A martial arts ministry
Six years ago, Daniel Young, a karate sensei (teacher) and fifth degree black belt, was looking for a facility to use as a dojo, or a room to teach martial arts. When he reached out to the Salvation Army in Lima, Ohio, Major Deborah Stacy, corps officer, allowed Young to use the building to teach his lessons. In return, Young would also teach karate for two nights a week to the kids.
Major Stacy was concerned that the children might pose a different kind of challenge for Sensei Young. “Sometimes, the young people that The Salvation Army takes in come with a reputation, and Lima is no different,” she said. “I remember when one child asked me if the Army would eventually kick him out like every other church had done.”
To her surprise, the new karate program thrived because of such children. “Karate develops an ‘I can do it’ mentality says Stacy. It creates a special type of change in someone, and it shows them that they are loved, cared for, and worth more than they know. It gave our children, and me, a way to challenge ourselves.”
An officer and a student
Along with the children of the Lima corps, karate has also given Stacy something to strive towards. In the hallway of the building, a glass display case holds Stacy’s trophies for mastering karate techniques such as board and tile breaking. Her office is decorated with her own karate belts and awards. “When you start taking karate at my age, you’re not going to see much competition,” she says with a laugh. She earned her brown belt last December.
Stacy attended the karate lessons as a form of physical therapy and exercise after having surgery. But besides her health goals, she wanted to be involved and invested in what the children were learning. “We don’t ask anyone to participate in something that we wouldn’t do ourselves,” she says.
Her years of karate have left her with some bumps and bruises, but she says it’s important to know self–defense. “Lima is a town with high crime rates. When I talk to students at local colleges, I always encourage them to join us in karate,” she says.
She recalls an instance when teens at the afterschool program passed a gun around in the corps gym. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Nonetheless, Stacy wants to be prepared for anything. “If something was to happen here, I want to be able to protect these kids in any way I can,” she says,
Classes during COVID–19
During the months of the pandemic, karate lessons continued once a week. Students wore masks and maintained proper social distancing. The new students also benefited from the positive changes they learned from karate even though many of the older students stayed home.
“Over the past few months, their whole demeanor changed,” says Stacy. “When they arrived, they looked like their parents were forcing them to be here. Since then, we’ve seen what martial arts builds inside of them: self-control, discipline, and learning how to use ‘the least resistance’ even when they’re angry. I think the girls are getting stronger than the boys! I see it in their punches, in their kicks, and in their focus.”
The students prepare now to attend their next tournament, and look to come back with additional trophies for the hallway display case.
by Hugo Bravo