Everyday Hero: John Dughi

Longtime Woodstock instructor empowers children through martial arts

John Dughi was bullied as a teenager.

That was until the local newspaper ran his picture with a story about his successes at Judo tournaments. After that, the bullying stopped.

“I was the kid in high school, before I started martial arts, that got stuffed in lockers, picked on,” Dughi said.

It’s part of the reason why Dughi has a soft spot today for the bullied. It’s also part of the reason he enjoys his job as an instructor and co-owner of Young Masters Martial Arts and Fitness Studio in Woodstock.

Dughi estimates he’s instructed somewhere in the “thousands” the number of children and adults who’ve called him “Master Dughi” since he began teaching martial arts locally in 1973.

But the ones who really have touched his heart are those with special needs – be it physical, emotional or intellectual.

“When you can help them succeed – or better yet see their parents’ faces when their child succeeds – that’s priceless,” he said.

Dughi partnered with Rob Knuth eight years ago to form the studio when their mentor, Young Hong, retired.

They admired the man’s teaching style and didn’t want to let that leave the community, so they opened the studio. They started with a 1,500-square foot space – “a little hole in the wall” – before eventually expanding to their current four-studio location in the Woodstock Square Mall.

For years, martial arts instruction was a part-time job for Dughi, who holds degrees in biology and wildlife management. He was a quality engineer for Sloan Valve for 26 years before retiring in April.

“Now I’m a full-time person down here bothering Rob,” he said, as he and Knuth both laughed.

At 65 years old, Dughi still teaches classes five nights a week. He just can’t get enough watching the young and old – students range from 3 years old to 68 years old – grow to gain self confidence and learn discipline and respect.

“It’s extremely rewarding when you see these kids and what they accomplish. It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “… When you see these kids meeting these challenges and achieving something, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Dughi was nominated as an Everyday Hero by his wife, Gail Dughi.

“John’s commitment to youth is apparent from the hours he spends researching teaching techniques, bullying and health and fitness, and communicating with parents, as well as conducting classes,” Gail wrote in her Everyday Hero nomination. “He is proud of their accomplishments and is modest in accepting his role in their success.”

Dughi was surprised at his wife’s endorsement. He pointed to others he believed were more deserving of the honor – from the single mom supporting her children to many of his young martial arts students.

“That was very unexpected,” he said of the nomination. “Normally, I get nagged for spending so much time here.”

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