Jeremy Crook frequently stood outside the karate gym as a young boy. He would look in through the glass window and take careful note of each karate move.
Crook was small and a constant target for bullies when he was young. He didn’t have money for karate lessons, but he had the determination and motivation to learn karate one way or another.
Crook’s father, a U.S. Marine, told him the bullies would go away if he learned how to fight back.
Crook decided to teach himself karate. He bought karate videos and played them in slow-motion on his family’s Betamax and continued to watch through gym windows until he was told to go away or pay.
Now Crook, a fourth dan (fourth-degree black belt), is the highest ranked American in Shotokai karate and the president of American Karate-Do-Shotokai.
He co-founded BYU’s Shotokai karate club at BYU in 1994 as a student. It was the first Shotokai club in the United States.
Tony Lima, the club’s first visiting instructor and a fifth dan, helped Crook recognize the potential of Shotokai and truly excited Jeremy about the martial art.
Crook once watched in amazement as Lima kicked BYU’s Shotokai instructor Adrian Hutber into the wall; it seemed so effortless and almost fake. Crook asked Lima after class to kick him so he could feel it for himself.
Lima then instructed Crook to grab a metal folding chair and hold it to his chest.
“He lifted his foot up, boom, and kicked me in the chair, and I flew across the room and landed on my back on the floor,” Crook said. “I couldn’t breathe. The back of my back hurt, not where he kicked me, but through my body. I felt like I’d been in a car wreck.”
Crook continued to run the BYU club even after he graduated from BYU in 1998 and moved to Idaho where he started another Shotokai club.
Both clubs invited visiting instructors from Europe who would teach courses and award belts.
Crook said one move could take months or even years to master, but he and the other students patiently practiced what they learned in between visits. He said the training taught him to be relaxed, focused and patient.
“Those are qualities God has, so they’re qualities I want to learn too,” Crook said.
Crook eventually transferred from Idaho to Louisiana where he works as a seminary and institute coordinator.
The two youngest of Crook’s children (of five) are involved in the Louisiana youth club he started. Practice provides an opportunity for him to spend more time with his kids as he balances his priorities and responsibilities.
He currently serves as a counselor in his stake presidency, travels approximately 30,000 miles a year for his job and manages the American Karate-Do-Shotokai club.
His wife, Jennifer Crook, fully supports his passion for karate. She said her husband loves to teach, and she loves having a husband she knows can protect her. Still, both recognize the trickiness of balancing priorities.
“It’s a struggle at times because he’s got lots of irons in the fire,” Jennifer said. “But he has a line of priorities, and he can tell when something is more important than karate.”
“I’ve found it can never be equal time to everything,” Crook said. “You just have to give time to what’s most important at different times.”
Crook now travels to the many clubs across the United States and teaches courses as part of his responsibilities as Shotokai president.
Rebekah Call, an assistant instructor for the BYU club and a visiting professor of Hebrew, met Jeremy last year at a New Mexico course. She said she still remembers her first impression of him.
“He was not very tall, and he was so nice and cheery,” Call said. “They would call him the teddy bear.”
She said she also remembers seeing him fight a second dan.
“The second-degree black belt could not ever hit Jeremy. He could barely even come into striking range,” Call said.
Crook came to BYU for a week in February to teach a course. Jarom Jackson, BYU’s Shotokai instructor, said the visit was exciting because Jeremy is the “most experienced and capable karate practitioner in America.”
Crook’s teaching skills impressed and inspired Jackson. He looked to Crook as an example of how to effectively instruct martial arts students.
“He’s able to figure out very quickly what it is that’s holding them back,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Crook would suggest a simple change, and “then suddenly it clicks, and it all comes together.”
Crook has managed to keep up his love for the martial art he first developed as a little boy standing outside the karate gym. Now Crook says he wants to continue progressing in karate for the rest of his life.
“My first goal was just to protect myself — don’t die,” Crook said. “That’s what I want to do, do it till I die.”