by Mena Mohamed

It’s not too often that a new club or program becomes very successful in its first year, but that is exactly the case with Stuart’s new traditional karate class. Every Monday and Wednesday after school, orchestra teacher Cassandra Haynes’ and George Mason grad student Soolmaz Abooali’s students line up in the dance studio and begin their lesson.

Dressed in white karate ghis, the students follow Haynes and Abooali’s warm up with the dojo kan. The students bow and recite, “I am loyal. I strive for self-control. I strive for perfection in what I do,” in unison before transitioning to kicks and defense poses.

Traditional karate is a little different than what most students would expect. The practice, according to Haynes, is “a non-contact form of martial arts that enables one to access their untapped mental, physical and spiritual strengths through disciplined, consistent training.” Although the art of self-defense is practiced, the main focus of the class is centering energy, conflict resolution and discipline in tense situations.

Both of the instructors have been practicing traditional karate for more than eight years. “The constant challenges presented in my 15 plus years of training has enabled me to learn honestly about myself and what I am made of, to hone my strengths and develop my weakness,” noted Abooali. Now she looks to bring that empowerment to her students at Stuart, “We enjoy watching each student’s transformation as they improve from the first class to when they test for their next rank.”

For many of the students the biweekly classes have had a positive mental and physical effect.

Senior Linda Vu said the classes have dramatically increased her self-confidence. “I joined the program because I thought it would be interesting to learn a new skill. Once I got into it, my social anxiety started to decrease and I wasn’t so nervous all the time,” recalled Vu.

Another student, junior Yovane Romero said that Traditional Karate has helped him with self-defense techniques. “I joined it originally because I wanted to learn how to defend myself. It’s so much fun and it’s just like a sport to me,” said Romero. “Not only do I feel safer, I feel happier too.”

Romero placed third in one of the regional competitions, and is making headway towards the upcoming national competition in Herndon. The American Amateur Karate Federation (AAFK) will be hosting its 54th national traditional karate competition in late June, and Stuart’s team is excited to compete and participate in the demonstrations and workshops.

“We’re looking forward to seeing our students participate in this on June 27. It makes them feel like they can really apply outside what they’re learning in class every week,” said Abooali.

Although karate is only an afterschool program now, future expansion plans are under way in response to its success. Could Stuart be home to the first official karate class and team in the county? “We hope so,” said Haynes.

Photo by Mena Mohamed