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Love of martial arts led to a second career teaching for Weirton couple

HANGING UP THEIR BLACK BELTS — Rick and Karen Rine have retired after providing karate instruction for more than 40 years to area residents of various ages. They are surrounded by awards received by them and their Weirton studio over the years. (Photo by Warren Scott)

WEIRTON — As karate instructors for more than 40 years, Rick and Karen Rine of Weirton have seen the martial art change the lives of many.

But it came as no surprise to them, as it changed their own lives in positive ways.

The Rines reflected recently on their long association with karate after deciding to hang up their black belts.

A successful baseball player known for his curve ball, Rick had been approached by a scout for the Cincinnati Reds who suggested taking up karate to strengthen his legs.

Rick said he was offered a contract with one of the Reds’ minor league teams but turned it down for the stability then of a job at Weirton Steel.

But he followed the scout’s advice and in 1978 signed up at a Chuck Norris Karate School run by Ben Provenzano and John Durbin.

Rick said it was one of the first in this area to open under Norris’ name at a time before the karate master became more heavily involved in acting.

“I started doing karate and I just loved it,” he said.

After earning a green belt, Rick was approached by Provenzano to assist with instruction, and Karen was among his students.

Karen said she had been interested in sports as a youth but never pursued them. After seeing a brochure for a karate school, she was intrigued.

The Rines said in the early days of Norris’ karate schools, he took a very active role in their development, testing each of the students seeking a black belt, with each advised of their number among those who were tested.

Rick said he was 340th among students from the Norris school to be tested, while Karen was 705th.

He said as Norris’ schools spread worldwide, it became impossible for him to test all of those seeking black belts, which now total more than 4,000.

Rick said he and Karen met Norris on multiple occasions as they and other instructors were invited to work out with him at his 1,000-acre ranch in Texas.

“People always ask, what’s Chuck Norris like,” said Karen, who added he displayed a genuine interest in each of his guests.

“He always acted like he’d waited his whole life to meet you. Just so nice,” she said of the film and TV star.

The Rines said through such visits they also met other famous martial artists. They included Joe Lewis, U.S. heavyweight kickboxing champion and actor; Gene LeBell, who also was a professional wrestler and stuntman who worked with Bruce Lee; and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who pioneered full contact fighting and appeared in films with Jackie Chan.

“You just never knew who he (Norris) would bring in. And of course, Chuck and his brother, Aaron (also a martial artist) were always there,” said Rick.

But the Rines are most thankful for the many students they taught after opening their own studio in Weirton.

Karen noted the youngest of their students to earn a black belt was a 10-year-old boy who grew up to become a doctor while the oldest was a 66-year-old college professor.

While many were males, there were a number of females, many of whom enrolled to learn self-defense, she noted.

The couple juggled other jobs — he at Weirton Steel and she at a former local bank and later, the Strip Steel Credit Union — while teaching karate on evenings and weekends.

The Rines said they started with about a dozen students and later instructed as many as 150 at one time.

Starting at the Kings Creek ball fields, the two later moved into a prefabricated Quonset building on Pennsylvania Avenue and finally, to a building near the Get-Togethers Picnic Grounds not far from their homes.

Sixteen years ago, Rick had the opportunity to retire early from the steel mill, allowing them to focus on the studio.

The Rines noted they didn’t do it alone.

“We’ve had a lot of good instructors over the years,” Rick said.

Among them were Mike Jonczak, Mark Marino, Mickey Marino, Donna Sullivan, Dean Heinan, Jay Scopel and Joe Paris.

“We were blessed with so many good people, it was unbelievable,” said Rick.

The Rines said one of their biggest challenges was guiding 10 of their last students to earning black belts during a two-month period because it occurred during the order to shelter in place.

With the help of their nephew, Jason Rine, they instructed the students virtually, a task made easier because each student had at least five years of training behind him.

The couple said under the circumstances, they were given permission to conduct special tests for the students involving punching bags and shadow boxing.

“They had to do all of their moves with invisible men,” Rick said.

Over the years the two have received trophies as individual competitors and for their work as instructors.

Their school was named Studio of the Year by the United Fighting Arts Federation in 1994 and both were named, in separate years, to the Ohio Valley Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

But they have taken most satisfaction in the impact they have had on their students, noting karate is more about personal growth than winning competitions.

The Rines said years later, they have heard from former students who told them how the discipline and focus required of karate boosted their confidence and ability to set goals for themselves and lead others.

As an example, Rick said, “They’ve written us and told us, I couldn’t talk in front of other people before that.”

“I don’t think we realized how deep it went for some people because they don’t tell you at the time,” Karen said.

The pair said as the closing of their studio neared, instructors, former students and other supporters came to them in a caravan of vehicles decorated with balloons and signs.

Under Marino’s direction, the students delivered a formal karate bow to them.

Of their time as karate instructors, Rick said, “It’s been an amazing ride, a journey really.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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