Adults and kids enjoy after-school activities together

Discover way to share the fun

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005

Click here to enlarge this photo
Rachael Golden⁄The Gazette
Ajay Branch, 5, and Kelly Richards of Germantown throw uppercuts during a Taekwondo class for children and adults.

A few times a week, the Riccio family gets together to punch, kick and yell.

But don’t worry – not at each other.

The family of four is one of a growing number of families enrolling in martial arts and self-defense classes together.

At BMI Karate in Germantown, instead of watching their children perfect their American Taekwondo techniques from the sidelines, moms and dads take the class in rows behind them.

‘‘We’re constantly running in different directions, off to cheerleading or Cub Scouts,” said Judith Riccio, of Boyds. ‘‘This is our hour together.”

Judith, her husband Richard, and their children Zachary, 7, and Donna, 6, step barefooted onto the mat a few times a week at BMI. They’ve been learning the sport ever since Zachary’s friend invited him to class about nine months ago, said Judith Riccio.

‘‘Zachary is very shy and we thought it would help with his confidence and his self-esteem,” she explained.

The goal for many parents who have enrolled with their children is togetherness, but many said their goal for their children is improved concentration, self-esteem and respect.

BMI Karate founder Brian Mower, who started taking martial arts as a boy to increase his own confidence, works to reinforce those goals. Mower, a fifth-degree black belt, is a firm believer that the sport can have a profound effect on a child’s mental and physical achievements. Classes have a strong life-skills component, such as avoiding contact with strangers, mixed in with positive reinforcement.

‘‘Just doing martial arts in general builds self-confidence and respect for other people, including parents,” Mower said. ‘‘When you feel good and you’re doing something to reach a goal, it carries over into other areas.”

Kelly Richards and her 6-year-old son Johnny are both reaping the benefits of martial arts. Johnny recently defended himself at a park when an older boy told him to get off a swing he was on.

‘‘He told the boy it was his turn,” Richards said proudly. ‘‘He made eye contact and stood right up.”

She said the class has changed her mannerisms. No longer shy and unsociable, she finds herself ‘‘more confident, more social and more outgoing.”

Across the room from the Richards, father and son Andre and Tyler Enceneat of Germantown recently gave each other a double-high five after class. The pair enrolled in August.

‘‘It’s cool to hang out with him and being able to share this experience with him,” Andre Enceneat said. ‘‘It’s a bonding thing. It’s another way to reinforce some of the things that we do at home.”

Andre Enceneat was a black belt in the mid-1980s, but he’s relearning the sport with his son, a second-grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary.

‘‘It’s great because now I’m learning self-defense,” Tyler said. ‘‘If a bully comes up to me and punches me, I can block it.”

What it means
The name Taekwondo is made up of three Chinese⁄Korean words: Tae, meaning to kick or jump; Kwon, meaning fist or hand; and Do, which means ‘‘the way.” It can be thought of as ‘‘The Way of the Hand and Foot.” Source: The American Taekwondo Association
He added that the classes taught him that it’s important to treat himself and others with respect and that ‘‘fighting is not the first thing to do.”

Reinforcing life skills on the mat and at home helps a student progress, said Mower, whose two daughters are enrolled in class.

‘‘There’s not a lot of things that we can actually do together,” he said. ‘‘You can’t play on your child’s soccer team; you can watch them and cheer them on, but this is something where you can come together.”

It can overflow into home life, too, Judith Riccio said. Sometimes she’ll ask her children to help her with a kick or a punch.

‘‘Sometimes my husband and I don’t do something right,” she admits. ‘‘It makes them feel good about helping us out.”

At the end of a recent class, the 1974 song ‘‘Kung Fu Fighting” filled the room. At the cue, the Enceneats and Richards gathered in a straight line with other students and started jumping-jacks.

One by one, they approached Mower and practiced jabs and upper-cuts. Occasionally, the students’ grunts after a punch corresponded to the grunts in the song.

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

Those cats were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit fright’ning

But they did it with expert timing