By Jenifer Tull-Gauger

Imagine your teacher from karate at the Gila River Reservation said you could attend your first test and rank up. But you had to travel to a dojo you’d never seen, with new people (except for a couple teachers). Then, when you get there, you find out that you are the only one testing! This happened to Tavaris last August, however, despite the pressure, he did great. He even skipped a rank and earned his yellow belt.

I started teaching Ryukyu Kempo karate at the Gila River Reservation in January of 2016. Since then, dozens of students have tried out the “Little Dragons” and “Ninja Warriors” karate classes. Many, including Tavaris, have made it a consistent part of their regular week. They have gained many of the same benefits that students at East Valley Martial Arts in Mesa see: learning to follow the Dojo Kuns, to protect oneself and others, and improving fitness.

In the beginning, I taught alone, and that was a challenge, trying to impart the discipline and etiquette, along with the curriculum, to groups of beginner kids who largely had no exposure to karate. Several weeks in, I had a class of about 13 kids, about four were there for their first class, and more than half were under six years old. Shortly thereafter, it was decided that the program would make allowance for another instructor.

Tavaris made footprints as the first from the program to participate in a formal test. Over time, a few young adults started to attend. Many students learned their white belt materials, and more. In December, we held a test for the students in karate at Gila River Reservation, with Tavaris getting to orange belt, a couple students earning yellow, and many more ranking up to yellow-striped belt (9th kyu).

The program has slowly but surely grown and strengthened. Parents value the focus on the Dojo Kun. I think they also like their kids getting exercise while learning physical life protection skills. We see the students gaining confidence as they progress.

We exhausted practically all of our local resources in used uniforms to outfit the regularly attending students of karate at the Gila River Reservation. Some students purchase new gis, however, several would love to receive the gift of a used white uniform. We could use your help in supporting this program. Please consider donating new or used white uniforms or white belts. Thank you!

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