“I choose not to be a victim, I choose to be a victor”

MIAMI— “Life is what you make it” has been a quote to live by for Rick Pulley, 53, who was able to overcome a tragic experience and transform it into something positive.

Pulley grew up in Iola, Kansas, with his three siblings. When he was four years old, his mother was murdered, leaving him to live with different relatives.

“When I was four, my mom was murdered,” Pulley said. “I had a sister who was six weeks old when that happened. I grew up without a mother, but I didn’t grow up without a mother figure.”

His grandmother and aunts became the female caretakers and role models in his life.

Unfortunately, no one could prevent what happened next, and Pulley witnessed a homicide.

“It was an interesting childhood that I had,” Pulley said. “I’ve seen my uncle get stabbed to death. I was five years old, but I remember everything.”

While serving in the Army for 9 years as a power generator mechanic, Pulley began practicing taekwondo and martial arts. He said the techniques help ease his mind.

“I did Taekwondo for couple years when I was 20 years old,” Pulley said. “I got up there in rank. I would practice movements all of the time. If I had a chance to do it, I would do it. There was a point in time that my instructor said that I was ready to test. I was one belt away from being a black belt. I told him I didn’t think I was ready, mentally. Physically I was. It was just one of those mindsets, and I felt like I needed to absorb more.”

Pulley began pushing himself in Taekwondo and learned more about martial arts. He immersed himself in various degrees of martial arts like Kuk Sool Won (Korean Martial Arts) and is now a 6th Dan in Kung Tae Do (sixth-degree black belt).

“I always look at ways to defend,” Pulley said. “I’m not a violent person. I don’t believe in violence at all. I do believe in bettering yourself. If you’re weak in one area, do the best you can to strengthen that. It’s always nice to know that you can protect yourself, but hopefully, you never have to.”

One of his biggest motivations to be involved in martial arts and self-defense was his mother’s homicide.

“Knowing that my mom was murdered, I take an interest in it, especially with women trying to do it,” Pulley said. “I think it’s gratifying and for anybody to learn to protect themselves better, I think it’s a plus.”

Now, Pulley teaches martial arts courses to help people protect themselves. He is a certified Tai Chi Instructor through Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative (OHAI). Tai Chi is a form of an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits.

He teaches a free course called “Tai Chi For Stretching and Flexibility,” which is provided from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. every Wednesday and Thursday at the Miami Senior Center.

“I started up this new class for stretching and flexibility,” Pulley said. “The participants who have been doing it for over a year and a half, they’re hungry for me. They’re very creative and dedicated.”

Pulley also teaches martial arts classes every Monday and Friday from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. at the Miami Elks Lodge. He has been teaching martial arts for six years and believes the skills that he teaches should be used to prevent a situation from happening.

“As you get more ranked, then you start thinking, so you don’t go overboard to hurt them,” he added. “I tell them to be mindful of what’s around them. It’s easy for you to push, I fall back and break my neck, and I’m dead. Even though it was in self-defense, you have to live with the consequences of knowing that you took a life. They could’ve been a father or a brother.

To this day, Pulley said he does not believe in violence. He now has children of his own and taught them to enjoy their youth since he had to become an adult at a young age.

“I tell my kids to be a kid as long as you can because once you’re an adult, it’s for the rest of your life,” he said.

Pulley’s philosophy is that we all came into this world with one thing- our self-esteem.

“I try to pass on some philosophy, and I tell them what works for me but try not to give my opinion,” Pulley said. “What worked for me may not work for you. I do believe if you want something and you work hard, you can get it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.”

Pulley said his greatest success in his teaching career is when students tell him that they were able to defend themselves.

“Not everyone is the same, and everyone learns different,” Pulley said. “I refuse to let one of my students leave without learning anything. The prize is learning how to teach certain people. I’ve had people who have a limited range of motion. I’ve modified it to where they can still do the technique.”

In February, he hopes to start a self-defense course at Pure Nutrition.

“I choose not to be a victim, I choose to be a victor,” Pulley said. “You're only a victim if you allow people to get to you and make you feel like you're one. Be stronger.”

Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at kbarker@miaminewsrecord.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.