Never Settle Awards

Welcome to the second year of the Never Settle Awards. Read more about this year's nominees, and find links to voting below.

You can read the first year announcement on the Martial Journal Website: here

Martial Arts Awards

Martial Journal Logo

Together with Martial Journal, whistlekick is proud to sponsor the Never Settle Awards. These awards are designed to recognize the martial artists who give back to their schools, their communities, and the martial arts world at large.

 Voting links and nominees are further down this page, with each award section.

Voting Closed on September 27, 2023

 Never Settle Awards

Cast Your Vote in the Never Settle Awards!

whistlekick is proud to be the creator of the Never Settle Awards cosponsored with Martial Journal.  Through things like this, we are helping to recognize martial artists around the globe. The nominees below were put forward by YOU, and represent the people our fellow martial artists see as impacting the martial arts community. At the end of each category you’ll find a link to select your choice for the recipient. Let’s get out and rock the vote.

Cast your votes by September 27!

We will award this year's recipients as part of Martial Summit 2023, at the banquet on November 11, 2023 in Keene, NH. For more information on that event, please go here.

Emissary of the Arts Award

Emissary of the Martial Arts Award - Man Hiking with a Backpack

Highlighting those who have contributed to the arts and the community as well, making the world a better place. Ideal nominees would demonstrate the positive qualities of martial arts and martial artists in ways not directly tied to martial arts. Many martial arts schools use positive character traits as a benefit to be grown from continued training.

These nominees demonstrate these qualities routinely beyond the walls of their schools such that people know the nominee based on actions and deeds, not on martial arts rank, ability, or martial arts notoriety.

Diane Banks
Diane Banks started martial arts in her 40s and continues to teach at the age of 70. She refuses to accept the idea that "I missed my chance" and inspires people to try martial arts, even if they don't fit the bill of being young and athletic. Diane welcomes the full spectrum of people into the community and makes them feel like they belong. She made her chance happen and demonstrates that people can have a long relationship with martial arts without fear of aging out. She is a star in her field and proves that a late start can still have a great finish.

Adam Chan
Adam Chan has made use of the internet and social media platforms to bring his martial arts knowledge and experience to people around the world.  He is respectful of all styles and emphasizes both the mental and physical benefits of martial arts.  Adam extends past martial arts and into personal and professional relationships with discussions on the topics of stress and mental health.

Matt Erolin
Matt Erolin goes way above love of the arts. From friendship, mentoring, always seeking knowledge, and continually participating in charity work and other community service, he never stops. His willingness to help others outside of his own school is easy to see as he mentors other school owners and supports them by traveling a significant distance to teach multiple seminars without asking for much in return.

Abbey Hoye
Abbey Hoye tirelessly contributes to her community and the martial arts.  In addition to being an extremely dedicated student, she teaches at multiple dojos and recently began a women’s self-defense program in her hometown. She is an inspiration to her students, training partners, and instructors with her willingness to step out of her comfort zone and challenge herself. Her passionate dedication to the martial arts and her community has empowered countless students in both traditional martial arts training and self-defense.  Beyond her martial arts pursuits, Abbey is a full-time educator, meaning her students both by day and by evening benefit from her untiring efforts to impart the wisdom that makes her an exceptional martial artist.

CJ Mayo
CJ Mayo unselfishly gives to the arts by giving of his time, by not turning people away, and by not charging for his classes. He teaches out of the church where he also serves as a minister and volunteers a lot of his time. His students, especially the teens, have been directly impacted by his instruction and mentorship.  As a result of his lessons and encouragement, many have gone on to college and found other paths to personal success in life.

Ed Minyard
Ed Minyard has an indomitable spirit and a need to serve others. Leading by example, he is able to convince others to do the same.  He shows compassion for others and uses martial arts to encourage them to realize their self-worth and, in turn, share the benefits of martial arts with others in their private lives. He has given not only his expertise, but time and money, to aid in recovery, including the formation of a highly regarded company that focuses on recovery efforts after major disasters. Ed has performed musically in hospital children's wards, bringing smiles to others, while facing a cancer diagnosis, with his own son. He is an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction books.

Gene Pallettiere
Gene Pallettiere is the true teacher.  He has so much passion for art and makes sure that his students of all ages get a great amount of knowledge and a sense of safety and security. Many kids who would never have joined martial arts have grown into the style to learn well to protect themselves.  He actively welcomes students with special needs and has inspired others to open schools that do the same, leading by example and showing that everyone deserves a chance to learn martial arts.

