Nick Schaefer, 33, has been working toward his largest goal more than two-thirds of his life.

He’s reached a number of other milestones – by the time he was 18, he was running his own business. He’s happily married, has two great children and owns Schaefer’s ATA Martial Arts in Rohnert Park. He’s a sixth-degree black belt.

So now it’s time for the long-time Petaluma resident to work toward becoming a Taekwondo Master. The difficulty of it only adds to the challenge, Schaefer said. “Out of more than one million people who have walked into American Taekwondo Association schools, only 300 have attained the title.”

It’s a year long process, he said, including essays, reports, a workout regimen, fasting and mastership life skills.  Among other assignments, he must document his vision, “what being a master means to me and the organization.”

Each month he tackles a new life skill – respect, for example: examining himself, reaching into the center of his being. The work is a reminder, he said, of why he doing this.

“Oh my gosh – it’s a lot of work, but I can see the reasoning for it: it helps get me in the mindset of what a master is really about. Attaining it is symbolic of someone who’s committed his life to this training. When you talk about mastership, you’re talking about someone who’s gotten to near perfection with this art.”

He realizes “mastership isn’t the final step, it’s just another step. I’ve been doing this twenty years, and know this isn’t the end, but somewhere nearer the beginning.

“A lot of people look at taekwondo as a sport or activity, but for me, it’s a way of life. It isn’t just physical – it’s learning respect, how you approach each day, how you interact with people.”

The point of mastership, he said, “is not about being an instructor of students, but being an instructor of instructors, who can then pass on what they learn.”

He embraces the philosophical side, saying many people go to church to become a better person. “That’s what this is for me. It’s how I use it, and what keeps me grounded.”

Schaefer smiled when describing what a role model he’s become to his students. “So many kids look up to me. If their parents tell them to do something, they might not, but not with me. I’ve had parents call and get me on the phone.” He shakes his head. “It’s as close as I can get to being a superhero without flying.”

And yet, taekwondo keeps him humble as well. “I am so appreciative to have the opportunity to do this.”

The discipline offers a curious blend of benefits. “You can enter from any part of the spectrum, from ‘I want a peaceful place’ to ‘I want to fight.’ It’s peaceful, thoughtful, philosophical and respectful – yet at the same time, very physical.”

In the end, he said, “It’s your mindset. Where you want to do with taekwondo determines what you’ll do with it.” And no matter how far you may rise, he said, “You never stop training. I have to live it to get people to jump on board, so I try to be a living example.”

Schaefer admits he’s apprehensive about attaining mastership. “It’s surreal at times to realize. I’ve always been hard on myself, believing I should be better before I move on to certain tasks. And I look at those people who’ve been inducted and they’re superheroes. They’re on this pedestal. It’s been unreachable and unattainable, but now it’s getting closer. All of a sudden, it’s my turn. And I know I’m ready.”