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Warmth, kindness and a certain mom vibe aren’t qualities commonly associated with a master of martial arts – but that’s exactly what you notice when meeting Dawn Barnes, founder of the wildly successful Karate Kids franchise and creator of Gozen Karate, the very first martial arts style designed specifically for children. Karate Kids just opened a brand-new studio in Beverly Hills, and Barnes was kind enough to share a bit about the history of her popular program.
What first sparked your interest in martial arts? How did you become a teacher?
I first became interested in the martial arts as a teenager watching the TV series Kung Fu with David Carradine. In my twenties, my two young sons where inspired by the Ninja Turtles and asked me to take them to karate class. As I walked into the dojo (karate school), I saw a giant black belt image painted across the wall. At that moment I knew I would get my black belt. During my training I began assisting the children’s classes and enjoyed it so much that I took over the entire program. I soon branched out to teaching after-school programs and renting space in exercise studios. After eight years of teaching for the fun of it, I decided to do it for a living. I opened my first school in Santa Monica in 1995 and today, eight schools later, I’m still having fun!
What led you to develop this unique style of martial arts specifically for children?
I have been teaching children for over 20 years and always noticed that certain Karate techniques were very difficult for kids to learn. A child’s body is not the same as an adult’s body. But by making subtle adjustments to stances, strikes, kicks, and ground defense, my students were suddenly learning twice as quickly! Even better, by allowing them to use natural movements instead of the stylized mechanics of sport karate, the children felt more successful! My goal then became to design a comprehensive list of playground-appropriate techniques that focused on passive escapes, not aggressive attacks. When this goal was accomplished, Gozen was born. I am proud to say that Gozen Karate is the world’s first martial arts style designed specifically for children.
Every martial arts style that I know of was developed by adults for adults. Many styles were even developed for use in the military! Because of that, most schools either teach children movements that are flat-out inappropriate, or movements that have no meaning whatsoever! If a child asks why something is done a certain way, the answer comes back “because it's tradition” or “because I said so.” That always drove me nuts. But by building a style with a child’s abilities and needs in mind, I was able to kick out the mystery and replace it with common sense. Now the kids know exactly what each movement is for and how to use it, which not only makes them competent, but capable of taking responsibility for their choices.
Why not teach adults as well?
Occasionally, we offer Women’s Self Defense workshops for the moms or Parent & Child workshops, but we are known locally and nationally for being the leading specialists in teaching martial arts to children, so we want to keep our focus there. You can’t be the best at everything!
Tell us about some of the exciting new things going on at Karate Kids.
We will soon be releasing a home training kit that makes me very proud. Whether you’re already one of my students looking for more practice time, or a brand new student who wants to get a head start on his black belt, or just a kid who thinks doing some karate moves would be cool, this kit is for you. I have always wished every child in the world could experience what my program has to offer, and now, it might be possible.
What do you want your students to bring away from their experience with Karate Kids?
The most important thing I hope my students will remember is that they are worth protecting. Punches and kicks are easy to learn and hard to forget. But guiding children to understand how powerful and special they really are, then giving them the tools to never forget that is the total focus and essence of our program! My mission is to inspire self-esteem by being the best martial arts school for children in the world! And after 20 years of listening and responding to thousands of children, I believe we are!
Learn more about Dawn Barnes and Karate Kids at www.karatekids.net.
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