WILLMAR — Heather Savoy has always been interested in Japan and karate.
So when she heard that the physical education classes at the Area Learning Center would be learning karate, the ALC junior was thrilled.
“I love it,” she said a week ago, after finishing a workout with volunteer instructor Bob Enos.
The stretching and unfamiliar moves were difficult at first, she said, but she could feel herself becoming more flexible with each class.
The moves they learned ranged from stretches that tested balance to learning how to block an oncoming punch.
Alexis Taylor, a freshman, and Anyssa Ramirez, a junior, may not have been as enthusiastic as Heather was at first, but they came around quickly.
“It’s good exercise,” Anyssa said. “He knows how to calm you down by breathing.”
Anyssa said she had thought the workouts would be louder, with lots of yelling and kicking, “but this is peaceful.”
The workouts have helped her feel more confident, “even though I’m short and small,” Alexis said.
The girls said they all felt they have become stronger during the classes, too, and they feel they could defend themselves if they needed to.
They also appreciate Enos’ instruction.
“It’s an honor for him to take time out of his day to work with us,” Alexis said. Enos, 60, said he has enjoyed sharing his passion for Shotokan karate, an Okinawan style of the martial art with roots in Zen Buddhism. He lives near the school and decided this fall to offer to work with the students.
Enos also holds karate workouts a couple evenings a week at Kennedy Elementary School.
He has taught separate boys’ and girls’ classes this fall, with about 15 students in each. In the half-hour classes, “we don’t have a lot of time to work,” he said. “My objective is for them to have fun and remember it as a positive experience so they’ll maybe try it again sometime.”
A few ALC students have come to his evening workouts, he said.
Enos said he could see a difference in maturity level between the ALC classes with girls and boys. It’s more difficult to get the boys to settle down and get to work, he said.
His training with the boys was louder and tougher, to gain their attention. It worked for some, not so much for others.
“Some are hard to work with, but when nobody else is looking they’ll come up and be nice,” Enos said in the ALC gym after class.
Anthony Birrueta, a junior, said he has enjoyed the classes. He plans to become a Marine after high school, he said, and thought it might be good preparation.
“There’s too much distraction here,” he said, so he is thinking of continuing the classes with Enos at Kennedy.
Anthony talked to Enos about it and received some advice: “He told me to work with the distractions; he told me to work around it and to be a leader, not a follower.”
ALC physical education teacher Ross Dahl said it has been good for the students both physically and mentally to learn a bit about martial arts. Along with learning self-defense, they have learned to listen to Enos and to watch what he does so they can follow along, he said. “It’s very good for the body and muscles; he demands discipline.”
Some students may have resisted at first, Dahl said, but “they’re getting a lot out of it.”
Many of the girls appreciate the stretching and yoga-like aspects of karate, along with the self-defense moves, he said, while they boys are more interested in sparring moves.“The boys want more action.”
Enos said he started studying Shotokan karate at the age of 30. He gave it up for a decade or so when he lived in New York City, then took it up again. He has studied it all over the world, and “it’s become a passion for me.”
He doesn’t want to make money from karate, he said, so he volunteers his time to share it with others. He likes the diversity of the ALC and has liked teaching there, he added.
Dahl said Enos’ work is appreciated. “Not a lot of people come here,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of volunteers.”