VIDEO: Local karate teacher instills lifelong lessons through TaekwondoWatch Casey Mihalek lead the white-clad, barefoot members of his karate class at ATA Martial Arts in Grand Forks and you’ll see a well-orchestrated training regimen with a purpose: self-defense infused with discipline and respect.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Watch Casey Mihalek lead the white-clad, barefoot members of his karate class at ATA Martial Arts in Grand Forks and you’ll see a well-orchestrated training regimen with a purpose: self-defense infused with discipline and respect.
The master instructor in Taekwondo is part teacher, part coach and part friendly drill sergeant, commanding everyone’s attention.
“Stand straight. Remember to breathe. Yes, sir?” he asks.
“Yes, sir!” they respond, loudly, in unison.
He is in charge.
His students copy his movements as he demonstrates stances, kicks, punches and other actions that, he emphasizes, should only be used as a last resort to maintain personal safety.
“But if a bad guy comes up to you and tries to take you away, you can do this,” he says, rapidly slapping his cupped hands on a dummy’s ears. “Then, run away.”
More area families are taking up Songahm Taekwondo, a type of karate Mihalek teaches at the school where he started as an instructor and now owns and operates.
“It’s something I always push,” he said. “A lot of times kids start and draw their parents in, too. It’s something they can do together.”
Adults and kids enjoy a fairly rigorous workout while learning self-defense skills.
“It’s a really good way to spend time with my kids,” said John Brower, of Emerado, N.D., who attends classes with his wife, Shelley, and their children, Virginia, 14, Sebastian, 12, and Dominick, 9.
“It brings us closer as a family. We spend time here and practicing at home.”
Another bonus: “It keeps me young,” he said.
Taekwondo helps his kids stay physically fit, promotes discipline and “helps them to be good little citizens,” he said.
In addition to increasing mental focus and physical prowess that deflect bullying, the Browers and other parents appreciate Mihalek’s emphasis on teaching respect, integrity, honor, perseverance, self-control, honesty, self-confidence and goal-setting — lessons that influence kids’ behavior at home, at school and in the community.
“We focus on one word a month,” Mihalek said. “In July, it was ‘discipline’; in August it will be ‘perseverance.’ We talk about how to show it here, at home and at school.”
Shelley is impressed by the character education, especially the idea of deference to adults and authority figures. “I believe my kids should show respect, and I love how they show it here and at school.”
That respect and discipline “tends to be lacking in today’s society,” Mihalek said.
High regard for the elderly may be rooted in Eastern thought, he said. People in those cultures “treat their elderly a lot better than we do in our country, sadly.”
When the Browers moved to Emerado two years ago, Dominick started taking classes with Mihalek “and the rest of us followed suit,” Shelley said.
Since then, Sebastian has shown improvement in schoolwork.
“He’s made the honor roll twice; there’s a confidence level there. He’s getting grades he wants to achieve, so he’s working harder for it.”
That confidence is evident in Sebastian’s face.
“It’s knowing I can achieve what I’m going for, like the next belt,” he said.
Dominick was encouraged by his father to get involved in Taekwondo, he said. He started taking “Tiny Tigers” classes at ATA Martial Arts School at age 5 when the family lived in Bismarck. (ATA stands for American Taekwondo Association.)
“I was one of the ‘nice kids’ in my school, and was picked on,” he said.
He stuck with it, “because there were really nice teachers.”
Dominick loves the kicking. “He constantly kicks around the house,” Shelley said.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “You can do those board breaks.”
Different skills, movements and weaponry are introduced as students work up the karate ranks. Students earn various colored belts, signifying proficiency and experience in the sport. The Browers, except Dominick, have each earned yellow belts.
Dominick, a “recommended black belt,” is preparing to test for his black belt, Mihalek said. Along with 50 to 60 other students who are at various levels, he will test Aug. 24.
Dominick, who sometimes assists Mihalek as he teaches the classes, has his eye on teaching in the future.
“I want to become a master. It’ll be fun working here,” he said.
Sebastian offers another reason to look forward to Taekowndo.
“It’s a fun class to get your energy out, so you don’t get into as much trouble at home, being loud.”
Virginia said, “I like punching and kicking the bags.”
She took up the class “because Dominick told me join.”
Before she started Taekwondo, Shelley learned a lot of the moves just by watching Dominick.
“It’s more fun actually doing it,” compared to watching, she said. “You’re surprised at what you can do, when you start.” She also receives helpful suggestions at home.
“It’s kind of fun. I’ll be practicing and Dominick will say, ‘Mom, you need to do this,’ or ‘you need to do that.’
“I’m looking forward to the next level; we get to spar,” she said. That will involve wearing protective gear and using special equipment. “I’m actually kind of proud I can keep up with them... It’s a good workout.”
Response to bullying
Sparring was intimidating when he started taking karate lessons at age 7, said Mihalek, who holds a sixth-degree black belt. “The kicking and punching, I didn’t like it; it didn’t sit well with me at the time.
“Now, I love it. It’s my favorite thing.”
It was bullying that originally led him to karate. “My parents got me into it, as a way to build confidence,” he said. But he quit after a year and later, with a friend’s urging, rejoined at age 12.
Teaching Taekwondo is a full-time career now, he said. About 105 students are enrolled, and he hopes to see the total swell to about 140 in the fall. His students range in age from 3 to adults in their 50s.
To date, he hasn’t needed to use his skills for self-defense.
“It’s just the confidence, the knowing I could use it” that is the true benefit of the sport, he said. “You carry yourself differently.”
The life skills he teaches are valuable to his students, he said, including “the good, consistent structure.”
The benefit of physical fitness is important too, he said. “We hear so much about obesity now, this (karate) is good to get them up, and active and moving.
“There are so many good things that come from it besides just playing.”
Kids may never need to use the self-defense skills, he said, “but they will use the lessons in confidence, focus and respect.”
Knudson covers Health and Family for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext.1107 or email@example.com.