Because he was born with a speech impediment, Elijah Solis was sometimes taunted in elementary and middle school for his mispronunciations.
“That blew my confidence a lot,” he said. “I used to dread doing group presentations in middle school years when kids tend to be the absolute worst in some schools.”
Those memories could have driven him away from many aspects of professional life, especially a public-speaking role as an educator. Instead, Solis found his passion despite that negativity, and it is helping him continue his education as he strives to become a teacher, including picking up additional training to help others learn to speak English.
When Solis was 13, his mother was trying to find something to keep her three sons busy and interested that didn’t revolve around video games and staying inside. She caught a movie in Northwood Plaza where she noticed a Taekwondo studio next door and convinced her husband their sons should give it a try.
It took a few months for Solis to feel comfortable, but two years later he earned his first black belt after testing in front of about 100 observers. He liked the physical aspect and competition of Taekwondo, and earning that first black belt convinced him he could accomplish anything.
“It helped me change my personality and attitude,” Solis said. “Because of being introduced to Taekwondo and how you have to display confidence, courage, and these types of life skills that we teach our students, I had to really adapt them to my own life.”
Currently, Solis is a third-degree black belt and has been an instructor for three years at Unity Martial Arts on Stellhorn Road. He’s also a Purdue University Fort Wayne junior majoring in English and secondary education while also working on a Teaching English as a New Language certificate. As part of his coursework, Solis helps online students in Myanmar learn English.
“I have this passion of being a teacher, and that all stems from starting Taekwondo,” he said. “One of the things that gives me the inspiration to become a professional teacher is because I know I’m going to have students like me who have speech impediments, or who struggle speaking or being outgoing during presentations in front of a classroom. I know what they are going through because I’ve been through it, too.”
He said the TENL instruction has helped him learn how the tongue and mouth work, and he recognizes some of the same techniques that speech therapists used to help him.
Solis said he decided to become a teacher in the seventh grade, and it wasn’t until his junior and senior years at Snider High School that some teachers helped him develop his interest in English and inspired him to be like them. With his Taekwondo instruction and work in the TENL program, he’s essentially a teacher already a year before he graduates.
“It’s the passion of Taekwondo and what I like about the sport and that whole field, but also taking from that what I admire about being a teacher and an educator,” Solis added. “I’m learning how kids interact, how they tend to learn, and how you get them to listen. I’m taking my experience as a martial arts instructor into the classroom.”
Part of that includes how he communicates with students and parents, as Solis is one of the most experienced instructors in the studio. He even recently convinced his mother to start Taekwondo classes.
“My mom always says God has things for a purpose, and this is my purpose,” he said.
As for those comments about his speaking?
“I shrug it off because it doesn’t bother me,” Solis said. “When I was younger, having a speech impediment really was a detriment to my psychological health and how I perceived myself. Taekwondo definitely shifted that.”