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Central Minnesota Life news for 13 November, 2003
Times photos by Dave Schwarz,

Tim Kiel leads a class at Central Minnesota Karate in St. Cloud. Kiel is a fourth-degree black belt and teaches karate classes and self-defense seminars.

13 November, 2003
Karate takes time
Amy Bowen
Staff Writer

You want to master those cool karate jumps, kicks and maneuvers seen in "The Matrix" or Jackie Chan films, but not so fast.

While local karate schools report increased interest in the art when Hollywood releases a martial arts hit, few kung fu wanna-bes understand how much time is required to perfect the skills.

"It looks pretty easy, but there are like only 20 people in the world who can do those things in ("The Matrix Revolutions")," said Gary Halonen, owner of St. Cloud's National Karate.

Today's fast-paced culture has gotten away from karate's ancient traditions, said Tim Kiel, owner of Central Minnesota Karate in St. Cloud. People want instant gratification and don't have the time to practice, he said. Some karate schools have turned into so-called "belt factories" that guarantee certain belt levels in record times -- often with a price -- Kiel said.

"Now people call me, and they say, 'How long will it take me to be a black belt?' " Kiel said. "People don't look at it as an endeavor."

Local karate schools try to retain interest by teaching the sport's mental and physical aspects. St. Cloud Karate & T'ai Chi Instruction offers four private lessons to students before they participate in a larger class, owners Beverly and Jack Gustafson said.

Hollywood moves

Jack Gustafson's sessions for children usually fill up when a well-touted martial arts film hits theaters, he said.

"Of course (the students) come in and realize we don't look like Ninja Turtles, and we don't wear shells," Jack Gustafson said.

While the young students quickly realize they won't show off their drop kicks within days, chief instructor Beverly Gustafson teaches them about the sport's meditative properties and about the body's anatomy.

Looks deceive in movies, local karate instructors said. Some Hollywood actors are good athletes, but it's clear they don't understand the meaning behind karate, Kiel said. The films miss out on the carefully measured movements and the rich meaning behind them, he said.

Josh Theis, 22, has nothing against a good martial arts movie. But this black belt from St. John's University never caves when his buddies ask him to show them his moves.

Karate is only meant to be used for self-defense, Theis said. He religiously abides by the creed of karate -- perfection of character, faithfulness, endeavor, respect for others and refraining from violent behavior.

"True karate is not done for show," Theis said. "It's done for yourself and the other people who train with you."


Kiel said he thinks there might be local facilities guaranteeing belt status but would not comment. Such schools have affected the sport, he said.

Attaining a black belt has become a status symbol, he said. Some people are willing to pay big bucks for a belt, even though their skills might not be as sharp.

Kiel's student, Tobin Del Giudice, 53, has seen the results firsthand. He watched children black belts at a school in Philadelphia. None of them seemed ready for the highest belt, Del Giudice, a brown belt, said.

"Today when someone tells me 'I'm a black belt,' it doesn't mean anything," Kiel said. "Twenty years ago, if you had a black belt in tae kwan do or karate, it meant something."

Who does it

Anyone can learn karate, it just takes time and effort, Beverly Gustafson said.

"Karate is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical," she said. "I tend to believe that. If you can put your mind to that, you're over halfway there."

Del Giudice is older than most of the students at Central Minnesota Karate. He started karate with his 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, in 2001.

The sport helps him stay in shape, the Long Prairie man said. His strength, muscle tone and balance have improved, he said.

Rachel Del Giudice does it for different reasons. The sport boosts her confidence, she said.

"I'm a lot more disciplined then what I used to be," Rachel Del Giudice said. "It takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of determination."

Parents often enroll their children in these classes because of the mental properties, karate instructors said. Some have witnessed dramatic results. Unruly children have learned how to focus, Kiel said.

Lisa and Mark Boe's two daughters learn discipline and respect through karate, the Sartell couple said.

Eleven-year-old Morgan Boe loves karate, she said. Someday she'd like to earn her black belt and become an instructor, Morgan Boe said.

"I want to learn how to do it in case of an emergency so I can get away," she said.

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