As a kid, Kevonate Washington was interested in martial arts. He took some classes when he was around 4 and fell in love. “I was hooked on it,” said the North Point High School senior. “I was practicing all the time.” He would go outside to test out what he learned. “I would train … fighting trees and rocks.” Over time, Washington started teaching himself moves, watching website tutorials by professional martial artists. He’s a third-degree black belt in muay thai. As a freshman, Washington figured there had to be other guys like him, so he started the self defense club. That was four years ago; it continues to meet on Fridays during the school’s one-hour lunch period.
For a while, the club met for half-an-hour and physical education teacher Christel Andy, who admittedly knows very little about martial arts, was the sole sponsor. The group would watch videos, maybe try a few moves, teach each other what they knew. Nothing too “Enter the Dragon,” but enough to keep interest in the club going.
Now on the eve of graduation, Washington has found the club he started transforming and growing. Freshman Jeff Seaton joined this year and convinced Andy and art teacher Kevin Laskow, a new sponsor, to extend the offering to the full hour. The guys — the club is currently made up of all males, but they would like girls to join (“More diversity is a great thing for any sport,” Washington said) — bring their lunches to the gym or whatever free classroom they can find and eat when time allows. Laskow, a first-year teacher at North Point, was made to lead the club. He has been practicing martial arts since he was in high school and was tired to getting picked on. His dad told him he could let the bullying continue or he could take steps to make it stop. Once word got around that Laskow was training, no one bothered him anymore and he never had to use it in a fight.
North Point’s club is limited to what its members can glean from each other, tutorials and Laskow. It doesn’t have pads, so contact is limited. “We go over basic techniques and drills until they start getting it,” Laskow said. “We take a practical approach to it.”
Senior Will Bolton is new to North Point this year, but not to martial arts. While living in Germany — his parents are career U.S. Air Force — Bolton studied gōjū-ryū and other forms of self defense. His training led to him teaching children and adults. Bolton also taught a women’s self defense class, an exercise that meant getting beat up frequently when, as the only male available, he was cast as a potential aggressor in the lessons. When he arrived at North Point, he met Washington and their mutual love of martial arts was discovered. Bolton joined the club and along with Washington and Laskow found himself training younger or novice members. Learning self defense “never hurts,” Bolton said. “We’re not teaching you how to fight. We are not promoting violence at all,” he added. “We are teaching self defense.”
Seaton wants to continue the club once Washington and Bolton graduate in June. “Martial arts was a big part of my life when I was younger,” he said, adding that he likes that the practice teaches self control. “We’re learning to fight without hurting someone,” said Seaton who has a purple belt in taekwondo. “It’s good to know something that will be useful in the real world.”
Laskow takes the first 30 minutes of class to go through drills and techniques, and when he leaves for the second half after giving homework — 20 roundhouse kicks, stretching (“I always know who has been doing their homework,” he said. “I can look at each guy and tell who’s getting better.”) — the members go over what they have learned. Before he leaves, he wants to show them one last move. “Kevonate, demonstrate it for us,” Laskow said. “Kevonate is always the demo guy,” freshman Jahleel Harston said, laughing.
Laskow said he and Seaton will ensure the club continues, and fundraising suggestions have been volleyed to gather money for the purchase of pads and other equipment. For students whose paths may never have crossed, the club offers a chance to build friendships around a common interest. “It’s cool to see the teamwork,” Laskow said. “They are collaborating and teaching each other, building self esteem and self confidence.”
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