Karate class offers chance to get fit, build confidence

by Josh Whitener

Kids, teens and adults strengthen their body and mind at Carolina Isshyn Ryu Karate Academy at the Monroe Aquatics and Fitness Center. “Martial arts encompasses so much,” Don Gyr, owner of Carolina Isshyn Ryu, said. “People want to go away having a workout but also feel like they learned something, and martial arts accomplishes all that.”


MONROE – Kids, teens and adults are strengthening their body, mind and self-defense tactics through a co-ed karate class at the Monroe Aquatics and Fitness Center.

The class, Carolina Isshyn Ryu Karate Academy, is open to both adults and kids age 8 and up, and it’s designed to accommodate students at all levels – advanced, intermediate and beginners.

For the past six years, Carolina Isshyn Ryu owner Don Gyr has taught the class at the Monroe Aquatics Center. Gyr teaches a number of karate style movements, which include a combination of upper body techniques, punching and blocking. He uses structures similar to how martial arts is taught in Japan, incorporating the traditional ranking system, lining up and bowing.

“It’s very much like a traditional martial arts,” Gyr said. “The classes are about an hour long. We do basic exercises with our warm-up and then get into the karate techniques.”

Gyr has as many as 35 students at a single time, and some stick with the program for years. Students have the opportunity to advance from a beginner all the way to receiving their black belt, which Gyr said takes about four or five years depending on the effort the student puts into it.

As they advance to reach a higher level, students get the opportunity to take on leadership roles in the class. Because Gyr teaches students of all ages and levels, the class has to be broken up into groups – a beginners’ group and an intermediate/advanced group – and assistant instructors are needed so everyone can learn simultaneously. After two-and-a-half to three years, students begin to reach a level where Gyr can trust them to take on the role of assistant instructors.

Gyr said it’s inspiring when the students step up to the plate and take charge. “It’s nice to see them get up there and over time get the confidence and enjoy themselves,” he said. “At first, sometimes they’ll mumble or stare at the floor…but (later) you see them start to smile and laugh and really relax, and it benefits the school because we need those instructors.”

He added that it’s not difficult to teach a wide age range in the same class, contrary to what some might think. “It works out well. We don’t go too young with the children,” Gyr said. “The difference between the kids and adults is you have to keep things changing for kids. Adults keep working (on the same thing), but children get bored, so you have to keep things moving for them. But sometimes adults get bored too, so it’s not all that different.”

One of the biggest benefits of the class is it offers the chance for students of all ages to get and stay in shape. “Martial arts is really a nice workout,” Gyr said. “It involves flexibility, cardio, how to use your strength and how to relax. It’s really a well-rounded program for fitness.”

But it doesn’t just help students physically. Martial arts helps them gain confidence, relieve stress and build self esteem, which nurtures mental and psychological health as well. “You have the kids who come in and might be shy. They have their heads down and their hands in their pocket. We make it a point with those students to tell them you don’t have to know everything. It’s OK to come in and not to know anything,” Gyr said.

He continued, “It’s a slow process, sometimes, to develop confidence. It takes a little bit of time, but when you get to the point where they’re intermediate students and you put them in front of the class, that’s when they really start to shine. They gain more confidence, they do better in school. It’s those small successes that show them how to really grow.”

And because martial arts is used for self-defense, Gyr said confidence is very important. Though the class teaches students physical techniques to use should they ever get into a situation where they need to defend themselves, Gyr said confidence is basically half of a person’s defense.

“It takes time, but it’s very much the core of our program,” he said. “When you have that kind of confidence and you project that kind of confidence, the less likely you are to be called upon to use those (physical) techniques.”

For more information on the Carolina Isshyn Ryu Karate Academy, visit www.monroeaquaticsandfitnesscenter.com or www.usik.org (click on the “Dojo Directory” tab and locate Monroe on the map).

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