Martial arts can help you both physically and mentally

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Instructor Nancy Pester guides Naomi Miraz, 5, and Frey Wood, 6, both of Southold, in a martial arts exercise.

Tim Condon said it isn’t supposed to happen this way.

The Riverhead martial arts instructor recalled a night six months ago when a 23-year-old male student encountered three men, all larger than he, who were known to pick a fight.

One of the men took a swing and struck the student.

The student has a brown belt — the second highest belt in martial arts and fought back seamlessly, taking the trio down one by one and escaping any further harm.

Mr. Condon credits his student’s extensive martial arts background with helping him escape a potentially dangerous situation unscathed.

“You know what areas of the body are vulnerable,” Mr. Condon said, explaining how one martial arts student can protect himself against three men. “You debilitate one person and go on to the next.”

But this scenario isn’t the goal of the eastern Asian combat tradition.

“In martial arts, we hope we don’t have to ever use our skill,” Mr. Condon said. “We try to get out of a situation we’re in with our brain and our mouth. We train so we know in our hearts if anyone causes a problem with us, we can deal with it.”

Instructors across the North Fork agree that martial arts is increasingly piquing interest, as people are becoming familiar with its benefits, especially among children.

Mr. Condon said martial arts has proven to have positive results for young children with special needs, especially Attention Deficit Disorder, as the sport enhances the ability to focus and maintain self control. He attributes improved grades at school for some students to their martial arts practices.

Nancy Pester, a sensei, or instructor, at Yoshitune Waza Martial Arts in Southold, agreed, adding that the sport has many benefits for all children, especially those who don’t typically succeed in team sports.

“I’ve found that these children are motivated by their own accomplishments rather than those of a team setting,” she said.

She added that the sport improves balance, flexibility, stamina, coordination and concentration in both children and adults.

“There is a transformation in the way you think and react to everyday situations and under pressure,” said Ms. Pester, who has the Shihan belt, which means “teacher of teachers” and marks the highest level of achievement in martial arts. It took her 25 years to earn it.

Master Sung Choi, a tae kwon do instructor at Expert Martial Arts in Aquebogue agreed with the assessment that martial arts provides unique gains for children with special needs, adding that anyone who begins martial arts at an early age often grows up with a solid sense of confidence and respect for others.

John Michael Judge, 9, has been studying martial arts at the dojo under Ms. Pester for five years. His father, John, said the activity has made his son become a better listener and more likely to follow through with homework assignments and chores.

“He’s gotten a little more disciplined in terms of being able to finish something,” he said.

And John Michael said the skills he’s learned have served to rev up his confidence.

“It teaches me how to defend myself if someone attacks me,” he said.

He said he’s learned how to respond if someone grabs his shirt, attacks him with a knife or tries to choke him from behind, adding that he’s never had to use martial arts techniques on another person.

“They teach you not to use it unless you need to,” he said.

All instructors agreed their students are equally divided between boys and girls, and range in age from toddlers to senior citizens.

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