(Originally posted on 1/22/13, re-edited and reposted on 1/23/13, and now edited for continuity)
At the age of three, Eric Kovaleski was introduced to the martial arts by his father, Robert Kovaleski and senior grandmaster Frank Trojanowicz, a pioneer in Korean Martial Arts instruction in the northeastern United States since 1961 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Robert, 62 going on 63, is a Tang Soo Do Grandmaster himself, and has been training since 1966. He is the founder of the International Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Association.
At age 11, Eric began teaching his own classes, and advanced to teaching adult classes at 13. In 1994, he started his own school, known to this day as Master Kovaleski’s Karate U.S.A., which now has three locations throughout Pennsylvania, with a fourth on the way. While growing up, Eric grew to share his father’s passion for martial arts training, unlike his older brother, Jeffery. Eric also loved American action movies, namely with Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal, and gained an even bigger affinity for Asian martial arts action cinema, with stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Little did he know, his love for the genre would coincide with the training he grew to love, as over the years he would become not just a fan, but business partners with iconic action starlet Cynthia Rothrock, Grandmaster Robert’s former student, west coast director of the International Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Association, and current Vice-President of the Legends Of The Martial Arts Hall Of Fame Awards, of which Eric is acting founder, promoter and President.
Cynthia was recently promoted her to 7th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do in August 2011 and travels to different countries every weekend, showing up once or twice a year to teach at Eric’s school, Master Kovaleski’s Karate USA.
Later on, Eric would be fortunate to cross paths with Korean actor, action director and martial artist, Grandmaster Kim Won Jin (most famously known for his role as “Sonny” in The Scorpion King) by Guy Edward Larke, martial artist and columnist for Tae Kwon Do times and Combat Magazine. And in November of 2012, Eric and his father Robert were also at the First World Tang Soo Do forum in Seoul where Grandmasters Koe Woong Chong and Hee Suk Choi were just a few of the many guests and hosts appear at the forum.
The new year appoached with new opportunities for Master Eric and Grandmaster Kim. Upon just finishing a film called The Suspect (more on that another time) after communicating on regular basis about him possibly coming to the U.S. to teach, Grandmaster Kim Won Jin boarded a flight to JFK Airport and arrived here on January 10th. Plans are now officially in the works to open up Won Jin’s Action Martial Arts Academy in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a training and screenfighting workshop featuring a White-to-Black Belt curriculum that encompasses various styles from Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan to Hapkido and Wushu.
Aside from Grandmasters Won Jin and Rothrock, Eric’s path in the martial arts training have graced him with the presence of MANY well and highly respected members of the TV, film and Korean martial arts world, with names such as Hee Suk Choi and Koe Woong Choung, President and Founder/Secretary General of the World Moo Duk Kwan General Federation, respectively, in addition to actors Hwang Jang Lee and Kwon Sung Young (both of whom worked with Grandmaster Kim Won Jin), as well as Bruce Lai, Billy Blanks, Frank Dux, James Lew, Art Camacho, and Wesley Snipes.
The martial arts have brought Eric many opportunities through the years. But they also exemplify just how important they have been in helping mold and shape his character and spirit through the toughest of circumstances.
Tang Soo Do (also known as Soo Bahk Do) is one of several styles of Korean Martial Arts under the Moo Duk Kwan association, founded in 1945 by Grandmaster Hwang Kee (11/45-7/02) and is now currently head by H.C. Hwang. Moo Duk Kwan was split into 3 different groups, one led by Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin who trained Frank Trojanowicz, who ultimately became a pioneer and a Grandmaster himself, with Robert, and much later, Eric, as a few of his many students.
A few of the many tenets of Tang Soo Do include courage and innerstrength through humility, which Eric mentioned briefly in my conversation with him this week. More specifically, learning martial arts, as well as teaching and mentoring throughout his life has since taught him to be strong and confident on the inside, and be humble on the outside, and to take life’s challenges, face them head on and do the best you can.
And not for nothing. Having experienced adversity in his own life, from divorce to extensive training injuries and a devastating car accident as recently as a few years ago, which led to an addicition to painkillers and other cosmetic drugs from which he now stands going into two years clean and sober as of this March, Eric can certainly speak from experience, as to what it means to overcome life’s obstacles, to which he thankfully credits his Christian beliefs, and the love and support of his wife, and his two children, Natasha and Erik Vincent, ages two and a half, and one, respectively.
The martial arts and asian studies have been a pivotal tool in Eric’s life as an athlete and a family man, with a profound impact on his ability to teach, motivate, inspire and maintain constant growth and learning throughout his life. Moreover, having visited Seoul, South Korea, the birthplace of Tang Soo Do, trained, and continuing to train often with the most senior grandmasters of our generation, Eric mirrors his father, and further carries on the legacy of all things positive and worthwhile in dedicating one’s self in martial arts training, and the very legacy of the Moo Duk Kwan that preceded him.
I have to say that this has been one of the slightly more challenging posts I have shared for this page, this being the first time I got to interview my subject over the phone. I was a little nervous and jittery, and there were times when the connection cut off or background noise on my end impeded my transcription. But Eric was very patient, courteous and kind throughout. He literally has thousands of photos that encompass his experiences in life, as a martial artist, a master, a son, a friend to many, and a major leading voice in the martial arts industry. So it was difficult compiling the right pictures without making it all look cluttered, being that photo editing has become my thing lately since starting this page. But I hope I got it right as I share Eric’s story with you all, illustrating the strong lineage of Tang Soo Do has in Kovaleski family.
To top it all off, I got to share a few extra minutes with the one and only Grandmaster Kim Won Jin later that evening. He is very good at communicating English, although he still tutoring as he goes. I spent much of those few minutes thanking him for being a part of my martial arts cinema upbringing, having seen him in such films as China Strike Force and My Wife Is A Gangster. Amidst my elated rambling, the Grandmaster did manage to squeeze in a few details about a film he was supposed to be in with Jet Li, which is no longer possible (I will have to double check in a later, hopeful discussion with him if possible).
If you happen to be anywhere in the northeast, Eric will be accompanying Cynthia Rothrock at this year’s Legends Of The Martial Arts Hall Of Fame Awards and USA National Karate Championships to be held on May 17, 18, and 19 at the Splitrock Hotel in Lake Harmony, PA. Check the links below for more information.
If you wish to attend any of Eric’s schools, feel free to contact the following locations:
Master Kovaleski’s Karate Usa 1802 Main Street
Dickson City, Pa 18519
Master Kovaleski’s Karate Usa II –
Ragnacci School of Dance –
1212-14 South Main Avenue
Scranton, PA 18504
(570) 307-5425 ←Headquarters
Master Kovaleski’s Karate Usa III – Ragnacci School of Dance – Carbondale Location:
28 North Church St.
Carbondale, PA 18407
(570) 307-5425 ←Headquarters
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.