FREMONT, Mich. — On the north shore of Fremont Lake, the gulls call out and waves crash against the beach as Frank Ferrier sets up a makeshift gym in a park. His martial arts class is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., but Ferrier has arrived an hour early just in case any students want some one-on-one instruction.
In just a week's time, Ferrier will be back at the Fremont Rec Center teaching classes to both children and adults starting at $55 for 12 weeks of instruction. During the summer, though, he offers his classes for free.
"I'll go up and put fliers all over town trying to get as many students as I can, because I want to help people. It's not about the money. I'm retired. So this is my second family here," Ferrier says.
His second family begins to trickle in. First, it's a group of children and their parents. Ferrier will teach the children for an hour before moving on to older kids and adults at 6:30.
Beth Hubert has had six children go through Ferrier's class and she says it has made a world of difference.
"My oldest says that the class changed her life. She didn't think she was an active person. She didn't think she was athletic. It just gave her a confidence you could see," Hubert said.
"Frank is just a really awesome person. He devotes so much of his time to his students, and he's all about service."
Ferrier says he started offering the classes for free after learning that some students couldn't afford to attend classes at the rec center during the school year. He says if he can keep one person safe then teaching the class is worth his time.
"I tell all my students if you only come to one class and you learn one thing, that's one more thing than the average person knows. That might help you from getting hurt. That's what makes it all worthwhile," he said.
Word about Ferrier's classes has gotten out. People come from Muskegon, Hart, Grant and other places around the area to learn from him.
Anthony White has been coming to Ferrier's class for 11 years, since he was in high school, and he now makes a weekly drive down from his home in Reed City to participate.
"He is such an amazing man, and he'll do whatever he can to help people," said White, who is a black belt in Ferrier's class and therefore helps serve as an instructor for other students.
The class has an even more significant meaning for White, who was involved in a bad car accident when he was 18 years old.
"I sustained a severe head injury and multiple neck fractures, I broke my jaw. I have titanium plates on my chin with eight screws," he said.
"But the biggest part, though, was the cognitive deficits. I have some right sided weakness from that. But my balance was really bad. So like, if I would close my eyes, I would just fall right over. That's how bad my balance was."
White credits Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids and Ferrier's class with helping him get his life back.
"With Frank, it doesn't matter what level you're at. You're accepted in this class and can improve just based on the best of your ability. So I had to relearn a lot of moves that I learned before," White said.
"I progressed and since have become a black belt, one of the higher ranking ones in the class. It's just been a huge, huge part of that. It's built a lot of confidence."
At one time, it was believed that because of the extent of White's injuries, he wouldn't be able to go to school again. But with the confidence he built in Ferrier's class, he graduated as a physical therapy assistant from Baker College in Muskegon.
"And now I help other people overcome their own dysfunctions in the same way that I was helped," he said.
White's story is just one example of how Ferrier's class has made a difference in the world.
"I have a student right now who is autistic and didn't speak until he was five. He was bullied all through school and he got to come to one of my classes when he was really young and he loved it," Ferrier said.
"Now he's 24 years old. He's got more fire in his heart than anybody in the class. He loves it. That was his outlet, and it really meant a lot to me to help someone like that."
Another student told Ferrier that the class is the reason he's still on this earth.
"I was talking to my students telling them to always be there for somebody and after class he told me I saved his life," Ferrier said.
"He said 'I was going to commit suicide that night and you listened to me. You didn't tell me what to do. You just listening to me saved my life.'"
While much of Ferrier's class teaches what to do if you're attacked, he starts by teaching how not to fight.
"I teach my students how to walk away the first day. We teach soft techniques and things you can do so you don't have to find someone."
In 25 years of teaching, Ferrier says only one student has had to use their training to fend off an attacker.
"I try to teach all my students you know, hopefully you never ever have to use this. But if you do, it's there."
Ferrier has one more free class for the year on Thursday, Sept. 16 at Fremont Lake Park. After teaching another year at the rec center, his free classes will resume in June. If you'd like to learn more you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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