John Cook is easily the most beloved man in Tulsa sports. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because you’re not 6, or you don’t have kids under his tutelage at Apollo’s Karate.
The sixth-degree black belt loves his job teaching martial arts to (mostly) kids, and when you watch him do it, that is apparent.
"They make me smile and laugh," he says of his young students. "Some days it’s a challenge, but that challenge goes away as soon as I see their smiles. At that age, they’re just so honest and so funny."
Cook, 44, has studied martial arts since he was 6 and began teaching at Apollo’s when he was 16. Cook’s brother, champion kickboxer and sometime-movie star Dale "Apollo" Cook, founded the business.
"When I was 16, he started making movies, so that just kind of left me there to teach," he says. "That was rough, being 16 and trying to teach adults and having them not respect me. It was a tough road, but I got over it."
While the job still has its challenges ("Even if you’re having a bad day, you have to walk in there and be the same Master John every day," he says), Cook ensures he is more than rewarded.
"Getting kids to believe in themselves is one of my favorite things," he says. "We get a lot of kids with low self-esteem, like the older kids who really need it."
Cook enjoys seeing students’ confidence grow when they are taught how to break their first boards. That confidence — even to simply raise one’s hand at school — leads to self-respect, he says.
"We want them to have confidence to be like, ‘I don’t care if Johnny laughs at me,’" he explains. "It’s not the confidence to go whoop somebody’s butt, but the confidence to go, ‘You know what? I’m going to walk away from this.’"
In addition to instilling self-confidence in a generation of Tulsa kids, Cook has a good time. He looks forward to going to work, knowing he’s making a difference.
"If I can make that one kid feel good about themselves or go ahead and have a good day, that’s good enough for me right there."