Karate classes aren’t just about kicks, but developing the community

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Eric Swanson at PKSA in St. Johns provided by Jason Dunn

Eric Swanson at PKSA in St. Johns provided by Jason Dunn

By Jason Dunn
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter

ST. JOHNS — Since it was established in the year 2000, the advent of the Professional Karate Schools of America has taken Master Richard Collins around the United States of America. He has instilled the ideals of Tang Soo Do karate in the lives of his participants for the last 40 years.

But for PKSA, simply teaching Tang Soo Do karate is much more than a mundane, daily ritual. People of all ages, from the surrounding area of St. Johns gather with the collective purpose of pursuing self-improvement.

Gina Karasek, a parent and participant at PKSA, believes that the school is a positive influence on the community, particularly in the lives of its adolescent participants.

“It’s so neat what it teaches the kids. I’ve seen kids that have come in here so shy, they will hardly even look at you when they talk. Then further down the line on test day, they’ll go through their forms being proud of themselves showing what they can do in front of everybody. It gives them a sense of self that they don’t always get elsewhere. It does so much for teaching self-discipline and self-ethics. It really helps the development of self-ethics in general.”

Andrew Driska, a Michigan State University professor who has a secondary research interest in the roles that coaches and sport environments play in fostering the psychosocial development of athletes, believes that sport, particularly in children, does a remarkable job in fostering their minds psychologically.

“Parents usually get their children involved in sports for a variety of reasons. It has been proven that when kids are active, they tend to be better off, psychologically. Some other advantages are social benefits. Interaction and success in sports prompts increased self-esteem. Also, parents are often seeking peer groups for their children. Kids hear that their friends are involved and they want to be a part of whatever their peers are doing.”

Karasek mentioned that her own journey to PKSA was unpredictable; it was actually brought on by her children.

“So, my son who is 10 years old just passed his test. He’s the one who got our entire family of seven into karate,” she said. “Four and a half years ago, he saw a flyer for Kids Power Karate. That particular school participates with the city, here. They provide a six-week class through the city to introduce kids to Tang Soo Do karate.

“So, he asked me and my husband for permission to join and we agreed. So, after he completed the program, he wanted to keep going. That prompted a couple more of our kids to join, then my husband wanted to join, then I finally joined. Currently, my son and husband just finished their black belts. I have two other daughters who will be taking their tests in August, too.”

Test day at PKSA in St. Johns provided by Jason Dunn

Test day at PKSA in St. Johns provided by Jason Dunn

According to Eric Swanson, the owner of the school, he too spontaneously decided to take up the sport.

“Around 2005, my kids came home from school with a flyer one day about the same six-week program associated with Kids Power Karate. They completed the program. During the third week though, I decided to participate in class. I was happy with the instructors and what they were teaching;so, my wife and I basically started with our kids.”

It wasn’t until he was midway through his training that he decided to get the ball rolling on potentially owning a karate school. Though he conceded that it wasn’t a particularly fast-paced process, Swanson went through it because it was something he truly wanted to do.

“Basically, about two years into my training I decided that I really wanted to be a school owner. I really wanted to teach this,” he said. “So, when I found out that PKSA was a franchised organization, I began to talk with some people.

“After about 6 months to a year, I was told to select a few locations where I would be interested in opening up a school. St. Johns was one of them. We figured that this would be a good place to start one since there are no other PKSA locations around here. So, my wife and I bought this franchise in 2009 and moved out here and in June of 2010, we opened up this location.”

Unbeknownst to the general public, PKSA is unlike typical karate schools. In a community that promotes family values, PKSA promotes a particularly symmetrical family-like structure.

“The other thing that is unique about PKSA as a whole is the fact that we let entire families train together. So if there is a family with three kids, a mom and dad and they all want to go out on the floor together, our classes cater to that. You can train and compete together.”

Swanson also made a point to describe how PKSA’s teaching strategies differ from those of other karate schools.

“We’re different from regular karate schools,” he said. “We offer a regulated curriculum. Every belt level has something in it that says ‘you have to learn a basic set of actions’. Those include form, along with some self-defense and personal development creeds. We’re not a money-making machine, though.

“Our philosophy is ‘improvement of oneself’. You’re not held to a specific goal. Everybody can’t jump six feet in the air. If you’re not of that body style, we modify the technique so that it works for you. We get all ages. I’ve had people in here as young as 3 years old and as old as 74 years old.”

Driska goes on to mention that in addition to provided emotional and social benefits, the art of sport serves as a constructive outlet that shields adolescents from particularly negative extra-curricular activities, in addition to helping the community at large.

“Sport is also diversionary. If kids have nothing to do, there is increased opportunity for them to get swept up into troubled extra-curricular activities like gangs,” he said. “Having sports opportunities in a given community can help to keep them involved in something constructive.

“Also, sometimes it’s tough to tell, but if you ask parents what their definition of quality of life would be, most parents would say sports is a major benefit to living in the community. I’m actually set to do research on this topic, here at Michigan State: How important is sport to quality of life? But like I said before, as to conclusive evidence, if you ask parents, many will tell you that having major sports programs opens many opportunities up for their children.”

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