Get your kicks - Which martial-art is right for you?

Autum Caldwell and Rogerick Faustino, front, practice sparring while Timothy Hatten and T.J. Faustino spar in the background June 30 at Sorano Goju-Ryu Karate School in Bremerton. - Julie Fergus/staff photo
Autum Caldwell and Rogerick Faustino, front, practice sparring while Timothy Hatten and T.J. Faustino spar in the background June 30 at Sorano Goju-Ryu Karate School in Bremerton.
— image credit: Julie Fergus/staff photo

When Kevin O’Niel was a teenager and started studying martial-arts, his instructor kicked him out of his Karate class for drug use. It took this initial rejection to set him on the right path.

“It saved my life so I’m gonna spend the rest of my life saving others,” he added.

The reasons instructors choose to teach martial-arts, or kids decide to enroll in these classes, varies greatly depending on the person.

And with so many martial-arts studios in the Central Kitsap area, it can be difficult to choose the school that will meet a person’s motivation or goals.

Here are some martial arts studios in the Central Kitsap and Bremerton area:

Eastside Shoto-Kan Karate Academy

O’Niel, the master at Eastside Shoto-Kan Karate Academy in Bremerton blends traditional Japanese Karate and Philippine martial-arts.

His school focuses on instruction for women, many of whom have been assaulted or have been in abusive relationships, and children, especially those who are disabled or autistic.

About three out of seven of O’Niel’s students decide to compete in competitions. The school puts on some of these tournaments, but there are many local competitions in the area, O’Niel said.

Other students choose to help teach classes after earning their brown belt.

For O’Niel, part of becoming a black belt means learning how to handle situations responsibly.

“Karate is a gift. It’s a privilege for them to do it,” he added.

But despite this privilege, O’Niel believes that the martial-arts should remain financially accessible to all students. His classes, which meet two times each week, are $65 per month, with special discounts available for families that enroll more than one child. He often looks for sponsors or covers the cost of students who cannot pay the full price of classes—sometime unbeknownst to the student.

“Now days, the people who need Karate are not the rich people. They’ve got bodyguards,” he said.

O’Niel also co-teaches some of his classes with his wife, Gale O’Niel, who specializes in Reiki, a Japanese form of “hands on healing,” said O’Niel.

Her therapy helps “center some of his students’ energy and draws out the bad,” O’Niel added.

O’Niel teaches open classes, group classes, private lessons and classes that incorporate Reiki.

“We rebuild people who are torn down or beat up,” he said.

Ultimately, O’Niel hopes to teach his students something about themselves. His classes focus on com

bining students’ heads and hearts first, before choosing to use violence, he said.

“It’s not just about punching and kicking,” he added.

Family Martial Arts and Fitness Studio

For those looking to train at a martial-arts school that does not participate in competitions, Tracy Benningfield’s Family Martial Arts and Fitness Studio in Silverdale may be a good fit.

Benningfield instructs his students in Shaolin Kempo and Combat Hapkido.

Shaolin Kempo, with origins in China, is grounded in the Buddhist ideal to seek peace over violence, said Benningfield, owner and instructor of the school. Benningfield incorporates his own Christian beliefs to teach his students martial-arts as a means of self-defense and protection.

“Meekness is not weakness,” Benningfield added.

Because those who study Shaolin Kempo do not believe in using violence unnecessarily, Benningfield’s students do not compete in tournaments. Rather, the company showcases and demos its talent at local community events — most recently at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

The school also trains students in Combat Hapkido, a “short-cut system” created by John Pelegrini that focuses on tactics rather than forms, said Benningfield. Combat Hapkido typically combines Aikido and Taekwondo, but Benningfield’s studio focuses more on combat than the traditional practice, he added.

Both Shaolin Kempo and Combat Hapkido focus more on using the martial-art as a way to get fit, since Benningfield instructs his students to avoid using the violence they learn in their classes at all costs.

“Our goal is that you make it home to be with your family,” added Benningfield.

Classes are $125 per month, or $100 per month if students commit to one year of instruction. Classes are offered five days a week, and this rate allows students to attend as many classes as they choose. Benningfield also offers discounts for families that enroll more than one student.

Hybrid Gym and Training Center

For those more interested in a martial-art that combines a focus on fitness and competition, studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Marcelo Alonso at Hybrid Gym and Training Center in Bremerton may be the best fit.

Derek Ejge, Brandon Martinfrazier and E.J. Concepcion — all students of the school — said that in comparison to other forms of martial-arts, Jiu-Jitsu is “more applicable to real life.”

