Karate teaches skills and focus
Once a week, an instructor teaches kicking and punching to eager students at Crescent Park Elementary School in Bethel.
The sessions do not represent a loss of discipline. In fact, by the end of each course the students are more disciplined and focused than when they started.
For the past six years, Liesha Petrovich of Maine Kyokushin Karate School in Norway has been teaching karate at CPS in a weekly afterschool program sponsored by the Mahoosuc Kids’ Association.
Liesha and her husband, Martin, have operated their school for nearly 20 years. He first learned karate while he was in the Navy, stationed in Japan. He holds a fifth-degree black belt
Liesha has a third-degree black belt.
She said that while many people look at a black belt as an expert, “a low-ranking black belt is merely a beginning student. They have all the basics down and are now ready to really learn.”
The style of karate the Petroviches teach, she said, “is straight up punching and kicking. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles.”
Traditionally Kyokushin participants do not use pads or gloves. But at CPS, said Petrovich, “that’s not how I or my kids fight.”
The youngsters are divided into two groups, by age: kindergarten through second grade learn Ninja techniques in half-hour classes, while third through fifth grades learn Samarai in hour-long sessions.
Ninja, said Petrovich, “is like riding a bike with training wheels.”
The youngest students learn basic foundation skills for kicking and punching, and in the process they learn control, discipline, focus and respect, she said.
They also learn to “spar” using pads and foam swords. “The swords involve a lot of footwork and control. They have to know how hard they can hit,” said Petrovich.
She tries to “disguise” the skills work in games and races.
Every eight to 10 weeks Petrovich holds ‘belt promotion’ examinations, allowing the youngsters to move up the scale of skills. At each step, they can earn a belt color to correspond.
The older kids learn Samurai techniques. “They start learning real karate,” said Petrovich. “It’s much more detailed.”
They can ultimately earn a black belt, she said, but because of the time and effort required, they must continue classes at the Norway school.
One of her students, Chase Ormiston, is serving as an informal assistant. “She’s an excellent leader. She’s like my right-hand man.”
In addition to the physical skills they learn, the youngsters also learn self-confidence. “It helps with their focus. We work on goal-setting,” she said.
Petrovich also said some kids who have had behavior problems have benefited from the added self-discipline required.
She described one troubled youngster’s experience. “I didn’t think he was even paying attention. It seemed like he was just going through the motions,” she said.
But for a belt promotion test, she said, he had to perform 20 steps to demonstrate his technique, “and he did it perfectly. I said, ‘Now that I know you can do it, I’m going to expect you to every time.”
At one recent class Lindsay Storer of Bethel watched while her five-year-old son, Michael, practiced the routines.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for him,” she said. “It’s really helped his self-confidence. He loves it and looks forward to it.”
Seven-year-old twins Heidi and Emily Wallace both enjoy the kicks routines. Emily particularly likes sparring; Heidi likes punching when the students have pads on.
Chase said the classes are fun and help her to focus. And, she said, she enjoys helping out with the younger kids.
Petrovich said she talks a lot with her students about when it’s all right to use kicks outside of class.
“We can use them to defend ourselves,” said Chase.
Karate classes will start at the Woodstock Elementary School the first week in March.
In addition to the classes for young students, Petrovich and her husband also teach about two dozen adults at their Norway school.
The group covers a wide spectrum of ages and abilities, and includes a seventh-grader who started as a Ninja and a grandmother who has had two knee replacements.
For more on the school, go to www.mkkarate.com.