In Loving Memory of
Grandmaster Michael John Pejo II
Be strong when you are weak, brave when you are scared and humble when you are victorious, suggests a proverb regarding martial arts. Even though he was a formidable opponent and "took the kill shot as soon as he could get it," Grandmaster Michael Pejoâ€"8th degree black belt in taekwondo, renowned coach and gifted instructor, beloved family man and friendâ€"was also nurturing and hilarious. Owner and operator of The Martial Arts Studio in College Station, Michael died on Thursday, November 19, 2015, at age 47.
Born on February 27, 1968 in Louisville, KY, to Dr. Samuel Pejo, Sr. and Violeta Garzon Pejo (a plastic surgeon and a nurse/homemaker), Michael began taking classes in taekwondo at age 10 and was a black belt by the seventh grade. No doubt his desire to master martial arts stemmed in part from his status as the new kid in town as the Pejo family moved to Rochester, NY, then Manhattan, then Chicago and finally settled in Binghamton, NY. Along with his surviving siblingsâ€"brother, Sammy Jr. (and wife Jennifer) and sister, May Pejo Spence (and husband Chris), Michael traveled the world as a taekwondo competitor, winning a silver medal at the World Games in Germany. (Additionally, Sammy won gold at the World University Games, and May went on to receive a bronze Olympic medal, attributing her success to Michael.) Extroverted and articulate (a Debate Team member), Michael alternatively enjoyed making people laugh while masterminding goofy stuntsâ€"including an epic toga party at age 15, as well as an incident involving a suburban that was stuck in a car washâ€"that are still talked about in Binghamton to this day. Described by family members as "a gentle giant who could kick your head off," Michael grew ever more devoted to studying and coaching taekwondo as he graduated from Binghamton High School (after famously trying out for cheerleading since he could do the splits).
Later, Michael enrolled at Texas A&M Universityâ€"and worked as a bouncer everywhere â€"pursuing his Bachelors degree and Masters coursework in Parks and Recreation. He also won a position as an athlete and intern at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. Michael was inducted into the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 1997, the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 1999 and later recognized as the USAT Coach of the Year in 2000. Throughout his career, Grandmaster Pejo alternatively worked as the US National Taekwondo Team Coach, US National Collegiate Taekwondo Team Head Coach, Head Coach of the US Army Taekwondo Team and finally, Coach of the TAMU Taekwondo Team. However, he was perhaps best known for his role as manager of the holding area for Junior Olympics, overseeing one to two thousand young competitors, without their parents present, for three to four hours per day as they awaited their turns in competitive matches. Indeed, if in Heaven, God has a special spot for children needing extra love and attention; Michael is now serving in it.
Aside from martial arts, Michael enjoyed an active lifestyle and hobbies such as skiing, snowboarding, playing billiard pool and the guitar, reading and pouring love into any meals he prepared. He traveled extensively, including once to Greece at age 14 (where he broke up a fight and caught a manâ€™s punch), later to Hawaii in 2010 with most of his extended family and back to New York for his fatherâ€™s 70th birthday. But his life shifted one day as he was scrolling through MySpace and discovered a beautiful young woman who shared his birthday, then said hello. That captivating girlâ€"Jamieâ€"became Michaelâ€™s wife when they married on April Fools Day, 2006, in Simonton, TX (befitting his persona as a jokester). In time, the couple rejoiced in the births of their two children, Michael Pejo III (whom they called Tré), now age nine, and Robbi Ruth, age two-and-a-half. His role as a father changed Michael into a more compassionate and devoted individual, as did his membership at First United Methodist Church in Bryan. His friends were his adopted family, and they already miss him.
But those who remember Michael know that as ever, he would encourage them to "Never give up!" Reflecting on how Michael had helped him grow in taekwondo mastery, one ten-year-old student told his mother this week: "...Now that I am in Black Belt Club High, I am earning belts like a madman because [Michael] said I really have good skills and made me have more belief [that] I can do it. I am glad I told him I loved him Saturday when he signed my board after my brown belt test, and he said, I love you, too..."
Kick High, Brother.
Family and friends will gather to honor the extraordinary life of Grandmaster Michael J. Pejo, II from 6-8 PM on Saturday, November 21, 2015 at Hillier Funeral Home, 2301 E. 29th St., Bryan, Texas. The Life Celebration will be held at 3 PM on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at First United Methodist Church of Bryan, 506 E. 28th St., Bryan, Texas. Grandmaster Pejoâ€™s will be laid to rest at 3 PM on Monday, November 23, 2015 at Jones Cemetery in Utopia, Texas. Donations in support of his children may be made under "Love the Pejos" on gofundme.com.
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