Kellie Thomas
Kellie Thomas demonstrates a willingness to literally go out of her way to share and teach martial arts by teaching a variety of students, in a variety of settings, in a variety of locations. She shows not only how to do martial arts in the classroom but also how students can extend the martial arts lessons to the rest of everyday life.  In addition to teaching women’s self-defense classes, Kellie is also a part of KICKING for a Cause, a nonprofit organization that provides donations to local charities and families across the three counties in which her schools are located.

Lisa Vare
Lisa Vare makes the world a better place every day as she greets her karate community with a smile and kind, supportive words. She has frequently helped a student through a tough time, always keeping her door open and always having kind and encouraging words. From white belts to black belts, Mrs. V works tirelessly to make each and every person who walks into her dojo feel supported and valued by getting to know them, being patient, and helping them set personal goals regardless of age or physical ability. She also provides opportunities for her students to give back to their community by linking them with volunteer programs at local farms and town festivals.

Flashlight Award

Flashlight Award - Martial Arts Awards - Flash light shining into space

People who make a difference in the arts - no matter rank. While quietly making an impact in their community, they demonstrate that actions speak louder than words in the most positive of ways.

A nomination for this award represents that the nominee's actions were noticed, were appreciated, and are worthy of recognition beyond a simple “Thank You.”

This is the person who needs to be nominated because they would never nominate themselves.

Brian Codding
Brian Codding has had an immense impact on my journey as a martial artist. His patience, kindness, and good humor have not only put me at ease when I am struggling, but he has always made me feel as if I am a valued member of the community and that I am capable of achieving my goals, even when I do not have much confidence in myself. Brian is also involved in a family program that brings parents and children together through Martial Arts. Through these classes, we parents get to train with our kids and not only work on our skills but more importantly work with our kids and share in the marital arts together. It was his confidence in me, and the time that he took to teach me, that made me seriously start to think that weapons and Kali were an aspect of karate that I could move forward with. I have had so much fun working with my kids, and it opened the door for us to spend some quality time together that we otherwise would not have. It has been an amazing experience for which I am very grateful.

Joe Costa
Joe Costa always has the best interest for his students and everyone who know him. He has touched so many people’s lives and has and will always make you feel like family in or out of the dojo. Joe is an amazing man who is always there to help anyone in need. Joe has always made me and my family feel welcomed when our kids were in tournaments together.  He always cheered not for his own school and students but for other students as well.  He encourages you when you are feeling down and lifts you up.  He always encourages you to do and be the best version of yourself.  He is a true Martial Artist who loves his job. Joe is also Always there to help people in need when they may be having tough times.    

Michelle Gay
Michelle Gay has created a warm community where everyone feels welcome to train. Her studio is a safe place to be better. There are strict rules to make sure all people can train safely, regardless of age, gender, disability and sexuality. Her students are growing as people, and she makes each one feel special. Michelle helped me remember my love of martial arts. I had given up, and thought that life was over, but her classes are giving me the joy of training and movement again. She welcomes everyone and has created a positive environment where people feel encouraged to be their best and help others along the way.

Nick Taber
Nick Taber always strives to look for the good in others even if it seems like a lost cause. He has cerebral palsy but would never for a second use it as an excuse. He always finds a way to smile and tries to lift the mood of others. He always strives to give his best and tries to inspire others to do the same. He’s not afraid to tackle any challenge and is always encouraging others. He’s helped me be more self-aware of my diet and helped me a ton with my anxiety. I have lost nearly 60 pounds with him as my trainer. He’s also taught me the martial arts of cha-sin-do, which helped me to become more confident and disciplined. He is one of the most personable people I know and just wants to help others be their true selves.

Lisa Vare
Lisa Vare is always able to lead and teach people with a smile on her face no matter what. Helping people in whatever way she can, making sure everyone is accepted and loved. Not everyone notices or recognizes her impact and I believe she deserves it. Lisa has a lot of advice to give and is always willing to listen. In the martial arts, she is inspiring, always pushing me to be better. Lisa handles everything no one sees. She uplifts, teaches and gives her all.

Open Door Award

Open Door Martial Arts Award - Door Opening Onto a Garden

This person operates a school that has created a culture where students would refer to it as home, family. Everyone is welcome and wants to be there - with each other, even though they are all different.

These schools make everyone feel welcome, regardless of what they bring to the table. Past training or not, all ages, physical capacity, and more. These schools accept everyone, and make sure that their first few months is only the beginning of the journey.

