In the 1984 classic movie “The Karate Kid,” lead character Daniel LaRusso, an undersized high school student turns to the sport of karate after getting beat up by a group of punk kids.
LaRusso eventually learns how to defend himself from the Okinawan immigrant Mr. Miyagi, who is the handyman that works in the apartment complex where LaRusso and his mother live. LaRusso eventually uses those skills to go on to win a prestigious karate tournament, defeating a number of the same kids who beat him up earlier in the flick.
Roughly 30 years after the movie hit the box office some of the same issues that led young Daniel-san to karate are still around. Kids are still being bullied and some parents are turning to dojos to help their kids learn to defend themselves. A number of area youngsters are spending their afternoons and evenings at Thunderfoot Karate, a London establishment started and run by Master Thad Hughes.
“A lot of kids are shy and come because of bullying and esteem issues,” Hughes said. “Parents think karate is a good way to channel energy and yes it can be. There is a freedom and sense of power learning not only that they can hit the bag, but knowing they are doing it correctly. (Karate) should be used to defend, not bully or intimidate.”
Thunderfoot Karate located at 9 E. High St. in London was opened by Hughes in 2009 as a place where he could teach the skills and discipline he learned while working on his black belt roughly a decade ago. Hughes’ studied and now teaches Shorin-ryu, one of the major modern Okinawan martial arts and one of the oldest styles of karate.
“I received my black belt in 2004 under Grand Master Rick Moore,” Hughes said. “I started taking Shorin-ryu in 1990 in Columbus. I worked my way halfway through and took a break when I went to college. When my son was five I took him to tae kwon do, but what I saw I didn’t like. So after taking Shorin-ryu and watching him in another style, I started taking him with me.”
Kids come to Thunderfoot for a variety of different reasons, but the ones that do show up are energetic and expected to work hard and Hughes wants it to be an enjoyable experience.
“Karate is a way of life,” he said. “Karate is a knowledge that one doesn’t have to be scared of a physical confrontation, teaching kids is a way to give back. When you are showing a kid something and they get that look in their eye, ‘Yea I get it’ that sense of achievement makes it worth it for me and them.
”My teacher developed the kind of relationship with his students that we looked forward to class. My kids do as well. As they do I take a little credit for their accomplishments. I guess that’s the humbling part, but they earned everything they got. I am just proud that they let me be part of the journey.”
Roughly eight to 10 students can be found in the Thunderfoot facility on a nightly basis. That number tends to grow or shrink depending on the time of year and the weather outside. But there’s no doubting the fact that those who are there more regularly are more apt to stand out.
“Sports plays a big part in attendance. A lot of kids in London play (other) sports,” he said. “I have two classes every weekday Monday through Friday and two classes Saturday morning when there isn’t a tournament. I have open classes. Kids can come once a week or everyday, their choice. Kids who come more often advance at a more regular pace.”
Thunderfoot students often compete in weekend competitions against students from other dojos from across the state and sometimes out of state. These tournaments allow students to test their skills against others of similar skill level and age.
“Competing isn’t a necessity, but is a good way for kids to see other kids who are at the top of their game and they strive to be like them,” Hughes said. “I have a lot of kids who compete and normally parents pay out of pocket. Occasionally we have sponsors. I have had kids go to Florida for the last three years and compete at Epcot Center at Disney, A lot of these kids are also on Team Ohio.”
Hughes knows that karate provides plenty of positives for his students, but acknowledges that there are some stigmas about his sports that are simply not true.
“People think that karate is about the love of fighting and ability to beat up any one,” he said. “Karate is a trained response, conditioning your body to react to certain situations. Karate is about defense. The higher you get the more humble you get, as a black belt you know what things to do to end a fight but you don’t want to do them because the fear of getting in trouble for defending yourself.
“I believe school’s should be no fighting zones. But in the real world — kids are cruel — I’ve had lots of kids who came because of bullies, but the school almost defended the bully. Kids are getting beat up and harassed sometimes even worse. Sometimes parents feel they don’t want their child to be the victim. I feel the knowledge of karate is best to have and not have to use, than never learn and really need it.”
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.