Donald J. Burns

Founder of the Indiana University Martial Arts Program

The following article appeared in HPER Dimensions Indiana University School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) Offisce of Development and Communications, 2006 p20. Reproduced with permission

Don Burns

Donald J. Burns

Kunja is a Korean word for a person of virtue and wisdom. For Don Burns, it serves as an apt description of how he has approached his teaching and his life.

In his words, kunja "is about constantly striving for excellence and balance, not only with physical technique, but in the entirety of our lives." Throughout his 36-year teaching career, he pushed this point in his martial arts classes at Indiana University by giving his students opportunities to study all sides of martial arts: the physical (hurting and healing), mental (philosophical and intellectual), and spiritual (character development).

"Knowledge of all aspects of the martial arts will help students balance their development as martial artists and, more importantly, as human beings," says Burns.

When Burns retired in 2006, the IU martial arts program enrolled between 1,500 and 1,700 students per semester, making it one of the largest martial arts instructional programs in the United States. But for Burns, teaching wasn't about large enrollments; it was about motivating students beyond the grade and into life-long learning. "I really feel a sense of pride when my students finally get their black belt and start to teach their own club or classes after leaving Indiana University." Burns dedication to the martial arts started early. He began learning and teaching judo in 1961 while in the U.S. Air Force. There, he served as a physical conditioning specialist, a combative measures instructor, and a massage therapist. He took that experience and a brown belt in judo to Indiana University, where he began teaching for the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in 1967.

After earning his B.S. in Physical Education in 1969, Burns pursued his master's, his training, and his teaching. In his second year of graduate school, he joined the HPER faculty as an instructor and martial arts coordinator. Two years later, he finished his M.S. in Physical Education and received his second-degree black belt in judo. Shortly after, he co-authored a textbook, An Introduction to Judo for Student and Teacher (1973; revised 1976) with Stephen Thompson.

Always interested in the self-defense applications of the martial arts, Burns expanded his knowledge of other martial arts, first with hapkido in 1974 and a year later with taekwondo. He received his seventh-degree rankings in hapkido in 1998 and in taekwondo in 2001. The fifth-degree level is considered a "Master" level.

Burns brought that training to his students. He founded the IU Hapkido/Self Defense Club in 1983 and completed two more books, An Introduction to Karate for Student and Teacher in 1977 and An Introduction to Hapkido for Student and Teacher in 1996. Since 1980, more than 350 students have received their black belts in hapkido, and more than 400 in taekwondo.

Along the way, Burns became certified in several special schools, including Silva Mind Development, Energetic Life Balancing Therapy, Touch for Health Therapy, and Japanese Restoration therapy, and earned many honors and recognitions. His awards include five IU teaching awards, Seichem Master Tera-Mai Seichem, and Reiki Master Usui Shiki Ryoho, among others. Currently, he serves as the president of the U.S. Hapkido Federation.

True to his personal philosophy, retirement won't mean rest for Burns. He plans to travel and complete three books with his daughter Jennifer Beebe, who has a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo and a third-degree black belt in hapkido. Don also plans to take more trips to Yosemite National Park to visit his daughter Bridget Rabon, who works as the general manager of the restaurants and hotels in Yosemite Falls area of the park. One of Don's true joys is his wife, Janiece Jaffe, a jazz singer in the Bloomington area. With Janiece's performance career, they will together enjoy many opportunities to travel, home and abroad. Don also plans to continue to be active with the taekwondo and hapkido clubs on campus, as well as with workshops in massage and reiki and treatments to individuals.

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