Jharen Haynes: In Pursuit of Greatness

Jharen Haynes is a fifth degree black belt who moved from Florida to Minnesota after he saw a need for Taekwondo training in the area. This often surprises his students at Pursuit Martial Arts who get to learn from a nationally and globally recognized Taekwondo champion right in Plymouth.

In addition to teaching at the studio, Haynes keeps busy on the competition circuit which takes him around the world. This summer he won the American Taekwondo Association Martial Arts Forms in the Men’s Fourth and Fifth Degree Black Belt, ages 18-29 division. This was the culmination of a year of competition, travel and training to qualify for the final tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the fall, Haynes placed first among international competitors in the 2017 Pan-American Championships in Lima, Peru, before heading to Orlando for the ATA’s Tournament of Champions. There, he competed head-to-head for the ESPN invitational live against a sixth degree black belt. The focus and intention behind his taekwondo training are evident in his competition footage.

At Pursuit Martial Arts, Haynes teaches a wide range of students — ages 3 to 73 — martial arts including songahm taekwondo. After opening the school in 2014, Haynes estimates that he now has a few less than 200 students training in a variety of martial arts.

Taekwondo, the martial art Haynes competes in, originated in Korea and is an Olympic sport. It differs from karate in movement, posture and stance, as well as having a focus in kicking over hand striking.

After training for years in Florida and getting invited to visit Minnesota, he found a familial community and decided to stay and open a studio. He quickly found the perfect space in Plymouth, surrounded by people who wanted to invest in the next generation. Luckily, teaching was a familiar skill he’d been strengthening for years. “You can take someone who has no knowledge of style to have knowledge on how to use their body and reach a new level of fitness and confidence,” says Haynes, who has been in the sport since age 3.

While a successful small business owner, owning a studio at 27 wasn’t something Haynes anticipated when he began training. “So far it’s been a wonderful ride,” Haynes says. “Owning Pursuit Martial Arts has stretched me in many ways.” Regardless, being able to instruct martial arts to the community that’s welcomed him in has become the best part of the job.
“That’s been the biggest reward. The amount of families and communities that have kind of become my family,” says Haynes, who grew up in California. “I don’t have a lot of family that lives in Minnesota.”

His admiration for teaching and his students has garnered a loyal base of followers in the Plymouth area, as well as support from the Plymouth business community.

“There have been a number of small business owners that have helped me tremendously,” says Haynes. “I’ve been connected with schools, churches and other community groups. The community has sought to open doors for Pursuit in many ways.”

Student and parent Sam Graber has been training at Pursuit for two years. Now in his 40s, he appreciates having a sport he can compete and challenge himself in without risking injury.

“What appeals to me is that the art form and undercurrent demands that you treat it as an undefined quest,” says Graber. “It doesn’t matter what belt you are, you’re always on a quest for self-improvement. It’s competition at the most basic level, human vs. human and self vs. self. It brings sports down to a fundamental level.”

Now with a place to train, the ability to drive just 10 minutes to Pursuit isn’t lost on Graber. “You don’t see elite athletes of this stature in Minnesota,” says Graber. “Not only is he the national state champion, he’s also the national nice guy champion.”

Opening Pursuit hasn’t come without its challenges. Haynes was the only instructor when the studio first opened, now he’s able to rely a team of trainers while growing his business.

“I’ve hired people that have been phenomenal,” says Haynes. “They fit into the community and helped it grow beyond what I could just do myself.”

This team also includes his younger brother Jhalen Haynes, a first degree black belt.

“Working with my little brother has been a joy. He brings a fresh perspective to martial arts, and the students absolutely love him. Sometimes I think the students like him a little more than me. Which it is totally fine. He’s brilliant, witty and a positive role model for everyone,” he says.

An important aspect of taekwondo is the discipline required to grow one’s skills. Students at Pursuit are inspired by Haynes’ commitment to his studio and art form.

“In taekwondo you really need to have discipline,” student Emily Kratz shares. Her advice for other kids wanting to get into taekwondo is to pay attention and try your best. “If you do, you get great rewards.” Her favorite thing about taekwondo? Her instructor. “Mr. Haynes and his brother are so nice, they love their job and they want you to do well.”

Her younger sister Addy agrees, “It’s fun and you can meet new friends. And I get to learn new kicks!”

“He’s serious, but he makes it fun,” student and parent Meghan Kratz adds. “The taekwondo community is tightknit.”

Although Haynes is internationally recognized, he’s now created a name for himself and taekwondo in Plymouth, and hopes to expand to another studio space in the future, sharing the sport and art form he’s so passionate about. “After three years, I love that I’m able to make an impact in some lives,” shares Haynes.