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Erich Podbielski is 2018 National Martial Arts Instructor of the Year

By Brett Hart Created: December, 2018 - Modified: July, 2021

With about 5,900 votes in the books for the 2018 Greatmats National Martial Arts Instructor of the Year Award Contest, 21-year-old up and comer Erich Podbielski can take pride in knowing his last 12 years of martial arts training have gone to good use.

Eric Podbielski

Podbielski, who is a full time student at Concordia University, spends his spare time teaching taekwondo and life skills at Kettle Moraine (Wisc.) YMCA and American Taekwondo West Bend, where his positive impact on his community has earned him the prestigious national award.

When Podbielski first started training in taekwondo at Kettle Moraine YMCA, he was shy, uptight and didn't want to talk to anyone. He soon graduated from that program and moved to the full-time school in Hartford, Wisconsin, where he earned his black belt.

Now a third-degree black belt, Podbielski says, ''Now I'm fortunate enough to run the program that I started at all those years ago. That's something really special to me. I don't get paid for what I do there. I do it for the love of teaching.''

Podbielski first learned of his nomination for the 3rd Annual Greatmats National Martial Arts Instructor of the Year Award when his sister, 2017 nominee Hanna Podbielski, posted it on the school's Facebook page.

''I've been very shocked at the amount of support I've had not only from my school but from the entire community,'' he said. ''The amount of votes I got was surprising to me, especially since I've only been doing this for two years as the head instructor.''

Having been an assistant instructor with the program since 2010, Erich was promoted to head instructor in May of 2017. When not pursuing his accounting major and MBA in innovation and entrepreneurship at Concordia, he teaches about 8 hours per week at the YMCA and another two nights per week at the main school branch.

''It's been a really great experience,'' Erich said of his encounter in the Greatmats contest. ''It's shown me how much I've really impacted people's lives. I love what I do, and I never really ask for anything in return. It's really been something special to see it all come together for Wisconsin.''

As the winner of the 2018 Greatmats National Martial Arts Instructor of the Year Award, Podbielski will have the option of choosing between two prizes for American Taekwondo - either $250 in Greatmats Martial Arts Mats or $150 in cash.

Runner Up John Morgart

Fellow up-and-coming martial arts instructor John Morgart Jr. is traveling a slightly different path through martial arts.

Morgart began his training at 11 years of age at C. S. Kim Karate Monroeville, and now at the age of 25, hosts wrestling leagues one night per week where people with backgrounds in different disciplines, including muay thai, judo and jiu jitsu, can test their skills against each other.

A 4th degree black belt in the International Tang Soo Do Federation, Morgart recently decided to branch off on his own, joining Chuck Norris’ United Fighting Arts Federation while also developing his own system of martial arts called Wein Son Do - meaning to guard, defend and protect with the hand and path of life - where he has one student in Irwin, Pennsylvania.

''I wanted to build something free of politics and just focus on the training and helping others with self defense,'' Morgart said.

His student first joined him after being bullied in school. While Morgart admits her attitude left something to be desired in the early going, he says ''she's become very respectful.''

''I'm really happy to still be in martial arts and teach others, and it's very nice see the positive change in others,'' Morgart said. ''My experience with this contest was absolutely amazing.''

Founded in 2015, the Greatmats National Award Series is the first of its kind to recognize such a diverse group of individuals for both their positive professional and community influence. Learn more about the Greatmats National Award Series, including this year's nominees and past winners. is a national specialty flooring industry leader based in Milltown, Wisconsin, since 1999. Greatmats gives back to its local community by donating 5% of its annual profits to local non-profit organizations. It also supports green initiatives through the use of solar energy at its Wisconsin headquarters and by offering a large variety of products made from recycled and renewable resources.
Erich Podbielski
American Taekwondo West Bend
West Bend WI 53095
2018 Greatmats National Martial Arts Instructor of the Year finalist John Morgart Jr.