pair settled for a smaller model Pontiac and they both drove away, winners, each with their new Pontiac Sunbird.

Joel credits his endurance during the contest to the mental and physical training in the martial art of karate.

Joel is a 1975 graduate of Eden Valley-Watkins high school. He is the son of Norb and Jean Ertl of Watkins.

His passion for traditional Japanese Shotokan Karate, the most popular style in Japan, began two years earlier. In 1973, if he had no ride, he often hitch-hiked to St. Cloud to attend sessions at the Midwest Karate Association.

At the time, Joel’s instructor (Sensei) was another Watkins native. Dave Beckers, son of Wendy and Alvina Beckers, is currently director of court services at Sherbourne County Government Center’s juvenile division.

“Dave is a black belt. I trained under him for three years.” Joel said.

A year after he graduated from high school, Joel had already earned a second-degree black belt and took over the St. Cloud studio as its full time chief instructor. He operated the studio in St. Cloud until 1979, when at the request of Sensei Robert Fusaro, the owner and chief instructor for all of Midwest Karate Association, urged Joel to take over the Studio in St. Paul.

When Joel went to look over the studio, he was shown around by Anita Bendickson. Anita was then a part time instructor at the school. Joel and Anita were married in 1982.

Karate became a family affair after their daughter Meghan was born.

At only 13 years-of-age, Meghan earned her first-degree black belt this October. She trains two to three hours a day at karate. She is also an ardent pianist and a straight “A” student in school.

Fusaro sold the St. Paul studio, located at 762 East 7th Street, to Joel and Anita in 1992, but is still remains a Midwest Karate Association school.

Fusaro founded Midwest Karate Association in 1958. In 1993, Fusaro earned his 7th degree black belt (Shichidan) and became the highest ranking non-oriental karate-ka in the Japan Karate Association.

Joel has been a 5th degree black belt since 1995. He was the 1989 National Champion in the Men’s Individual Kata division and was a member of the Minnesota State Kumite Team which was the national champion in 1984.

Kata is a logical series of techniques in which you defend yourself against imaginary opponents. It was the original method of teaching karate and some of the techniques are hundreds of years old.

Kumite (koo-mee-tay) is the Japanese word for sparring.

Anita is a 4th degree black belt, which she received in 1996. She began karate training in 1975 and has been a karate and self-defense instructor since 1979.

In 1982 she began teaching the children’s program for kids 5 to 12 years old. She also teaches numerous workshops and self-defense classes around the Twin Cities for various groups, schools and organizations, including the credited self-defense class for the University of Minnesota and St. Thomas, and does Crime Prevention classes for the Minneapolis Police Department.

Joel explained that they hold day and evening classes on the two training floors at their studio.

They also live in the same building which makes it convenient for their other business venture. They have been producing a series of training videos under the name E/B Productions, for every aspect of karate training for beginners to advanced training, self-defense to testing requirements.

The videos are mostly sold through their website and are sold throughout the world. They often receive rave reviews for the quality and value of instruction from their customers.

Joel and Anita are the video instructors. Joel does the producing and editing of the videos.

Many of their students, Joel explained, are older, professional people, but they have plenty of families and 20 to 40 year olds, as well as children. “Our oldest student is 78 years old.” Joel stated.

Joel hasn’t participated in competition in the past four years. He says “Winning tournaments doesn’t mean so much to us as learning.”

His high ranking and experience qualifies him to be a judge at competitions, which he has done at such events as the Pan-American games.

Recently He has had an opportunity to compete in a World Tournament.

Anita, who’s first World competition was with the national team in Egypt, will make another trip abroad when they leave for Bologna, Italy on October 10. There, Anita will compete with the national kata team.

When one of the members of the Enbu (choreographed kumite) was unable to make the trip, Joel volunteered to take his place in the World Karate Championship.

Karate is big in Italy and across Europe. They expect 10,000 spectators will be at the competition.

Midwest Karate Association St. Paul

762 E 7th Street
St Paul, MN 55106
(651) 771-7901

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