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Saturday, 9 a.m.
As the sun rises over the knobs, children and their parents walk through the smoky glass doors of John Cox Martial Arts studio.
While many of their peers are sleeping in, or watching Saturday morning cartoons, the small group of pint-sized karate kids is getting ready to break a sweat and learn.
But the lesson plan may surprise you - there’s very little, if any, fighting going on.
Instead, the children prepare with exercises; they jump rope, crawl, and do push-ups with a smile on their faces. They bounce on big rubber balls. They throw and catch bean bags.
They ask questions between it all.
John Cox, who has been training in martial arts since 1975, has been teaching in Marion County since 1981.
At age 6, he knew he wanted to get involved with the sport when he attended a movie with his brother and his brother’s date.
“Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee.
“I remember watching him on the screen and thinking man, that’s something I want to do,” Cox said with a laugh.
But unlike Bruce Lee on the silver screen, Cox’s teachings are more than just techniques for fighting or for self-defense.
“Fighting is not what karate is about,” Cox said. “Karate is self-protection.”
He iterated there are three ways of teachings in martial arts that form a triangle: mental, physical, and emotional.
Unlike most marital arts dojos, Cox does not have his students put on what he calls marshmallow pads. He does not have them enter tournaments. On Saturday morning, none of the children sparred.
Under those settings, some children may only learn two words: win or lose.
“That’s not positive for children,” Cox said. “Not every one of them is able to make the kicks and do the tournaments.”
Before even getting involved with self-defense, students exercise and work on their thought processes.
He said they can translate the lessons into modern day society, particularly about self-confidence and bullying, which is something that gets talked about a lot.
Along with this, he said he and his instructors try to provide a positive influence and encourage students to push forward while providing a comfortable atmosphere.
“It’s a happy place for them, they look forward to coming,” Cox said.
And there’s no doubt about it, most of them show up early.
The sport, the art, the people
At John Cox martial arts, they teach Okinawan Shorin-ryu, a form of karate, and Hakutsuru (HAWK OOT SU RU) which translates to white crane.
“It’s a very early, early version of kung fu,” Cox said. “It actually was developed way before karate came into existence.”
He said karate deals with closed fists and hard movements whereas Hakutsuru is a circular technique.
“Hakutsuru deals way more with the internalized arts, the breathing techniques, the meditation series and circular movements. Nothing is hard and fast. It’s smooth,” he said.
As the children progress in the class, they rise in rank and earn different belts.
The variety of colors could almost form a rainbow. From white to yellow to orange, the progress the children make knows no bounds. Each child is a different age, each one comes from a different background, and each one has different experience level.
Cox said the children don’t progress by just going to a specified amount of classes. Instead, they progress based on how he, his other teachers, and even how parents think the children have progressed.
“A belt from me is a sign to them of the confidence and faith I have in them to move on and that we’re proud of them,” Cox said. “Promotions here are a big event. We have everyone come in.”
He said he does not teach martial arts to make money, he teaches because he wants to.
In fact, the dojo is not even his full-time job.
While he does charge for the classes, the money goes to pay for the expenses.
Anne Foster, who has worked with Cox for 15 years, has been training in martial arts for even longer. She said martial arts have come to encompass everything in her life, from work to her social life to playing the piano.
Cody Farmer, who has been training for the last three years, also helps Cox with instructing courses. He said a lot of the training is mental and involves learning patience. But the learning road is also a two-way street. He also said he has been able to learn lessons from the little ones he teaches.
“Some days you learn more from them than they do from you,” Farmer said. “They’re so simple in nature and as an adult, we tend to over complicate things.”
Christie Turner, who enrolled her son, Mason in November, said they started coming so he could learn self-defense.
Mason said he enjoyed the class because he gets to learn how to protect himself.
Those who are interested in attending a class at John Cox atrial Arts can do so by visiting his website; http://www.johncoxmartialarts.com/ or call 270-692-3928.