Family’s dynasty stretches from Minnesota to Chandler with new Tang Soo Do school offering martial arts classes for young and old - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Family’s dynasty stretches from Minnesota to Chandler with new Tang Soo Do school offering martial arts classes for young and old

August 9th, 2017 development
Family’s dynasty stretches from Minnesota to Chandler with new Tang Soo Do school offering martial arts classes for young and old

By Jimmy Magahern

When Stephanie Larson talks about the martial art of Tang Soo Do being a great activity for the whole family, she speaks from fascinating personal experience.

“I actually started when I was 5 years old,” said Larson, who, with her husband Ian, runs the Martial Arts Academy of Tang Soo Do Arizona in Chandler. “My dad started when he was in high school, and he got my mom into it, and they started their own martial arts school in Minnesota. So I grew up in it.”

As Larson’s dad, Robert Grissom Jr., a grandmaster in the Korean-based martial arts discipline, tells the story, his initial classes with wife-to-be Teresa turned out to be love at first kick.

“The two of us were sparring in class and I accidentally punched her in the stomach,” he said in an interview published on the World Tang Soo Do Association’s website. “She breathed a heavy sigh and I dropped my guard, thinking that I might have hurt her and asked her if she was all right. She responded by kicking me upside the head. I knew right then that I had to marry this girl.”

The British-bred airport systems specialist and his Walla Walla, Washington-born wife would go on to fully immerse their children in the art of Tang Soo Do, a counterpart to the more competitive sport of Tae Kwon Do that teaches self-defense skills, along with a heavy dose of character development – the “do,” or “way of life” part of the discipline’s name. The “do” emphasizes five virtues: humanity, righteousness, etiquette, wisdom and trust. Together, the family has built a kind of martial arts dynasty. Besides Stephanie, who earned her first black belt at age 13, the rest of the Grissom lineage – daughter Renee, along with husband Jeremy Stewart and their daughter Jasmine; son Robert and youngest daughter Aubrey – are all Tang Soo Do practitioners and teachers.

“What drew me to Tang Soo Do was the confidence it gave me and the ability to be able to defend myself, who it made me as a person,” Larson said. “In our movements, Tang Soo Do is very similar to Tae Kwon Do. It’s a stand-up style of martial arts, with a very strong kicking style. But whereas a lot of Tae Kwon Do schools tend to focus on tournaments, we only do one tournament a year, and it’s optional. What we focus on more is the character development, the self-defense and personal protection.

“Those things in particular are what really appealed to me, especially as a woman, giving myself the confidence as a teenage girl and as a young woman to know that I could defend myself if necessary,” she added. “And just having the integrity and character as a young person to know that I could stand up and do what’s right when I need to do it.”

Larson said a lot of their focus with the school’s classes for kids (the academy offers programs for tots as young as 2 through instruction tailored to teens and adults) concerns bullying prevention.

“There’s a lot of bullying going on in schools these days, and we want to help kids in that area,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with the child’s confidence, simply having the confidence not to surrender to peer pressure – and knowing how to walk away and laugh off an insult instead of letting it bother them – because they have that confidence in themselves.”

Of course, the school does also teach them some powerful kicks and punches, just in case all that ancient wisdom doesn’t quite work.

“We always teach them that that’s a last resort, but, yes, we do teach them how to defend themselves,” Larson said.

The Larsons picked Chandler for their business because of its family dynamics.

“Where we are is very child-friendly,” Stephanie said. “We’re right by (family fun center) Makutu’s Island and Gold Medal Swim School, and we’re also right in the middle of a good school district (Kyrene).”

Larson’s goal is to build a school with the staying power of her parents’ franchise, to serve new generations of Tang Soo Do enthusiasts from youth through adulthood.

“The oldest person we have right now is in his 50s, but I have seen a woman test for her black belt that was 67, and I have also met black belts that were in their 80s,” she said. “It truly is an art that you can continue your whole life.”

The Martial Arts Academy of Tang Soo Do Arizona is located at 6909 W. Ray Road, Suite 29. To learn more about the business, visit