Stephen Bonk
Stephen Bonk treats everyone equally. Makes people laugh. Tells stories about how it was in the beginning for him and even for some of his top students. Loves answering questions. He has opened my eyes to a different way of looking at the arts without pushing or being overly directive. Has shared knowledge freely and openly and helped to expose me to new ideas while continuously validating my training and experience and skill in another style. Stephen also teaches high school; coaches basketball and volleyball; he shares the history of his community and is one of those people that is always there and open to help.

Clay Bulls
Clay Bulls welcomes all students. From the rich to the poor. The traditional student to legally blind, disabled combat Vet, to children with mental and behavioral disorders. Clay has been a friend to me on and off the mat. Clay not only runs a non-profit martial arts school, he is an instructor at the local college teaching in a Physician Assistant program when he isn’t working in the hospital as a PA.  He canceled all his appointments at the hospital to attend my US Air Force retirement. He ensures all are welcome. And puts them on a path to success not only in martial arts but for life. He consistently checks in on each student to monitor the balance in their lives. He checks on me on nights where he knows I’m having PTSD or high pain issues. He is an amazing man. I’m proud to call him my teacher and friend. 

Carl Denne
Carl Denne’s story is really inspiring. He changed his garage into a kickboxing place where people learn martial arts. At first, there were only 20-50 members, but now there are 450 members. For 30 years, we've worked with schools and academies in East Sussex and beyond to help kids and teens have a better future. People ask how kickboxing can stop bullying. Many kids and adults know how it feels to be bullied, and it can make life really tough. Feeling confident is super important for success in school, sports, and life. But bullying takes that away and can cause problems even when you're older. Many of our members join HKA because they feel anxious or not confident. Kickboxing helps them feel better and control their feelings, even in other parts of life.

Matt Erolin

Matt Erolin has truly built a culture of family, unity, and trust within the Dojo family with his effective communication and open heart.  From the moment we got in contact with him, he has gone above and beyond to make us feel welcomed, included, and seen. Matt makes you feel like family the moment you speak with him.  You can never get enough of his generosity.   Closing the school down takes a while as everyone comes to the dojo and does homework together or just hangs out on the couches and catches up with everyone.  No one is ever excluded from anything, and everyone loves to support one another.  I come from a background of multiple disciplines as well as training in multiple disciplines at the same time currently.  Matt welcomed me whole-heartedly into the family.  He not only accepted me but encouraged me to continue adding my other disciplines into my fighting style.  He has helped me become a better me, my fellow brothers and sisters at the dojo have also welcomed me.  When I met everyone in person for the first time after training online for over a year with they came to me immediately and were so excited to meet in person.  He has impacted our family in a positive and powerful way with his respect towards our daughters and love for martial arts. His continual support of encouragement and being an example not just in word, but action, has produced a level of trust within our families. Matt has shown the community how big his heart is by doing donation drives to help others, he preaches at his local church, provides training to the community and still shows the community that he has time to be an amazing father and husband at the same time. The positive impact Matt has had on his students and families is something that will be carried out through many generations.

Jesse Dwire
Jesse Dwire has welcomed friends, students and teachers into his school with open arms. Every one of his students are laughing and sweating together when I go down to visit or see them at seminars. The inclusive culture at his school has permeated into his students who often accept my own teen students into their group and make them feel welcome at every seminar. This man has instilled confidence in me to lead my students and step into a bigger role at my dojo. He also has reminded me to not take myself too seriously and enjoy the ride I’m on in the martial arts. He accepted my teacher into his family and has extended that same courtesy to me. He promotes the arts for all. It does not matter how many stripes are on your belt or where you come from. On the mat smiling, sweating and of course making fun of each other (kindly) is where we belong. He makes that known to his generation and the future generation he is bringing up at Dragon Phoenix.

Zelda Gay
Zelda Gay is working hard to create a better world by opening doors to make the world safer for those who need it most. Not only is she a great karate teacher, but her Self Offense works to end sexual assault and harassment, so that people can live their dreams. Zelda works hard to help me, understanding I might need additional help due to my disabilities. She makes me feel welcome.  All her students can testify to how much she’s admired and respected. She and Shihan Michelle make sure everyone knows that you belong if you come with good intentions.

Paul Milhollen
Paul Milhollen’s door is always open to people from all walks of life in his community.  Everyone is made to feel at home as soon as they enter his studio.  Not only is his door open to new students, but he welcomes guest instructors often to enhance his students’ martial arts experiences. Paul has made me feel incredibly welcome as a guest instructor on numerous occasions and as a student of some of the other great guest instructors that have graced his training floor. Members of the community have an immediate feeling of being home as soon as they enter his dojo.  He has numerous long-term students and has dedicated years to empowering the next generation of martial artists in his community!

