Something was really bothering my daughter as we approached the middle school early one morning.
It took a lot of prodding, and I had to threaten to call the school, but I got her to tell me what it was. It turns out that boy was repeatedly calling her names.
Really bad names, too. No matter what she said, the boy was harassing her day after day for several weeks.
So, I told her what she should say to this boy.
“Tell him if he doesn’t stop, you’ll make sure he is forever known as the boy who got his ass kicked by a girl,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “what if he doesn’t stop?”
“Then tell him you want your Big Mac back,” I replied.
With that, my daughter looked at me and smiled. The problem was solved. She knew what to do.
She knew I was referring to the great Master Jim Miller, her former Taekwondo instructor.
When she was in second grade, my daughter came home from school with a flyer for Rocky Mountain Martial Arts. She wanted to stop dancing and give karate a try.
Even though she got two free weeks before deciding if she wanted to do it for the long haul, she knew after one class that she was in. She already loved Master Miller.
After all, it was nearly impossible to not love Master Miller, who passed away last week at 83.
Master Miller was a cross between Mr. Miyagi and Yoda. Fittingly, his nickname was “Yoda,” after the short but wise Jedi Master.
His students once gave Master Miller a life-size statue of Yoda that he proudly displayed in his dojo. The statue was part of some kind of drawing, and RMMA students stuffed the ballot so much that there was no way they could not win it for their Master.
The resemblance to Yoda was not just a physical one. Master Miller would offer short, simple words of wisdom to his instructors in and out of class.
At the end of each class, Master Miller would dismiss the students with a bow, a few quick claps and a couple steps backward. With that, all of the students would race up to Master Miller to give him a big hug.
It was no act, either. Those young boys and girls loved their instructor like a grandpa.
Before, during and after class, Master Miller perfectly walked the line between the disciple needed for martial arts and having fun. A lot of fun.
When a student was celebrating a birthday, Master Miller would make a huge deal. At the end of class, all the students would remove their belts and form two lines.
Then, the birthday boy or girl would “run the gauntlet” of swats on the butt back and forth between the lines.
There was not a single class in which Master Miller did not leave the kids laughing. Parents and grandparents, too.
Master Miller taped a game token from Silver Bow Pizza on the wall above his “honor” snack bar, which allowed students to pay for and make change for their own snacks. Next to the token, he wrote, “Not money.”
When I took my kids to get a flu shot late in 2020, we saw Master Miller standing outside his car. Mrs. Miller was sitting in the passenger seat, waiting for a nurse to come out and deliver her shot.
My kids laughed for a solid hour when Master Miller told them it was a “drive-by shooting.”
In class, Master Miller had all kinds of activities that allowed a little fun while learning.
The one that my daughter, son and I all liked the best was “Give me my Big Mac back, Mac.”
Kids would form a line behind each tall punching bag. When Master Miller said when, the boy or girl in the front of the line would attack the bag with full force.
The students would kick and punch the bag as many times as they could as they yelled, “Give me my Big Mac back, Mac.” If they did not attack ferociously enough or yell “Give me my Big Mac back, Mac” loudly enough, they would have to do it again.
After their turn was up, they would run back to the end of the line, excited about their next attempt.
The kids loved it, and so did Master Miller. He would chuckle the whole time.
Master Miller got the students to attack with the aggression he wanted, and they all had a blast as they did it.
One time, when my daughter was having a problem with an older bully who kept attacking her from behind during recess, we told Master Miller about it.
“Oh, we have a couple of things we can do about that,” Master Miller assured her with a cryptic smile. “And one of them really hurts.”
Master Miller did not want his students fighting. But he did not want them putting up with a bully, either. Those bullies needed to be taught a lesson.
With each class, the students came away with a valuable lesson, even if they might not have noticed at the time. They were better with body control, and they had a stronger mind.
Simply put, Master Miller made each one of those students a better person. He taught self-defense. More importantly, he instilled self-worth.
He did the same thing for the parents and grandparents who sat in the back of the dojo and watched the Master at work. Seeing Master Miller, and the few words of conversation with him, was the highlight of every day.
Cody Carriger turned a strong football career at Butte High into a scholarship to play at the University of Oregon. He spent his entire career with a team that was a national power.
Carriger said that would never have been possible had he not studied under Master Miller.
It wasn’t just with sports. Master Miller made students become better insurance salesmen. Better police officers. Better Marines. Better people.
It did not matter if your belt was white, green or black. It did not matter if you were a Taekwondo student for one month or 10 years. Master Miller left a lasting impression.
That is why so many of his former students, their parents and grandparents are completely heartbroken by the passing of a man for whom 83 years seems like not nearly enough.
We do take some comfort that Master Miller passed a year to the day of the passing of his wife, whom he loved so very much. He is no longer heartbroken.
We can also take comfort knowing Master Miller was a part of our lives. I know I feel so much better about my daughter heading to college out of town next year because of the lessons instilled by Master Miller.
Even though she only worked her way up to a green belt before deciding to go back to dance, what she learned from Master Miller will last a lifetime.
Because of him, I know she has a strong sense of self-worth, and she has the ability to protect herself.
I knew that ever since I got a phone call from the middle school vice principal a few hours after our morning conversation in the car.
“I have your daughter in the office,” he said. “I also have a boy in the nurse’s office with an ice pack on his head.”
The boy was crying.
Normally, that is not something to make a parent smile, but it sure had me grinning ear to ear.
My daughter got her Big Mac back, and a bully learned a lesson.