What can be said of a karate school?

Competitive pricing. Accommodating hours. Convenient location. Friendly, professional staff.  Commitment to the community.

Of course, the A.K.E.A School of Self-Defense has these things. But there is something more.

Being the husband of the manager has given me the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in and about the school, and to have the interesting experience of occasionally wearing some unofficial hats: Handyman, Event Caterer, Delivery Driver, Technical Support, Photographer, and general Gopher. It also has afforded me the honor of knowing some of the staff and students – all from the unique perspective of an “outsider” looking in. Not an outsider in the sense of one who does not belong – indeed, the manager is my wife, and owner my best friend – but in the sense of the unseen gaffer, high in his scaffolding perch behind the scenes of a play, peering down on the players from an intimate and impossible angle.

Invariably, at events like Kobudo Camp or the A.K.E.A Christmas Party, I will hear Mrs. Barnette or Mr. Harmaning refer to the staff, students and their families as “The A.K.E.A. Family”. The remarkable thing is – they mean it. Something more than martial arts training is happening here. Life Training is happening. And I saw it in sharp clarity at this year’s Little Dragon Tournament.

Donning my Photographer’s hat, I watched the tournament begin like most other Little Dragon presentations. The children raced to their positions with determined Yeees Maaaa’aaaam!s and with crisp kiais, followed their uniformed leaders in a show of learned skills. But then, their belt knots were turned to the back, headgear was fastened into place and they took up positions for The Big Fight. The “Fight”, of course, being a brilliant exercise in “take the flag”. A double elimination tournament, where the dual flags tucked into their belts were to be snatched from their opponent, while simultaneously protecting their own. An ingenious combination of offense and defense designed to build coordination and speed through movement, parrys and quick grabs.

It was all great fun, most especially for the athletic types among the competitors, who quickly worked out their opponents’ weaknesses and executed exquisite fakes and dodges, hands snaking out to snatch flags with meticulous precision. The true outsider might have seen little more than children running in chaotic circles in an oddly redundant game of tag. But as the cheers of proud parents swelled to a roar worthy of The Key and the mighty hammer of competitive pressure fell, it was here that the Little Dragons earned their name.

For a few the pressure was nearly too much. Tears welled up and sobs burst out. One even fled to the solace of his mother. Without hesitation, Mom courageously pushed her son gently, but firmly back into the fray, who met his fate bravely and went on to compete valiantly.

With rosy cheeks and hair matted to foreheads, I watched children battle not one another, but their own trepidation and uncertainty. I watched at the call, “Guard Up!”, though with brows furrowed and eyes filling with tears, fists nevertheless went high. These are no incapable little children. These are Fire Breathing Warriors. These are my heroes, these wondrous children who have broken through the surface tension of fear and now know that it is no barrier to them. I felt a distinct pride and vicarious thrill that I am certain must be no match for that of parents looking on. We all experienced their triumphant victories together. And, yes, the disappointing defeats. Through this tiny microcosm of life, I think we all grew just a dash stronger and a pinch wiser.

So, what can be said of a karate school? Outstanding training. Dedication to its students. Stewards of our Future.

The A.K.E.A. is more than just self-defense training. It’s Life Training.  – Ian Barnette