Neely’s love of martial arts spans 30 years

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER --  Joel Neely gave up his job as an insurance salesman to become a martial arts instructor, and has not looked back.  In 1985, he started his own fitness facility on Coursey Boulevard in Baton Rouge, where he still teaches today with no plans to retire.  MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT/GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT OUT/225 OUT/10/12 OUT/IN REGISTER OUT/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ LIBBY ISENHOWER.
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After a steady stream of school years filled with track, football and basketball — including a year on the LSU freshman team with superstar hoopster Pete Maravich — Joel Neely was looking for a way to stay in shape.

He took up running, even competing in a marathon, while spending his days selling insurance.

One day in the late ’70s on a business call, he walked into a martial arts school in Gulfport, Miss. He was immediately hooked.

By the mid 1980s, Neely, who had achieved black-belt status, returned to Baton Rouge and set up shop. Joel Neely’s Tiger-Rock Martial Arts Academy has been up and running ever since. He owes some of his success to “The Karate Kid,” which hit the movie theaters only a month after Neely opened for business.

“We had 60 kids enroll in the first two weeks because of that movie,” he says of his unplanned good fortune.

And, while the film provided a positive look at martial arts, Neely says he feels that most people have a “weird Hollywood image” of it.

“There’s no cage fights or anything like that,” he says with a laugh. “It’s really a tremendous physical fitness program.”

And so much more, says Neely, a trim 66 who still teaches and trains several times a week. “It helps address societal issues, like obesity, the decline in moral values, discipline, health and the rising crime rate, because, while we might not want it to be that way, we’re all ultimately responsible for our protection.”

Neely says everyone — his youngest students are age 4 and his oldest in their 60s — can benefit from the training.

“Women, children, young and old can get fit with it,” says Neely. “And it’s fun.”

For youngsters, TaeKwonDo training — which fosters concentration, respect, discipline and hand-eye coordination — can also result in better grades and better abilities in other sports, Neely says.

Even past LSU football teams and the Minnesota Vikings have benefitted from training with Neely.

In the late 1980s, extensive weight lifting had robbed LSU’s defensive line of its agility, Neely says, so he was asked to develop a training program to improve the speed of the big men’s feet. Soon, most of the team was in training in the off season. Neely’s photo with the team at the 1988 Sugar Bowl testifies to the success.

The program was suspended under coach Curley Hallman, Neely says, but revived by Nick Saban. “I was there when we won the National Championship,” he says with pride. The program continued under coach Les Miles until the NCAA put a stop to it saying it was against the rules to pay for such training in the off season, Neely says.

In 2008, the Vikings came calling and Neely says he spent two weeks at their training camp working with both the offensive and defensive lines.

“The spinning and turning helps you develop a different skill set, a different agility to your core (muscles) that you really can’t develop anywhere else,” Neely says. “The power and strength that they (players ) develop enhances their performances.”

Just like a team schedules practice, Neely says adults need to schedule their physical fitness activities.

“Society today is so wound up with things you’ve got to do, you have to make time. You have to schedule it just like you do a doctor’s appointment,” advises Neely. “It’s rare for adults to be able to do it by themselves.”

He suggests working out for one hour three times a week.

“If you do that, you can be adequately fit,” says Neely. “You don’t need to work out two hours a day everyday. Who has time for that?”

He also believes in a healthy diet, and starts off each day with an apple, a banana and a protein drink. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally chow down on a hamburger.

“It’s not so much about putting bad things in (your body), it’s about not putting in what you need,” he says. “So you eat more food and you’re still not getting the nutrients you need. You just get fat.”

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