No other martial-arts schools focus on combat for people who have been pinned to the ground, said Martinfrazier.

Martinfrazier also said that Jiu-Jitsu training provides an excellent escape from anything negative in the real world.

“It’s a release. You don’t even think about it when you’re on the mat,” he added.

The 30-year-old from Silverdale trains for two hours three to four times each week. Ejge, 23, from Poulsbo, trains for six hours every day, and Concepcion, 30, from Silverdale, trains one-and-a-half hours five days a week.

“It’s a Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle,” said Ejge.

Training combines both physical exertion and a focus on competition, said Martinfrazier.

Classes are about $124 per month, depending on which kind of gym membership a person purchases.

People need to train and compete with others to find out which form of martial arts fits the student best, all three said.

Sorano Goju-Ryu Karate School

Those looking for a martial-arts school geared toward competition, but that still focuses on the traditional spiritual connection of the mind and body might check out Sorano Goju-Ryu Karate School in Bremerton.

Instructor Chieko Huse focuses on respect, while providing her students with a competitive sport and form of physical activity. Classes always begin with a 15 minute warm-up, Huse said.

Karate, a Japanese branch of martial-arts, mixes many forms of self-defense as students learn how to kick, strike, hit and sweep, she said. But she added that this form of martial-arts balances both form and sparring.

While Huse’s students focus on humility and respect at practice, they also work to compete at local competitions.

“I love tournaments. It gives me a chance to use everything I practice in class with my age group,” said Cindy Long of Bremerton, one of Huse’s older students.

Long, 46, also enjoys training with her 8-year-old daughter, Alyssa.

“It teaches us discipline and unites us as a family,” she added.

Huse explained that the training does not come easy, and students must work hard if they want to advance.

“You have to learn so many rules,” she said.

Classes are $65 per month and meet three times each week. For families that enroll an additional child, the price for both is discounted to $100 per month.

Team McEuin Taekwondo

For those looking for a competitive form of martial-arts at a school geared toward family involvement, training at Team McEuin Taekwondo may be the best fit. Mary McEuin, who opened the school in 2000, now oversees her son Brian, 24, lead classes.

The school is family oriented, and parents are required to attend belt tests, said McEuin. Many kids enjoy “out-ranking” their parents in class, she added.

All three of McEuin’s sons have competed at the Olympic trials for Taekwondo, and McEuin believes many more of her students have the potential to compete there as well.

“We try to build self esteem and make them shine in their own way,” said McEuin of her students.

Despite the emphasis on Taekwondo as a sport, McEuin’s students still practice more traditional Korean karate, which is the focus of the belt tests.

About two weeks ago, the school issued its first black belt to student Zach Whittacker. Whittacker, 14, will enter ninth grade at North Kitsap High School this fall. He earned the black belt after four years of instruction at Team McEuin and three years at Studio Kicks.

Now that he has earned his black belt, he enjoys teaching his skills to younger students.

“It’s kind of cool to see them do something you taught them, especially when they do it right,” he said.

For the rest of the summer, classes are $79 per month, meet three times per week and include a free uniform. Regularly, classes cost $99 per month and meet three times per week.

American TaeKwonDo

David Holman’s school may be new to the area, but he has already seen substantial strides in his students’ development. Holman, who opened the school five months ago, now instructs 13 students.

But Holman prefers the smaller class sizes, because it allows for more individualized instruction.

“Your only competition in here is yourself,” said Holman.

According to Holman, his classes are a “fun but tiring work out.”

None of his students have entered any competitions yet, because he does not feel they are ready.

However, he held the first belt test of the school June 31. Because Holman believes in individualized instruction, his belt testing does not follow a strict criteria. He feels that each student’s progress should be charted uniquely to the student’s ability.

“You earn advancement based on your own merit,” he added.

Holman believes that all of his instruction is applicable, should it need to be used outside of class. His defense techniques are “simple and effective,” he said.

For example, a two board break that students perform in class would be equivalent to breaking an arm or leg on a person outside of class, and a one board break is comparable to breaking a collar bone or wrist, he said.

Holman instructs his students to only use these defense practices when necessary. But he does assert martial-arts’ importance.

“I believe martial-arts is for everyone” he said, adding that he has seen the positive impact his classes have had on all of his students, but specifically those with mental and physical disabilities.

Classes are $100 per month for adults and $80 per month for children, and meet two times per week.

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