Helena, Mont. – Staff Sgt. Devone Lewis grew up watching the Power Rangers on television and considered Michael Jai White, a martial artist, as his role model. He would practice martial arts moves he learned from books with his friends in garages, basements and backyards in the neighborhood where he was raised by his grandparents in Cleveland, Ohio.
Those dreams of being a martial arts master faded as he aged and the reality of living in an economically depressed city set in. Lewis looked for opportunities and decided to join the United States Army. The Army got Lewis out of Ohio, gave him training as a supply sergeant and he was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.
In 2010, during his deployment to Afghanistan, Lewis suffered from depression and considered suicide. He was on the verge of taking his own life when he had a moment of clarity and decided to seek help and go to a behavioral health treatment program provided by the U.S. Army. He did not feel that it was effective and continued to look for answers.
“I thought of my grandfather and how he would have told me you’re better than this, to put that rifle down, that he didn’t raise no sorry grandson,” said Lewis.
In 2012 Lewis separated from the active Army and moved from Fort Campbell to Kalispell, Mont., where he attended school at Flathead Valley Community College, and worked as the supply clerk for E company, 145th Forward Support Company as a traditional Guardsman.
“The mountains keep you at peace and I wanted some peace and quiet,” Lewis said.
During this time he started attending church; seeking that something missing in his life. A friend of his introduced him to Straight Blast Gym, where he met Travis Davison and seized the opportunity to get into formal martial arts training in Jiu Jitsu.
When he wasn’t attending classes, Lewis found himself more and more often at the gym practicing martial arts. By December 2014 he had earned his blue belt in Jiu Jitsu.
Lewis took some time off of school and began working at the local hospital, but when cutbacks happened in 2015 he turned to the Montana National Guard and accepted an Active Duty for Operational Support job at Fort Harrison, which required him to move to Helena.
“I put in for a full-time technician position at the Fort,” Lewis said. “I was on orders for about a month and a half then that October I got a job offer.”
With a steady job working at the Montana National Guard’s Information Technology office and a stable life, Lewis sought out a local martial arts studio. After several failed attempts, in late 2016 he met Elena Frederick, the chief instructor and owner of Frederick’s ATA, and began training in ATA Tae Kwon Do.
In February 2018, Lewis attended his first national competition in Las Vegas as a red belt.
“Of course I did all eight events,” Lewis said. “You have a choice, you don’t have to do all eight events. I just do all eight events because it’s a challenge.”
Lewis said he enjoys putting on a show for people and entertaining them.
“When you do things like extreme forms people love it,” Lewis said.
At his first national competition he took home four first place medals in creative weapons and forms, extreme weapons, and combat sparing. He took second in extreme forms and third place in traditional weapons.
Lewis said that it’s one thing to represent the school, but the fact that he is in the National Guard and represents Montana increased his sense of pride following his wins. He said he was in disbelief, but overjoyed.
“It was a huge deal, at least for me it was,” Lewis said. “I called my grandma and said ‘ma, you ain’t gonna believe this; your baby’s a national champion.’”
Lewis competed in a district competition in June 2019, taking first in all but one event. He was awarded his black belt on his 34th birthday, exactly two years to the day after joining ATA.
I put in 100% effort day in and day out,” Lewis said. “I’m not the first one in, but I’m usually the last one out the door. I’ll spend an extra 30 minutes after class and I’ll just work on my stuff every day.”
In October 2019, Lewis attended the ATA Tae Kwon Do National Championship competition as a black belt at the ESPN complex in Orlando, Florida.
On the first day, Lewis competed in Extreme Forms and Weapons and in Creative Weapons and Forms. Instead of the bo staff, Lewis elected to compete with double Nunchakus for the first time.
“It was kind of a big risk, but I wanted to get away from the bo staff because everyone uses it; it’s a common thing,” Lewis said. “So I wanted to do something different.
Despite having only a few months of training with the new weapon Lewis took first place in extreme forms, second place in extreme weapons and third place in creative weapons and forms.
On Saturday Lewis returned and competed in traditional forms, traditional weapons, sparing, and combat sparing.
This was my very first black belt tournament,” Lewis said. “I had eight competitors - eight of the best in the nation.”
The first event of the day was traditional forms where Lewis earned fourth place.
“I got a five overall, which is not bad at all,” Lewis said.
The second competition was traditional weapons and Lewis used the single nunchakus.
“I took first place in that one, which led to that second national title,” Lewis said.
During the sparing and combat sparing events Lewis was able to earn second place medals.
“It was very productive and very uplifting afterwards and we were all very humbled,” Lewis said. “We all went home knowing where we needed to improve, hoping to see each other again, probably at Spring Nationals in February. Ultimately, if we make the cut, possibly go for a world title next July.”
Lewis says he has come a long way from the day when he was seconds from taking his own life to being an ATA national champion and attributes his success to martial arts.
“I allowed myself to be mentored by some of the best people who have been huge influences in my life,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that his experience with Straight Blast Gym, then with Fredericks ATA, are what saved him and gave him his life back.
“I was able to be more open with people,” Lewis said. “After seven years of training I am able to be open and reclaim my life. I was able to let go of a lot of resentment.”
Lewis said he has also received some great mentors in the Montana National Guard.
“Sgt. 1st Class Jones and Capt. Christiansen are my two prime people, Lewis said. “When I first joined the Guard Sgt. Jones was the first person who greeted me and she’s been by my side since day one. Capt. Christiansen has been by my side since I first met her; it’s a good relationship and I’ve always trusted them both.”
They both were involved in influential things that have made his military career good. NCOs and officers that you can count on can make the difference in your life, said Lewis.
“You have to determine what you’re worth, and whatever you’re worth you have to produce that worth that you’re promoting out there,” Lewis said. “Just because someone says you’re a joke or worthless doesn’t make you a joke or worthless. It’s when you believe, that is when you become a joke or worthless.”
“That is when you have to focus on that uplifting person, who may not always tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. It’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow, but it does make your life better,” Lewis said.
Lewis said you should never rob people of the opportunity to meet you and you shouldn’t rob yourself of the opportunity to make an impact in someone else’s life by committing suicide.
Lewis continues to train, hoping to compete in a world championship competition, and coaches the schools ATA Tiny Tigers program, teaching children age 3 through 7 years old. He would eventually like to open his own ATA gym someday where he can be a mentor and give hope to those seeking it.
For More Information Contact: CPT Dan Bushnell, 324-3009, or MSgt Michael Touchette, 406-324-3007