Volume 75, Number 36 | January 25 - 31, 200

Black belt sensai Jay Lopez instructs youngsters in kicking at Tiger Schulmann’s W. 19th St. dojo.

Karate kids earn their stripes with Tiger’s teaching

By Judith Stiles

The idea of 3-year-old children enrolling in karate class can prompt guffaws as well as criticism that this kind of activity is inappropriate for preschoolers. However, in an age when modern parents seem to be fast-tracking their kids into just about everything, even SAT prep classes for seventh graders, it is no surprise that karate for the very young is a big hit in New York City.

Surprisingly, at Tiger Schulmann’s Karate, the seeds of martial arts are presented very thoughtfully and appropriately to the youngsters in the wildly popular level-one class given on Saturdays at 39 W. 19th St. Comfortably dressed in mini-martial arts outfits, the youngsters are led through a series of exercises that emphasize hand-eye coordination. They learn to walk on a balance beam within a gamelike structure, and they even get to karate kick the pads, called kick shields.

In the next age group upstairs, 7-to-9-year-olds take karate to the next level under the tutelage of black-belt instructor Jay Lopez. Lopez runs a lively and engaging class that captures the attention of more than 30 children. This is no easy feat for most teachers, but not once does Lopez have to scold the children for undisciplined behavior. Instead, he mesmerizes everyone with an exciting program in which boys and girls eagerly follow his instruction because his love of karate is obvious and also very contagious.

With the help of two assistant instructors, the children stretch and warm up, and then pair off to take turns at whacking the kick shield with a bare foot. Lopez leads them in an animated discussion about the three important things they need for class and in life, which are “eye focus, ear focus and mouth focus.” Intermittently, the karate youngsters respond with a loud “osu,” which sounds like “oosh!” and is a sort of lower-level “hiyah!”

Next, 7-year-old Sam Froud leads the group in more stretching and push-ups, which he does with the exactness of a marine, meaning there is no sagging or flopping in his waist. He is a natural-born leader and, like his teacher, Lopez, he has his classmates’ full attention. Duke Molina, 7, smiles throughout the class, even during the 20-plus push-ups as his father, also Duke, looks on with pride.

With over 30 locations, Tiger Schulmann Karate claims to offer a “proven formula to develop children to their fullest potential,” as stated in its brochure. The brochure goes on to say that in Schulmann’s program “kids learn to focus and become confident as they apply a nonquitting spirit to all they do.” In the one-hour class, there seem to be no quitters and a majority of them happily continue into the next class called “grappling,” which in appearance is somewhat similar to wrestling. According to Lopez, who also teaches grappling, it is not about taking down a person and pinning them, but rather teaching the kids to overcome opponents who are bigger by using their size against them. While on the mat, through a swift leg lock around the opponent’s waist, and with a push, pull and roll, a smaller person can actually bring down the larger person by using proper technique.

In grappling class, the children wear headgear with cushioned pads covering the ears. According to expert student Froud, they “wear the headgear to keep the kids from getting cauliflower ears.” When pressed to explain exactly what is a cauliflower ear, a few eager students chimed in that “cauliflower ears are white. . .oh yes, when the ears turn inside out. . . and get big,” not quite making the connection with ears getting injured. These youngsters are proud of their belts and seem to view the headgear as an adornment.

Tiger Schulmann Karate delivers on its promises of learning self-discipline while having fun, and one of the best aspects of the program is that the founders figured out how to separate the classroom activity from eagerly onlooking parents. The parents are on the other side of a glass wall, sipping coffee at round tables, while they observe their children from a distance, leaving the kids in peace to enjoy the class. You can bet that instructors in any sport would all say “OSU!” to this kind of arrangement.

For more information on Tiger Schulmann Karate, visit the Web site: www.tsk.com.

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