by Nikki Krug photography by Bill Ryan
Families that fight together stay together – at least that’s the motto some mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are sticking to as they enroll in various martial arts schools of Carroll County.
The family members find that learning martial arts is not only a practical and fun family bonding activity that equips them with effective self-defense and fighting tactics, they are also fine-tuning their sense of focus, coordination, courtesy, and peace of mind.
“It’s really giving us a connection to enjoy for years to come,” Scott Robertson said of his family’s tri-weekly martial arts lessons. Robertson and his wife, Heather, have been attending classes at Tristar Martial Arts Academy alongside their son Colin since last summer once he graduated from the Little Ninjas program.
“We wanted him to learn that it was important to try it despite the challenges,” Robertson said, also noting that the lessons have boosted Colin’s confidence and helped him overcome his fears.
One perk Heather Robertson appreciates is practicing together at home. “We kind of push each other in a way,” she said.
There are many types of martial arts, from Kenpo Karate to Tae Kwon Do, with varying styles and forms to suit any purpose.
The majority of dojos focus on teaching people how to defend themselves in case of real life attacks, swapping traditional nunchucks for more common objects. Rather than trying to master the moves one would see in a Bruce Lee movie, the goal of most classes is to train an individual to defuse and walk away from potentially violent altercations.
Mike Stewart, owner of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Finksburg, stated his primary objective is to equip students with the “most effective fighting skills so they don’t have to fight.”
Stewart said that his programs teach focus, respect, politeness and verbal cues as well as real-life defense techniques that help parents learn to be better fathers and mothers while kids gain self-reliance.
The key is confidence.
In addition to fighting techniques, students of martial arts come away confident that they can fight when necessary. And since confidence is a deterrent for bullies and attackers, it automatically makes them a less likely target for attacks.
Though non-physical defense plays a big part in the basics of martial arts, the thrill and challenge of sparring hasn’t been forgotten, as Mike Guercio makes evident.
Guercio, head of the family-owned Carroll County Kenpo, offers American Kenpo Karate, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts. Kenpo Karate is said to be the “best for self-defense” as it is principle based and does not require much strength, making it most suitable for children. Mixed Martial Arts and jiu-jitsu are more fight-oriented and CCK has even been known to train professional fighters.
Carroll County Kenpo recently relocated to East Green Street in Westminster, and though it is still undergoing renovations, the main training room is open for lessons. At the requests of many parents, Guercio plans to add a bag room for kickboxing, which he says is a popular workout for moms to do while the kids learn karate.
One of the main things that draws parents to martial arts is that “it’s a lot more fun than going to the gym,” said Sean Birger, Tristar Martial Arts Academy’s chief instructor at the Westminster location. Birger explained that while the majority of Tristar’s students are kids, it really is an activity for all, whether age four or 70, since techniques can be tailored to suit the ability of anyone.
Even without participating in the craft themselves, parents can still be involved in their child’s practice of martial arts. Tristar’s owner Debbie McCarron proudly showed off their audience area, a feature in all three locations. A window looking onto the training room, allows parents to watch and cheer on their children.
Sensei Benson at Tristar Martial Arts Academy of Eldersburg began training at the age of nine along with his father. Over the last 16 years, Benson rose through the ranks and now works as an instructor. His father, age 55, still practices along with him and they both now proudly sport 4th degree black belts.
Steven French, an instructor of fitness kickboxing and hapkido at Choe’s HapKiDo in Westminster knows the benefits of this family activity. Both of his daughters started taking classes when they were about 4 years old, and French says it is something all ages can do and have in common while benefitting in other ways as well.
By practicing martial arts, “kids learn respect for authority and parents,” says French. The health perks are a plus as well; French pointed out that one of the exercises in hapkido includes a form of joint locking that works like acupressure to help break up toxins in the body.