Karate kids in class
Preparing for impact: Levi Winston coaches kicking form at the first class at Winston's School of Karate and Self-defense.
Saturday, Feb. 4, a gang of six to eight-year-olds did their best to kick Levi Winston off his feet. Absorbing the onslaught with a blue foam pad, the 29-year-old quizzed his assailants on the purpose of the "thrust" kick.
"What does it do?"
"Push the bad guys back!" was the unanimous reply.
This was the first class at Winston's School of Karate and Self-defense. Held at the corner of Columbus and Court in the old Hometown Pizza building, classes will run every Saturday.
Winston is a third-degree blackbelt in Song Moo Kwan taekwondo. One of the five original kwans ("schools"), the discipline is closer to its roots-traditional Korean martial arts and Shotokan karate-than more modern strains of taekwondo.
"It's not the bouncy, kick-kick-kick you see on TV. There's a lot of hand-strikes-it looks more like traditional karate."
At the age of six, Winston began training at Allen Sarac's Professional Karate Centers, a chain of schools in the Las Vegas area. Except for a brief hiatus during high school, he's been training ever since, and has been teaching for seven years, including a three-year stint as head instructor for one PKC branch.
Then a job opportunity brought him to Goldendale. The work was good, but something was missing.
"I've been up here a year and a half, and I'm like, 'I miss karate. So let's see if anybody else wants to do it.'"
Fighting for youth activities
The response has been much larger than Winston expected. When he and his wife floated the idea on Facebook, they hoped to get five or six students. Currently, 60 children are signed up for the classes.
For at least one parent in attendance Saturday, the school is a no-brainer.
"There are only two licensed daycares in town and both are full-you have to join the waiting list." And the lack of extracurricular activities isn't just confined to young children.
"There's nothing for older teens [to do], so they start getting into things that aren't good."
Winston's school offers classes for three age groups: six to eight, nine to 11, and 12 and up. Each poses its own challenges for the instructor.
"For the little kids, it's keeping their attention. For [the middle range], the hardest part is holding them back-they want to learn more and more and more; I want them to learn better. With the teenagers, [the hard part is] that they're teenagers. [If they haven't taken classes as kids], getting them to that level of respect is a challenge."
But it's a challenge worth facing. The opportunity to act as a mentor and positive influence is Winston's favorite part of instructing.
"That's the most rewarding-when you can watch kids grow up, and help them as they're growing up."
Room to grow
Though classes are held weekly, a given child can only attend every other week. Eventually, Winston hopes to change that.
"Initially, every other week is fine. It'll give them some good exercise. But it's really not enough to lay down the foundation I would like." Right now, the biggest barriers to weekly attendance are time (Winston works in IT and has three small children of his own) and space: the current room can only accommodate about 15 students.
"That's the class that'll fit here. You put too many kids in and they'll be cramped-they won't be able to learn." If he can find a larger space, Winston plans to combine classes.
Though the school primarily caters to children and teens, Winston also plans to offer a women's self-defense class once a month.
To find out more, contact Winstons School of Karate and Self-defense on Facebook.