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Medals won by CO IV Michael Steigerwald in Texas Police Games karate competitons are displayed in a case at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls.
Photo by David Nunnelee
To avoid having his eye blackened as a boy in San Antonio, Michael Steigerwald earned a black belt in judo. Subsequent black belts in karate and kung fu strengthened his reputation as someone who could defend himself in any situation.
I think I had to prove myself only once, said Steigerwald, now a 50-year-old Security Threat Group officer at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls.
Steigerwald has since proven himself time and time again in martial arts competitions across the country and around the globe. Hes defeated national and world champions, and for the past two years has brought home multiple medals gold, silver and bronze from the Texas Police Games karate competitions. In all, he has more than 20 years of tournament experience under his black belts.
Its a way of life for me, he said. I got into it originally to learn how to defend myself. But once I got into it, it was so much fun, and I was getting so much out of it, that Ive stuck with it to this day.
Contrary to lyrics of the popular song, not everybody was kung fu fighting when Steigerwald first took up martial arts in 1967. He started judo classes at age 8 and was a junior black belt by age 13. He moved on to karate before taking up kung fu in 1977, two years after joining the Air Force. Stationed in New Jersey, Steigerwald mainly competed in martial arts tournaments in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country. But in 1992, as a United States team member at the European Cup International Championship in England, he won the gold medal in his weight class with a surprise knockout of the Malaysian national karate champion.
Steigerwalds biggest win, however, came five years earlier in Bermuda where he outscored Billy Blanks, a world karate champion who later created the popular Tae Bo workout program.
It was an upset victory, Steigerwald said. They werent expecting it because I was a nobody and Billy Blanks was the world champion.
More recently, Steigerwald won a silver medal in judo at the 2006 Pan Am Masters competition in Phoenix, Arizona. He has also been honored by the United Martial Arts Referees Association and has been presented with Karate Illustrated magazines Triple Crown Award.
Of the three disciplines, kung fu, the ancient Chinese fighting style based on animal mimicry, is Steigerwalds specialty. He now has a seventh-degree black belt in the discipline to go along with his third-degree black belt in karate and second-degree black belt in judo. He and his 20-year-old daughter Lindsay teach karate and judo classes at the YMCA in Wichita Falls, and he sometimes trains co-workers martial art-based defensive moves that fall within TDCJ guidelines.
While judo involves mostly throwing and grappling, karate and kung fu are all about kicking and punching, Steigerwald said. Hes had his nose broken two or three times and still carries a metal plate used to mend a hand broken in a karate match.
Steigerwald returned to Texas from New Jersey in 2005 to care for his ailing mother. He joined TDCJ in February 2007 and was assigned to administrative segregation at the Allred Unit where he served as a lead member of a five-member move team. He was recently promoted to a position in the units Security Threat Group office and continues to serve as a member of the units Emergency Response Team and Severe Weather Response Team. He said the self-confidence and patience gained through his years of training in the martial arts serve him well when dealing with offenders.
Its given me the restraint and self-control to not do things you might be tempted to do in the heat of the moment, he said.
After more than four decades practicing martial arts, Steigerwald said he plans to continue training, teaching part-time and competing in tournaments on occasion to stay sharp. He said true martial artists strive to use their skills only in training and competitions.
You train all your life in hopes that you never have to use it, he said. I would rather walk away from a confrontation. However, if there is a situation where you must use your skills to defend yourself or your family, I want those skills to be the best.
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