At the Family Karate Super Center in Monmouth Junction, lessons in martial arts often go hand-in-hand with important lessons about life and what it takes to succeed, no matter what your goal is. The center, which was established in 1987, employs a multi-facted approach to have the greatest impact on the lives of students with each and every lesson, according to owner Donnalynn Patakos.
"Martial Arts is the single best way for children to gain confidence, respect, honor tradition, self discipline, focus, and good eating habits," she said. "(Kids) learn how to listen to mom and dad, learn coordination, temper control, self-defense, how to deal with bullies, have a sense of family, community and honesty. I believe, in our school in particular, we become part of the extended family. I love discipline, I love respect, I love thoughtfulness. If we can teach our students to impart these traits on others, then we have succeeded."
The center, which opened at its location on Ridge Road in 2002, has been recognized year after year for its commitment to excellence, Patakos said. All of the full time instructors have won Instructor of the Year awards, while the program directors are known world wide as a top ten in the country, she added.
"We consider our school to be full spectrum Martial Arts, meaning we teach a blend of arts that apply to life in every facet of it," Patakos said. "Everyday I am overjoyed to come and see the progress the students and the staff are making. This year in particular has been our best year yet. We have been on our A game, just giving the students more than they expect and working on curriculum so the student is taught effective technique and the mindset of a champion."
The school has also hosted some of the top martial artists in the world, including three-time freestyle karate World Champion Chris Rappold. The school is adding a Jiu Jitsu program this month taught by Brazilian National Champion Fernando Cabeca Sarmento Jr., who was voted Instructor of the Year by Full Contact magazine in 2005. He is also featured in the book "Mastering Jiu Jitsu" and was also featured on the History Channel.
"It is not one person that makes our center special, it is all of us," Patakos said. "The team is amazing and very dedicated to bringing out the best in our students and their progress. Our students are our main priority."
Recently, Family Karate Super Center held a seminar for business owners to learn some of the most effective tips of the trade and to help grow the art form.
"The purpose of the conference is to really raise the standards in the martial arts field as a whole, by giving the school owners the business tips and skills they need to train their staff and their students for success," Patakos said. "It only benefits the reputation of the Arts to uphold the tradition and moral code that we stand for. Many people, when they think of Martial Arts, they think of beating people up, but it is quite the opposite. All members are brought in by referral or reputation. They are very strict to only have people who uphold the expectations of ethics, loyalty and dedication to the art."
One of the members who attended the conference was retired UFC star Ricardo Almeida, who runs a school in Hamilton.
"Ricardo is a great guy, he came to the school with humility and ready to learn," Patakos said. "He sat in the front row with a pen out taking notes all day. He was just like anyone else there. We all check our egos at the door, and he was a fantastic example of that. He actually came and trained with my staff in our Family Karate Center school in North Brunswick the day after the event as well, as they were being certified by one of the top masters in the business. He blended in very well with our team and was very polite and receptive."
While world class martial artists often come to the school, the biggest benefit the classes can offer students both young and old is a discipline and inner confidence that only the martial arts can provide, according to Patakos.
"Karate is mental, physical and spiritual," she said. "To improve in all of these areas is to arrive in life. Parents who have children practicing will tell you of the difference it makes in their lives. Children need a place to go where they feel accepted, loved and can have a good time learning something new. We teach children how to make good decisions and become leaders."
The classes at the center also offer numerous benefits for adults, including a great way to relieve workplace stress while also getting in shape, Patakos said.
"You can unplug from society, computers and all of your stress and just be in the zone," she added. "You learn something when you are here, not just lifting weights or riding a stationary bicycle. You are earning a Black Belt with every class you take and we notice very successful, motivated people are naturally drawn to the art for its discipline. It also helps you overcome your challenges by giving you set goals that you can accomplish in a structured curriculum based on your personal best performance. You are not compared to anyone, just your own progress. This is where the self confidence comes from. Every belt you have, you earned."