View Full Version : Students learn more than self-defense at martial arts schools

July 17, 2002, 09:42 AM
Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Miami Herald

July 17, 2002, Wednesday


KR-ACC-NO: K4721

LENGTH: 1145 words

HEADLINE: Students learn more than self-defense at martial arts schools

BYLINE: By Desonta Holder

MIAMI _ Look past the high-flying kicks, lightning-fast punches and submission holds; past the push-ups, squats and crunches. You won't see any battered egos or brazen brutes. You will see self-confidence, perseverance and self-control.

Kung Fu Connection in North Miami, which specializes in troubled children; Steve LaVallee's East Coast Karate & Kickboxing in Oakland Park; and Imperial Martial Arts in Weston have been empowering children for more than 20 years. Their nominal purpose is teaching self-defense, but they also show children how to avoid confrontation, concentrate and stay focused. For one student, the benefit is straight A's on his report card. For another, it's knowing he doesn't have to fight in school and risk being expelled.

And lately, the schools have seen nearly as many adults as children sign up. While some instructors attribute this trend to movies like "Rush Hour" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," others think more adults are simply seeking self-confidence and a sense of awareness.

Gus Rubio, head master at Kung Fu Connection, was very shy and lacked self-confidence as a child.

"I was getting pushed around and beat up a lot," he said. "When I started martial arts, I projected a certain air of confidence. That made all the difference in the world. I was never a target anymore."

That same air of confidence can be seen in his students.

Many parents bring their children to Kung Fu Connection to calm the wildness, said Alice Billman, Rubio's wife and partner. "You want your child to be assertive, but not necessarily aggressive," she said.

Three of Rubio's students, Chase Bryan, 11; Billman's daughter, Blaze Gonzalez, 12; and Joshua Eason, 12, signed up for classes after watching other students throw jabs and kicks, then walk away unharmed _ and sometimes untouched.

"It just amazed me how some people were able to block hits," said Chase, a sixth-grader at Phyllis Ruth Miller School in Miami. "Kids at school used to try to hit me. Now I know how to move out of the way and block them, so I don't have to fight back. The worse thing to do is fight and get expelled from school."

Blaze, a seventh-grader at Miami Shores/Barry University Charter Middle School, agrees. "Kung fu taught me a lot about self-control," she said. "I don't get upset anymore when people make fun of me."

And when it comes to school fights, Blaze would rather walk away. "Some girls have very long nails," she said.

School violence is just one reason Joshua's mother, Eulyce Eason, signed him up for kung fu.

"My son is a very peaceful child," she said. "This form gives him a sense of civility, focus and choice. It's not about fighting. But if something is unavoidable, I want him to be able to protect himself.

"I watch everything," she said. "They really nurture these boys here."

Joshua, a North Dade Middle School seventh-grader, hopes to one day earn the sacred black belt, which can take years of training and thousands of push-ups and sit-ups.

"I don't enjoy push-ups; I don't enjoy sit-ups," he said, but he does them. Like Blaze and Chase, he's not too fond of running either, but he does it.

"One of our Si-Fus (instructors) taught us that one day instead of using our kung fu we'll have to run _ run fast, dodge a corner, climb up on a rooftop and wait until everything clears out, then climb down and run home," he says.

That's one way to escape someone with long fingernails.

Earning a black belt at Steve LaVallee's East Coast Karate & Kickboxing is no easy task, and neither is earning straight A's. But for Klaus Gonche, 12, they go hand in hand. The katas, sparring and timed three-mile runs all helped him stay focused.

As a result, he concentrated more on learning English. The Deerfield Middle School student recently aced his FCAT and received the Student of the Year award.

"I used to not concentrate on things like when I'm doing homework, but now I'm focused," he said. "I started getting straight A's last year. Karate has really helped my report card."

Now a sixth-grader, Klaus started studying karate at age 9. "He was sure of his black belt," said his mother Marcia Rocha. "He knew he'd one day get it."

That day came last April, and along with the belt came confidence, discipline and self-control, Rocha said. "I drop him off here and I know he's in good hands."

Klaus was no neophyte when he started studying karate to get in shape like chop-socky star Jackie Chan. He studied the martial art of Capoeira in his native Brazil for three years before moving to South Florida in 1998. The fluid movements of Capoeira are evident in his acrobatic kicks, which he hopes to improve with the help of instructor Dennis Emond, a third-degree black belt.

Like a beginner's white belt, the black belt is also a beginning for Klaus. There are 10 degrees of black belt, and "I want to keep going the farthest I can go," he said. "Karate taught me not to give up. I want to own a dojo, teach, be like Kyoshi," a k a master Steve LaVallee, a seventh-degree black belt.

LaVallee uses weekly motivational messages to help his students persevere. One recent message: Champions stay focused. Obstacles can deter you, but if you stay focused on your goal, you'll reach it.

Klaus' next goals are to get in even better shape, stay focused and continue to do well in school.

Vanessa Jaramillo, 16, fell in love with tae kwon do as a small child, but her father thought it was a "guy thing."

"He was afraid I'd get hurt, but Mom convinced him it was a good thing," says Vanessa, who started taking lessons at 14 and hopes to test for her black belt next month at Imperial Martial Arts in Weston.

Look around this dojo and you're sure to see plenty of girls and guys doing "guy things." Alyssa Alvarez, 11, a seventh-grader at Indian Ridge Middle, earned her black belt in December 2000. Kayla Nieves, 11, a sixth-grader at Country Isle Middle, hopes to earn hers within the next three years. Giovanni Ricardo, 12, a seventh-grader at New Renaissance Middle, has been training since he was 5, and he's on track to wear a second-degree black belt in December.

The one trait they all share is perseverance.

Alyssa doesn't like counterattacks and is not that good at breaking boards; hand techniques and combinations are a challenge for Giovanni; Vanessa isn't thrilled about jogging; and Kayla despises push-ups and painful stances, but none of them has ever considered quitting.

"I hope to continue this for the rest of my life," said Vanessa, an 11th-grader at Cypress Bay High who also helps teach tae kwon do.

"Interacting with students and helping them is a good feeling," she said. "Teaching gives me confidence. I've gained a lot and I'm more positive about things."

July 17, 2002, 10:16 AM
Our school's tenets:

Indomitable spirit

(nothing at all about kicking higher, harder or any reference to fighting techniques)

Yep! At our school my wife and I monitor all school aged students report cards. We give incentives to bring up and maintain their grades. I tutor children in topics that I can help them with or find someone else who can. (For instance I once traded tuition to a hispanic lady who tutored a couple of high schoolers in Spanish)

I try to make it a point to say something uplifting or positive to every student every night.

I work closely with parents, teachers, counselors or anyone who can help to reinforce the tenets of our art.

I listen to student's problems and often times give advice.

Children's problems seem so big to them. (sometimes adults too!) I teach them to apply the same effort to facing their problems, whatever they be, with the same effort they employ to learn a martial art.

I try to show all my students the many parallels between taking on life and learning martial arts. To be successful, the same skills are required in both.