Janise Man-Son-Hing recalls the days when her husband, Christopher, would drive by a martial arts academy and point it out to her.
It was his version of the American Dream, she said.
He didn’t just leave it at that.
“Here is someone who did it. It wasn’t easy, but he didn’t give up,” said his wife, of 22 years.
Christopher Man-Son-Hing was just 14, with $20 in his pocket, when his parents sent him and his brother from their South American home country, Guyana, off to live with other families.
Guyana had become a socialist state. His parents wanted more for their children, so they sent them to live, first in Trinidad and then in New York.
“It is a tribute to my mom and dad,” Christopher said. “They wanted a better life for me, and America is the land of opportunity. In the socialist country Guyana became, only certain people were to be successful. They wanted more for us.”
Once in the states, Christopher went to school, but about a year later he returned to Guyana — for his family.
He left again, but this time with his entire family, each with $20 in their pockets.
They settled in Miami.
The kids went to school there and the entire family started over.
“It’s not like they were destitute over there — it was about freedom,” Janise said.
Indeed they weren’t poor. Christopher’s father was an accountant, but in the states he became a janitor. His mother was an accomplished, award-winning photographer; she went to work at K-Mart.
“They gave up a lot for us to come here,” Christopher said.
He added: “There was nothing wrong working those jobs, but we were happy to be here, so it didn’t matter that we had to start over.”
Christopher and his brother had high school diplomas from Guyana, but they were worthless here. So they had to earn new ones.
After that, Christopher joined the U.S. Navy, serving for eight years. Then, in 1988, he joined the Tampa Police Department. The police department found out he was skilled in Taekwondo, so he became a training officer, especially in unarmed, hand-to-hand training.
“I was (the kid that) never backed down and if a challenge was there, I took it,” Christopher said. “I really enjoyed being an instructor. I’ve been one for quite some time.”
Janise added: “His mom put him in martial arts when he was just 5 because, as she put it, he was just a ‘devil.’ On the first day, he challenges his instructor and gets knocked out. His mom brought him right back the next day and once he channeled his energy into martial arts, then he became an excellent student.”
Christopher holds a seventh degree Black Belt in Taekwondo and Hapkido giving him a ranking 159th in the World Taekwondo Federation.
He finally opened his academy in 2000 — achieving his American Dream.
He met Janise when he was her training instructor at the Tampa Police Department.
“I came in as a cadet and we’re not to fraternize with trainers or date until we’re out of the academy,” she recalled. “I didn’t really like him because he represented pain to me — a trainer, who is hard on you, but I admired his skill.”
Janise also admired the story of his journey to America.
“I didn’t know the story until we had a chance to talk more,” she said. “To hear that story and know it now as his wife, I can see his grit, his substance and that it made him who he is.”
She feels the same sense of admiration every time she hears or reflects on his story because it is truly amazing, she said.
The Man-Son-Hings ran their martial arts academy on Waters Avenue until 2018 when they sold the building and Janise retired as senior corporal detective. Christopher retired in 2007 as a Master Patrol Officer and High Liability Trainer.
During those days, they’d put in long days doing their police work, and then run classes five days a week until 9 p.m.
They tried to retire the business, too, but “clients kept calling and calling,” Janise said. Between students and their love for martial arts, they weren’t ready to call it quits quite yet.
So their neighbors, owners of Happy Talk Farm (a horse riding facility), offered to rent out an upstairs studio in their home.
Man-So-Hing Academy still offers plenty of classes, but with fewer students so Christopher can devote more individual time to each.
“I truly feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, and this country provided all the avenues for me to do it,” Christopher said. “Tomorrow’s never promised, as they say, and the man upstairs will let me know when enough is enough.”
At 62, Christopher wants to enjoy retirement, but still “absolutely loves” teaching martial arts and “reaching students.”
“He’s a good master and he’s taught me about respect and learning manners,” 10-year-old student Nathan McDaniel said. “I really like coming to his classes.”
Nathan’s father, Sean, agrees.
“(When I started taking classes), I was not aware (of Chris’ journey),” he said. “I think very highly of Master Chris and Miss Janise. They are very representative of what I call American Patriots — to serve, Christians, doing things the right way.
“He’s living proof of the American Dream.”
Man-Son-Hing Martial Arts Academy
Where: 16749 Whirley Road, Lutz
Details: Academy and classes offering various martial arts techniques for adults and children, beginning at age 3.
Info: Visit mshmartialarts.com or call (813) 310-2390 or email .
Published June 15, 2022
Hillary Kasarjian says
What an inspiring and interesting story! Thank you for sharing this with the community.