Brad Shipp
Brad Shipp operates Complete Martial Arts - a 2,600 square foot facility located in Roseland Commons shopping center in Roseland, NJ. Brad is the senior student of Grandmaster Kim, Bok Man and the successor to the art of Chun Kuhn Taekwondo. He has been a friend and a stalwart supporter for over a decade. He is a mentor to his young students and an outstanding role model for all of his students. Brad provides leadership to the youth of his community. He even picks his students up at school, if need be. He contributes to and is active in supporting community-related events.

Enduring Footprint Award

Enduring Footprint Martial Arts Award - Footprints in Sand

Ideal nominees would stand out for their lasting impact on the martial arts community across a significant period of time. While the extent of the impact may be a result of direct, in person interactions, impact resulting through social media and other internet activity is also worthy of consideration.

Martial artists would not only say that they know who the nominee is but will also be able to discuss how the nominee influenced their training in some way.

Yong Duk Choi
Yong Duk Choi has been furthering the art of Tae Kwon Do for over 50 years. He’s operated many schools, established the American Professional Tae Kwon Do Association, written books and published training videos. He is very active in the efforts to reunify the disparate factions with Taekwondo and was directly responsible for healing the rift between Gen. Choi, Hong Hi and SGM Kim, Bok Man - another Pioneer of our art. Yong Duk Choi is very active in the Korean-American Association and has been recognized by various State Governments for his efforts, including most recently by the State of California for his support of the Korean War Memorial 70th Anniversary.  Yong Duk Choi has been my instructor since 1976. His guidance has helped me to become not only the martial artist I am today, but also helped to forge the character of the man I’ve become.

George Dillman
Broadly speaking, George Dillman is responsible for popularizing the use of pressure point fighting and energy/no-touch knockouts in the west. He also has been significant in the idea of martial artists in the west learning that their forms are more than "just a dance". I have heard him referenced time and time again by different martial arts instructors I've had as being someone who either helped them with their clubs or shared information with them during the 1970s. He used to also host a huge tournament in the DC area back then. Also, my mother used to make me watch him whenever he was on George Michael's Sport Machine back in the 80's. He once owned the Muhammad Ali training camp in Reading, PA where martial artists of all styles could come and learn pressure points.  He has now retired from the seminar scene.

Kellie Thomas
Kellie Thomas exemplifies the spirit of this award by her longstanding commitment and dedication to teaching students about martial arts. She teaches us that martial arts isn’t just a sport, it is a way of life. Training doesn’t stop at the door. Kellie has had a large impact on my life over the last six years that I have trained with her. She has encouraged me to work hard not only in my martial arts but also in my personal business endeavors. She has been a sounding board and a mentor for me and has shown so much love and support. I truly appreciate her presence in my life. She has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and into a teaching role. I now really enjoy teaching others during class time and beyond, including hosting a separate patterns group for students who need help or a little extra encouragement. Master Thomas has created a family! Everyone who is a part of the K.I.C.K.S school becomes a part of the family. Because of the compassion and support of Master Thomas we all share the same support for one another. From the students, to the extended families, we all work together to support those who need it. We have a program called KICKING for a Cause that is a nonprofit organization that provides donations to local charities and families in need. This organization helps people in the three counties that KICKS has locations in.

Dan Valin
Dan Valin is the epitome of life-long martial artist.  He has served his community for a lifetime and constantly strives for the continuation of his art.  Through his students and his teachings, he exemplifies the spirit of the martial artist as a whole.  He is an amazing human being that accredits his life success to his martial arts career.  It is clear that Dan eats, sleeps and breathes the martial arts and breathes this life into his students. Dan participated with his student in a small forms competition that I hosted in one of my previous studios.  Even though I was very young, inexperienced, and very much competition (our schools were located very closely), he brought students to perform, he judged and did so in the true spirit of the betterment of the art.  From there, I began running my own program a couple towns away and had also lost my own teacher.  I asked if he would become my instructor and also an instructor at my school.  He did not hesitate to help me and continues to teach our teachers and our students.  Dan has been a staple in his community for more years that I can even count.  Everyone in his area (and beyond) knows him!!  He has stood the test of time and continues to develop his legacy.

Ripples on Our Pond - In Memoriam

Ripples on Our PondEvery year, the martial arts community loses instructors, students, innovators, and family. We would like to recognize martial artists who left our families. Please take a moment to provide information here for people who have passed away between July 2022 and the present.
There is no voting for this section.

Learn More

You can learn more about how we got here with this episode of Martial Arts Radio.